In what now seems like another life back in the early 70s, I was one of those young punters who bet on almost anything, from pub pool, darts, football, cards, horse racing, greyhounds and what was called in those days “The Trots” but is now more sedately named harness racing.

Eventually marriage and family commitments took hold of time and finances and harness racing became a pleasant memory. Recently, I’ve wondered how harness racing would seem to a newbie to the sport. In my opinion, there is no more of an authority to ask than Sport 927 racecaller Dan Mielicki whose magnificent calls highlight his passion and understanding of the game from the viewpoints of both caller and punter. He is aware of the pitfalls that await a novice punter and in this article I talk to Dan from the perspective of what information a beginner needs.

RK: Dan, how do you do your form study?

DM: I use the fields and form available online via the Internet with particular emphasis on the site

RK: I had a look at the site, Dan, and it’s packed with information. Most of the keen horse racing punters I know look for positive and negative factors in a horse’s form. How do you differentiate between contenders?

DM: I look for leaders and try to identify how the race will be run. Horses that can lead and be left alone are very hard to beat.

RK: These are just the types serious horse racing punters look for as well. What about those that do not lead?

DM: This is where further racemapping (predictions of how a race is going to be run based on the normal running styles of contenders) comes into play as there are horses and drivers who normally go forward and pressure the leaders. When I believe this is going to happen I look for those runners that are sit sprinters or tough stayers.

RK: I understand the “sit sprinters” term as being a horse that just waits and then takes off but what do you mean by “tough stayers”?

DM: These are the types that just grind away and have stamina to keep going and if the leaders fold due to undue pressure they can run over the top of them.

RK: I was also intrigued by your comment about drivers going forward. Are there some drivers who always try to press forward no matter what?

DM: Yes, there are. In a sense they become one dimensional as you are quite confident of what they will normally do early if the horse has early speed of any sort. That sort of knowledge is crucial in determining the early perceived pace of a race which naturally helps determine your final selection.

RK: That makes sense. I must admit I had never thought about drivers this way. What about runners off the second row? Commonsense says they are at a disadvantage but is this so?

DM: Sometimes when a horse is going through the classes it will not matter where they are drawn as they are just plainly superior but usually the second draw suits the better class horses especially if they are sit and sprint types that rely on the speed of the race so other horses can drag them into it.

RK: Dan, how do you keep track of all the form?

DM: Basically, I keep it all in my head. The pool of harness racing, while big, is manageable as some horses often run twice a week so I see them more often than the gallopers who can have breaks of weeks at a time.

RK: Earlier I was interested in your comments about drivers. Having seen them all, who are the top three drivers at present in Victoria?

DM: The standouts are Kerryn Gath, Chris Alford and Gavin Lang.

RK: Why?

DM: They have the ability to place their horses in the best position that suits the individual horse. They have an excellent understanding of pace and will make decisions during a race that make all the difference.

RK: In what way?

DM: If the pace is slow early they know their horse faces a tough task to sprint around the field if the horse has limitations so they take off mid-race or, if they are leading comfortably, they will sit and stack the field up. On other occasions they have the confidence in their ability to obtain runs other drivers would not attempt. These are powerful attributes.

RK: Naturally, the trainer plays a huge part. Which are the top trainers?

DM: Andy Gath and Peter Manning are the two best in Victoria.

RK: What do these trainers do that others cannot?

DM: You have confidence in their ability to train the horse to repeat past efforts. If, for instance, a horse has won first-up previously, their horses can do it again and they also have the uncanny ability to be able to improve horses transferred from other stables.

RK: What is the first sign you see in a horse that propels it to “above average” status?

DM: Initially greenness and waywardness and yet they win or run top races. These types of runs alert you to watch their future efforts though you still have to judge the value of the opposition and the formlines that come out of those races.

RK: What elevates them to even higher status such as becoming a champion?

DM: All the horses I have admired over the years have displayed the common traits of raw courage, awesome power and brilliant speed when required. The likes of Lyall Creek, Popular Alm, Gammalite and Pure Steel displayed these traits time and time again.

RK: I often hear your calls and having watched you in the box I’m amazed how often you mention the various sectionals during a race? How important are the sectionals?

DM: The sectionals are very important in identifying the pace of a race and I often mention in my call that they have crawled early or the pace has been on. This helps the punter and it also helps me remember the merits of the runners.

RK: One of the terms I am not familiar with is the Lead Time. Can you explain what this term is and its importance.

DM: The lead time is the time taken for a horse to travel from the start of the race to the start of the last 1609m (mile), i.e. in a 1760m race it will be the first 151m calculated by subtracting 1609 from 1760. A slow lead time advantages those near the lead while a fast lead time means they have been flying in front which will suit the backmarkers. By noting the early speed I can assess the merits of the main contenders.

RK: What sectionals (quarters in harness racing) are the most important?

DM: Well, initially, the lead time sets your first thoughts about the pace of the race but in my assessments I pay careful attention to the first two quarters after the lead time. If the leader breaks 30 seconds in either of those quarters they are going too quickly.

RK: What is meant by the Mile Rate and how is it calculated?

DM: This is the approximate time the pacers would have run if the race was 1609m (mile). It standardises every race, though you need to be aware the sprinters are more likely to run faster mile rates than the stayers. It is calculated by multiplying the overall race time by 1609 and dividing by the metre length of the race. Races at longer distances where the mile rates are faster than average are worth serious consideration as fast mile rates are an excellent indicator of class.

RK: Is it better to concentrate on sprint or distance races?

DM: The sprints usually suit the better drawn horses and the second row horses have the job in front of them while the distance races allow horses with bad draws to work their way through the field and make their own luck. It basically depends on the horses involved and I have no particular preference.

RK: Is there track bias in harness racing?

DM: On rare occasions, usually when it rains, horses drawn wide can be advantaged as the water draining to the rails will bog runners down. In Victoria there are very few tracks smaller than 960m, so most runners get their chance in regard to track layout.

RK: How bad is the death seat (sitting outside the leader)?

DM: It is not considered good if the horse has to work to get into that position; however, if it gets that position without much effort and the speed is not fast it can be the best place.

RK: This is where a study of the lead times and the other sectionals would pay off, I guess.

DM: Exactly. The run of a horse forced to work in a fast run race would be one to note for sure.

RK: Can horses sit wide and win?

DM: Generally, over the last lap it’s not a problem but it is almost impossible to do over races 2000m or longer for the majority of the race.

RK: What constitutes a bad favourite in harness racing?

DM: You have to be aware of the horse’s racing attributes. A horse drawn 1 with no gate speed can be shuffled right back. A horse that normally uses gate speed to win races and is drawn on the second row may not have the ability to go around the field.

RK: How do you personally determine value?

DM: Generally, unless there is an obvious standout, my pricing method is to start with the price of 2/1 ($3.00) and either extend the price of my first selection depending on the factors I have mentioned earlier, such as the barrier draw, gate speed and the driver, or if I find the rest of the field have several negatives against them I will shorten the price. I do not listen to anyone else as it is my opinion and my money and when I bet I want what I perceive as value.

RK: It seems there are several parallels between harness racing and horse racing from what I have gleaned from this interview. Both require serious study of the merits of the contender’s, those steering them and solid knowledge of each contenders running style, in particular in harness racing as I see things from your answers, Dan. Many thanks from our readers, Dan, for the comments.

DM: My pleasure. I hope I have been of some assistance.

Interview by Roman Koz