When a horse lands first prize in a major race you can bet your socks that a lot of planning went into achieving the success. That's what racing is all about for trainers and owners-planning, getting it right on the day.

Naturally, there can be only one winner, so the majority of these long-range plans come unstuck. But there are a few hotshot trainers who get it right enough times for us, as punters, to take them very seriously indeed.

To name four: Bart Cummings, Lee Freedman, David Hayes and Jack Denham. Without a doubt, this foursome has something of a stranglehold on quality racing in Australia.

So how do they win so many races? How can they plan a horse's campaign to ensure that it is cherry ripe on big-race day? How do they prepare their run-of-the-mill horses for their chosen races?

The answer is convoluted and difficult to pin down, as each horse is a different entity and is given a varying preparation. But there are some clear-cut pointers that can tell us when, say, a Cummings horse is being timed to the minute. Take the Melbourne Cup as an example. Cummings has won it enough times to make him the role-model for any trainer wanting to grab the big staying race.

Bart won the Cup in 1990 with Kingston Rule. Let's look at how he did it. Kingston Rule was brought back from a spell to race at Moonee Valley over 1223m on August 8. He was beaten 5.8 lengths and returned a Class Rating of only 30.8, well below his previous peaks.

He was then given three weeks off racing, and resumed again over 1400m at Caulfield on September 1. He was beaten into 5th place, again with a low Class Rating. But the build-up to the Cup had well and truly begun.

A week later, Kingston Rule was sent over 1600m at Flemington, finishing 4th to Zabeel, beaten 2.3 lengths. His Class Rating improved dramatically to 55.5! The toughening-up now began in earnest. Kingston Rule was produced again a fortnight later and finished Sth over 2100m, beaten four lengths.

Cummings then 'rested' him until October 17, when he finished 2nd to Kessem over 2000m at Caulfield. Ten days later he won the Moonee Valley Cup over 2600m with a Class Rating of 54.5. He was to have one more run before the Melbourne Cup-a 2nd placing over 2500m to Mount Olympus at Flemington on November 3.

Then came the Melbourne Cup, which he won with a Class Rating of 64.0, his highest of the campaign. Let's look back, then, at what Cummings did:

1st Race: 1223m, beaten 5.8 lengths.
2nd Race: 1400m, beaten 3.8 lengths.
3rd Race: 1600m, beaten 2.3 lengths.
4th Race: 2100m, beaten 4.0 lengths.
5th Race: 2000m, beaten 1.0 length.
6th Race: 2600m, won.
7th Race: 2nd 2500m, beaten 0.5 lengths.
8th Race: Wins the 3200m Melbourne Cup.

Total duration of the campaign: August 8 to November 6-just on three months. To show how closely Cummings keeps to this sort of pattern in regards to the Melbourne Cup, we can look at the 1991 Cup which he quinellaed with Let's Elope and Shiva's Revenge.

Let's Elope came to Bart from New Zealand. He produced her for her opening Aussie race on September 7 when she ran a sterling 4th over 1200m, beaten 3.75 lengths, at Caulfield.

In the run-up to the Melbourne Cup, Let's Elope had a total of six races-three of which she won! She had three Aussie outings before striking form with her win in the 2000m Turnbull Stakes at Flemington.

That was the race which clearly signalled her Cup prospects. Next start she was fit enough to win the Caulfield Cup with just 48.5kg, and she was then given a final hitout in the Mackinnon Stakes on the Saturday before the Cup, a race she also won. With six solid runs under her belt, Let's Elope went into the Melbourne Cup fit and ready.

Now, her stablemate Shiva's Revenge underwent a classic Bart Cummings preparation but Bart was foiled at the last minute when a minor injury meant Shiva's Revenge had to miss his final lead-up race on the Saturday - an omission that probably cost him the Cup.

Shiva's Revenge was given five lead-up races to the Cup and Bart obviously wished he could have made it six! The ideal, from what one can deduce after studying what he has done in the past, is at least six races and possibly seven, to get a horse rock-fit for the Cup.

There also has to be at least one run over 2400m and always a solid last minute lead-up race on the Saturday before the first Tuesday in November! Keep a watch on this campaign build-up when you're assessing the Cummings chances for this year's Cup!

There are a number of other important points that punters should commit to memory about Bart Cummings horses. The stable has a high strike rate with winning favourites (around the 33 to 34 per cent mark in recent years), and he does not enjoy a lot of success with 2yos. Instead, he seems to concentrate his attention on the 3yos, and you should always pay great attention to Bart's 3yos. His aim is always to win classic races.

Horses from the Cummings stable which won or ran placings at their last start usually run well at their following start-and this is particularly so if they are favourites! I can assure you that this information is well worth remembering.

In contrast to Bart, the veteran Sydney trainer jack Denham has a high concentration of 2yo. winners. His overall strike rate is lower than his winning percentage from his 2yo. runners, which is a most significant pointer. Another thing to remember is that his win strike rate with favourites is extremely high-a consistent one out of two in recent years!

It also seems that with Denham-trained horses the shorter the price the better chance that a winner will result! If you concentrate on his runners priced up to 6/1 you'll do okay-and if you don't mind skinnier odds then you'll do even better if you follow the Denham gallopers who are heavily-backed when resuming from a spell or making their debut. Money talks!

A trainer like Lee Freedman is a bit harder to follow than, say, a jack Denham or a Bart Cummings. Freedman-trained horses are very likely to bob up winning at midweek meetings, and the stable's strike rate with favourites, perhaps surprisingly, is not all that high compared to other top-flight trainers.

But Freedman horses do win when well-supported. If you see a Freedman horse coming in for substantial betting ring support - even though not into favouritism-then the alarm bells should start ringing! One aspect of the Freedman campaigns is that his horses have a tendency to win early in their campaigns.

With his 'star' horses, Freedman's tactics are easily spotted. His top-line horses almost always will win first-up or second-up. It's wise to remember this for '92. Take, for instance, the great campaigner Super Impose. On January 19 last year he resumed from a spell of some three months and was produced in a 1000m sprint at Sandown, in which he was sent out at 13/2. He ran a forward race but was beaten three lengths by the brilliant Redelva.

Freedman waited only two weeks before giving Super Impose the second start of his campaign - and this resulted in a 1.8 lengths' win over Coachman's Chill over 1400m at Flemington, at the very short odds of 8/11. But the pattern was clear-when Super Impose returned to racing he was fit and ready for a bold run.

At his next campaign, Super Impose returned to racing on August 24 last year following a spell of just over four months. Freedman put him in a 1400m dash at Warwick Farm and he was well-supported at 11/8. The result: A crushing win over the good performer Livistona Lane. Super Impose ran 6th at his next start, over 1600m, then won twice over 1900m and 1600m before filling 2nd place three times, and winding up his campaign with that marvellous 4th in the Melbourne Cup, beaten only 3 lengths by Let's Elope, conceding that mare a hefty 9kg.

We learn from these Freedman tactics that Super Impose has to be supported first-up or second-up. If the old-timer starts first-up over, say, 1400m he can be expected to win. If produced over, say, 1000m or 1200m, he might not win but he will go very close, and he will be very likely to win second-up.

Another key factor to remember about Freedman horses is that he does very well indeed with 2yos. You only have to scan through this season's statistics to realise that. Darren Gauci and Damien Oliver do much of the riding for Freedman, and Gauci has a good strike rate.

With the 2yo. classics dominating around this time of the year, we can now have a look at what's required for a Golden Slipper win. The moot point is that to have any chance of winning, a 2yo must have had a fair amount of racing experience. Tierce is an example.

Before his Golden Slipper triumph, he had raced seven times, beginning with his debut on October 27, 1990 up until March 9 when he had his final lead-up race for the Slipper (a win over 1200m at Rosehill, beating Jim's Bet).

The Slipper runner-up, Canonise, had four starts before he went into the big race and it may be significant that Tierce, who had the advantage of an extra three starts under his belt, was able to prevail in a tight finish. One thing is clear: To have any chance in a Slipper, a 2yo. has to be really fit and sharp, with at least four and up to seven or eight starts to his/her experience.

Trying to deduce what the average trainer sets out to achieve with certain horses is always a tying business. But the average punter does have some chance if he studies some of the day-to-day statistics. For instance, a punter would quickly realise that a trainer like Ray Guy scores well with favourites, so if you see a Guy-trained hotpot--say between evens and 2/1 or 9/4-then you can be reasonably sure that it will run a bold race, and that over a period of time you will achieve a high success rate.

Sometimes it's impossible to decipher what a campaign is all about. Some trainers take things day by day, making spot decisions on what to do next. This is the way they prefer to operate. As an example, we can point to Stylish Century, a much-travelled galloper whose campaign in 1991 included runs over a variety of distances.

From March 2 last year until November 30, Stylish Century had 17 starts. There was a four-months' spell from April 10 before the colt resumed on August 3. From that point he started 11 times over the following distances: 1100m, 1400m, 1600m, 1900m, 1600m, 1600m, 2040m, 2000m, 2500m, 2400m and 1800m. Stylish Century failed to win a race and his Class Ratings on the George Tafe scale were well below those he achieved between May and November in 1990.

He had a peak Class Rating of 70.1 over 2040m in 1990, but in his second 1991 campaign he could achieve a top rating of only 55.3 over 1600m and 55.0 over 2400m. The ratings show more clearly than anything else how far off his best Stylish Century was-a massive 15kg, or about 10 lengths, and this was on his 'best' days of the '91 trail. On his worst days, a low of 29.3 on his final Perth outing of the year, he was some 41 kilos off his peak!

As writers in P.P.M. have pointed out before, the more recognisable campaign trails will always come from the top stables. These trainers usually have a definite agenda in mind, and they set out to rigorously achieve their ends.

The good trainers, too, are able to pursue successful and clearly delineated campaigns because (a) they have better horses; and (b) they are better trainers. Last year, and the year before that, Australia's Group 1 and 2 races-the major ones-were dominated by Bart Cummings, Lee Freedman, David Hayes and Jack Denham.

There is a very good case to be made out for supporting the horses trained by these men in all major races.

By Martin Dowling