No analysis of harness-racing could begin without a close look at the impact of the barrier draw. There are two aspects of harness-racing which are crucial - one is the draw, the other is the start itself.

Most harness races are now started from the mobile, a car with extending arms from the rear. It lines up the field, moving, and then, at the starter's discretion, releases the field at the race starting point.

The main reason why harness racing authorities switched to mobile starts from standing starts was a desire to protect the sport's punters. Mobile starts are more reliable because the horses are in full stride when the gates are released and the likelihood of a runner breaking stride and galloping is minimised.

The race is often won or lost at the start in a harness race, be it a mobile or a standing start. If a runner is slowly away, or fails to get into proper pacing stride quickly, his winning prospects are badly dented.

It's better to be out in front or near the lead than languishing at the rear. The 'common sense' to be drawn from all this is that a speedy beginner, drawn well, is a better prospect than a slow starter, drawn anywhere.

Allot bonus or penalty points according to each horse's draw. Study previous form and note where a horse has raced. If it is consistently well forward, then you can regard it as a good beginner. If not, consider penalising it. As for the barrier draws, well, you probably already know that barrier one is the 'prime' position, especially for those runners who are reliable beginners and who have the pace needed to use the inside alley to hold the advantage to the first turn.

The drawback of the 'pole' position is that a slow beginner can find itself 'lost' soon after the start as other runners, with more speed, quickly cross over. The slow-start rails pacer finds itself being shuffled back in the traffic jam and once that happens it's going to strike a lot of problems securing a clear run in the final stages.

Barrier two is also considered a positive draw. The obvious advantage for a horse with good speed from the mobile is that he has only one horse to cross to gain the lead. If unable to do so, it can still usually be able to get on the back of the leader and secure a nice trail.

The drawback is that a slow beginner can get shuffled back. Also, there's the chance of getting stuck in the 'death' outside the leader.

Horses racing from barrier three have statistics to back up the claim that this is a perfectly acceptable draw. The advantage for a good beginner is that there is only a slim chance of being shuffled back along the fence - yet the horse has a good chance of being able to secure a trail.

However, if two drivers inside the three horse are keen to lead then poor old No. 3 can find itself stuck out deep - on a limb! We come then to barrier four, which many regard as the best draw of all, surprisingly enough.

Here, the driver has the option of charging forward to lead on a speedy beginner but, if he doesn't, then he can very likely take a nice sit one-out, one-back. There is less crowding from barrier four as well.

Some consider the barrier to be a bit too wide. They say it only takes one nippy beginner to hold you out for the lead and make you have a hard run throughout in the death.

The other barriers, five through to 10, are all regarded as being awkward. Then we come into the area of driving skill. Much is required if a pacer is to overcome a bad draw. In the same way, good driving is always needed even when a horse starts from a good draw.

Study the barrier positions carefully. Check to see if a horse is suited by its draw. Consider barriers 1, 2, 3 and 4 as the best. Place faith in first and second favourites drawn in those barriers, and bet more money the better the price.

The third aspect to look at is which races to bet on. This is a difficult area in any racing code. One area which I feel is unreliable is 2yo racing. There are a number of reasons for this.

Obviously, these pacers are inexperienced. They need time to learn what the racing game is all about. Some are more forward than others - but then the 'laggers', after a race or two, will suddenly find winning form!

It is quite common for 2yos to gallop at the start and wreck any chance they might have had. They can also inconvenience other runners. Perhaps the worst factor in the 2yo racing mystery is the fact that in most races, for the first few months of the season especially, not all runners will have their form established.

Unless you follow trial form very closely you will be completely in the dark! So the points to keep in mind are as follows:

  • Don't bet on the early 2yo races. The runners will be inexperienced, unreliable and unknown.
  • Eliminate any race in which one or more runners has not started in a race. They throw in a terrible 'unknown' element into race form.
  • If you must bet on the 2yo races, never accept less than 2/1 and try to stick with the major stables.

As far as other races are concerned, look for those events where all the runners have shown good form. One idea is to check out the last three starts of each horse, add up all the figures for each individual race, and then bet on the three races with the lowest totals.

I know a Melbourne professional who has been using this idea for many years. He says it usually sorts out the safest 'form' races. And, you have to concede, it does make sense. The lower the total means that the runners in the race have been registering lots of 1, 2s and 3s in their last three starts.

I recommend that you never bet on more than three races per meeting. Bet on any more and you are making your task so much more difficult where long-term profits are concerned. The fewer races on which you bet, the fewer winners you have to find!

When you study a race, ensure that you consider the time factor. A horse's recent Mile Rates, or its sectional times (if available in your formguide) can reveal many secrets to a runner's ability.

You have to tag what I call the 'realistic' chances in a race. Usually, you can look at the first four or five horses in the pre-race betting, and assume that these are the true chances. But sometimes you have to look further.

Look at how the barrier draw affects each horse. Try to sum up how the race will be run. Which are the most reliable runners from the start? Of the others, which have the ability to produce a strong final 600m?

Look at the drivers. How good is each when assessed against the others? Have they proven reliable in the past? What's their win strike rate like at the track? Bear in mind, when you are doing all this, that you are looking for the value bets in the race.

If you want long-term profits, you have to ensure your win selection strike rate is GOOD and that the prices of your winners are also HIGH enough to ensure you can beat the lack of value.

You should be able to estimate in your mind how much 'value' you can place on each main chance in a race. I have drawn up the following set of 'chances to prices' which you might care to follow.





LONGSHOT: 10/1 or longer

Let's say you narrow the field down to three. One horse you rate as a good chance, another as a fair chance and a third as a longshot. You now have to see if your estimated prices bear any relation to the prices available on the tote, or with the bookies.

Firstly, always demand more than your estimated price. As you can see from the above list, I have added to the assessed price, so with the 'good chance' you will be seeking at least 4/1, with the 'fair chance' you want 8 /1 and with the 'longshot' you should not accept less than 14/1.

These restrictions may limit your bets - but you will rarely back a horse that isn't value!

I suggest you only bet on those horses on which you can get the value prices. On the others - well, if you feel a bit shaky, then bet them for 'insurance' to save your stake, though I always feel that a maximum-boldness approach pays off more in the long run.

NEXT MONTH: Vital tips from experts around Australia and from America and Canada. How they approach harness-racing handicapping, their advice and their do's and don’ts.

By Rick Roberts