In this article, we present a bold new approach to harness racing betting, based on half-mile speed ratings, written by Melbourne expert Mark Solonsch, who has studied gambling behaviour at university and in 1990 presented a paper at the International Conference on Gambling and Risk in London. The article is an extract from Mark's fine book The Complete Guide To Australian Gambling (Wright books, (03) 596 4262).

A night out at the harness races can be a highly glamorous event. Realistically, though, it is whether you win or lose that counts. Most trots' Punters don't understand the sport very well, and tend to lose in the long run.

After you've learned what the form symbols mean, you come to the fun part - actually doing the form. The most important piece of information to consider in harness racing is how fast can the horse run? In particular, how fast can the horse sprint?

All times in the formguides will be given as Mile Rates; that is, the time the horse took to run is converted to show how long it would have taken the horse to run exactly one mile. In addition, good formguides normally show the time taken to run the last 'half-mile' (last half) and the last quarter-mile (last quarter). When considering these times, a good benchmark to use is a mile rate of 2 minutes, a last half-mile of 60 seconds and a last quarter-mile of 30 seconds. A good metropolitan-class horse can run around these times.

The most important times are the half mile times. These show how fast the horse can sprint. If it cannot run a half in 60 seconds, it is not quite up to metropolitan class. In some races, no horses will be able to do this, and in others all horses will be able to. Nevertheless, it is a good place to start.

In harness racing, some horses just aren't good enough to win (unless something extraordinary happens like most of the runners falling over). It is important you sift these out before you start to do the form.

Go through the field and write down how fast each horse ran for the last half mile at its last three starts. (To do this you need a formguide as put out by the Harness Racing Board in your State. Victorian punters can use the TAB guides.)

Then make an adjustment for how far the horse finished behind the winner. This is fairly rough because it doesn't consider whether the horse finished strongly or whether it was weakening badly. The adjustment is based on how fast horses can run.

On average, harness horses can run about 14 metres per second. So, if a horse is beaten by seven metres, add 0.5 seconds to its time for the last half-mile, and so on. When you have the three adjusted times written down you can then give an estimate of its speed.

Once you have these times you can see fairly quickly what the average speed in the race is. Give yourself a guideline of about 0.3 seconds slower than the best horse's speed to use for comparing all the others.

  • Any horse more than 1.5 seconds slower that your guideline can be scrapped immediately.
  • Any horse which is 0.8 to 1.5 seconds behind that mark can also be scrapped if (a) it has been consistently finishing out of the first three placings for quite a few runs, (b) it has not won for over six months. It also may be scrapped if it has drawn a bad barrier, either the outside two barriers or a second-row draw.

So the important factor is how fast the horse can run. You have given each runner a speed rating, so that job is done. Next you need to consider how the race will be run.

The best horse doesn't necessarily win every race. Depending upon whether the race is run fast from the beginning, or whether it is run slowly at first with a sprint over the last 800m, different horses will either perform
better than expected, or worse than expected.

You need to be able to read a race. The first thing is to write down which horses on the front line are fast beginners. How do you know? If you go to the trots you will soon work this out.

The best idea is to keep notes on as many horses as you can. I keep a record of every race I see at Moonee Valley and I record which horses started fast, which began fairly and which horses started slowly.

After you watch a few races you will notice that there is an early tactical battle to get into a good position as soon as possible. Each of these positions has a name (see the chart on Page 9). The best position is to be in the lead.  However, if the race is going to be run fast from the beginning this can mean that the leader has had to work very hard and is likely to tire.

The next two good positions are the 1-1 sit and the box sit. The 1-1 means the horse is close to the leader and is sheltered from the wind by the horse in front of it. It allows this horse to conserve energy and make its run at the finish without being blocked in by other horses.

However, it is still running further than the horses 'on the fence' and this can sometimes take its toll. The box sit is a great position as the horse has a cover from, the wind and is 'on the fence' so it doesn't have to run as far as the horses on the outside. The one major disadvantage is that this horse can often get blocked for a clear run at the finish.

The 'death' is a good position for a strong horse but a very bad position for a horse which tires at the end of its races, or one which likes to make one final sprint. Third or fourth back on the inside or outside can be called midfield. These positions can be all right but are best when the speed of the race is quite fast.

(1) If the horse is a fast beginner it will lead, or at worst be in the box sit. If it's a slow beginner, it will be on the fence, third or fourth back (or even in the box sit if it is lucky).

(2,3,4,5) These are great barriers and assuming a skilful driver the horse should be able to settle in a good position. If the horse is a fast beginner it may be able to lead but there's a chance it could be in the death. If it's a fair beginner it should get a midfield position or maybe even the 1-1. If it's slow, it will be midfield or perhaps towards the rear.

(6,7,8) These are difficult barriers. If the horse is a very fast beginner it may be able to lead but if it does not then it can get caught three wide and have to ease right back to the rear (or, worse, it may stay three wide for the entire race). Normally, the driver of these horses will not try to start fast but will ease the horse away and take up a position midfield or at the rear.

(9, 10,11, second row) These barriers are quite difficult. If the horse is a fast or fair beginner with a good driver it can often obtain a good midfield position. Otherwise, it'll be at the rear, or midfield on the fence.

Will the pace be slow, moderate or fast? It's not easy to judge. If there are many fast beginners in a race the pace will be very fast for the first 200 metres but may then slacken off. Assume a moderate pace.

If there are many strong horses this almost always causes a fast pace as these horses may have a battle for the 'death' or even for the lead. These battles can sometimes last 500m or more. If the race is over 2500m, the pace is normally slow, with no driver willing to make a run three wide in the early part.



  1. Make your time ratings for each horse.
  2. Discard those horses which are not competitive.
  3. Read the race.
  4. Assess the chances of each horse.

Standing starts: How do standing start races differ from mobile start races? The same principles apply in assessing the best horses in the race. Times are crucial. However, in assessing the race, the way the horses start is vital. Many horses won't start cleanly from a standing start, while others start very fast.

I recommend that you give a great deal more weight to the way each horse starts than you normally would, and that you should not automatically discard horses which have a time rating up to 2 seconds behind the leading horse. Yes, the effect of the start can be that dramatic.

Long-distance events: Races over 2500m are often viewed as different to other races. Don't worry yourself over this as most good horses can win races over a range of distances. In fact, in these longer races the middle stages can often be run at a slow pace which makes the race more like a sprint than a true staying test.

Trotters: Trotters are beautiful to watch, until they break stride and the driver must then restrain the horse until it begins to trot correctly again. It is this concern that makes trotting races unpopular.

Class: These factors aren't quite so important but are used to help you make your final decision. Firstly, class - the best class races are m the metropolitan area, and are marked with an 'M' on the formguide; country is a 'C' and restricted meetings are a 'B'. Overseas races have an 'X'.

However, there are different classes in country and metropolitan races. In metropolitan class the lowest is MO, then Ml, M2 and so on, until Free For All (FFA). There are Classic races as well, which are also high class. Some other States (Victoria) use an opposite system where the highest numbers apply to the worst class.

For example, in South Australia, 23 is a higher class than 24. It's easy to tell the difference because the numbers are a lot higher in the 24, 23, 22 type systems than in the MO, MI, M2 systems. Class 21 is about the same as MO. In the country, CO is the lowest class.

Recent form: It is important that the horse has been winning or has placed consistently over its last few runs. Also, look at when it last won. If it was a long time ago, its chance of winning this race comes into question.

Drivers: A good driver can position a horse well and 'time' its finishing run. A bad driver can put a horse under pressure. It won't stop the horse winning if it's good enough but it will make it harder.

Races to avoid: Avoid betting on any races where you don't know all the form. This is especially the case for 2yo. races, races with low-class horses, and races with more than one or two interstate or overseas (NZ) horses. Remember that you can watch a race without having a bet on it; you don't have to bet on every race.

Also avoid races where the best chances are unreliable horses. This will likely occur in some standing start races and some trotting races.

Best betting strategies: When you do the form you are trying to select winners. So, stick mainly to bets which involve picking winners, not 2nds and 3rds as well. I recommend that on the harness races your staple diet should be WIN ONLY, PLACE and EACH-WAY. Add doubles, trebles and quadrellas as well. Remember, those bets require you to pick winners, which is what your form study is all about. Take quinellas if you wish. The best races for quinellas are where you have two, three or four good selections, which are difficult to separate.

In most cases it is wise to avoid trifectas. Too often a horse will run 3rd after you gave it no chance, just because it got a very easy run during the race. It may have had no chance of winning, but can destroy all your trifecta combinations.

The best time to take trifectas is when there is a clear-cut winner in the race. Then you have to find 2nd and 3rd places, which is almost like taking a quinella. Of course, if you are not right with the winner you will lose.

Even if you do decide to take quinellas and trifectas, still take some win, place or each-way bets as well. You have chosen them to win, so make sure you do bet on them to win. It makes sense.


In the case of this horse the formguide reveals that at its last three starts it was beaten 4m with a last half-mile of 64.4s, was then beaten 26m with a last half mile of 60.7 and after that was beaten 19m with a last half-mile of 62.8. Using the conversion factor as outlined in this article, Muriwai's speed ratings for its last three runs would be: 64.7,62.6 and 64.2.

Its average time, then, would be 64.2s. You ignore the second run because it was beaten by 26 metres and base your assessment on the other two times, which are fairly close together.

59+1m = 59.1.
59.2+4m = 59.5.
59.6+4m = 59.9.

Average time: 59.5s. Just take the average run as the best indicator.

60.0+16m = 61.1.
59.3+7m = 60.0.
59.8 (Won) = 59.8.

Average time: 59.9s. Give it the benefit of the doubt for its slow run.

59.9+4m = 60.2.

59.0+3m = 59.2.

Average time: 59.5s. Tough decision. Looking at its last win, this horse ran 59.9s for the half-mile, so it is better to lean to a faster time rather than a slower one, as you know he can run less than 60s.

61.7+31m = 63.8.
59.8+11.5m = 60.7.
62.2+8m = 63.0.

Average time: 63.0s. Sometimes when horses run in races much faster than they are used to, they can get 'dragged  along' and run an apparently improved time. These are normally very deceptive and should be ignored, as in this case with the 60.7s.

By Mark Solonsch