Following Viewed’s history-making victory in the 2008 Melbourne Cup, one irate punter, writing in another publication, had this to say: “That’s 10 unplaced runs in a row for the last two Melbourne Cup winners. Efficient had six unplaced runs in a row leading into his win and Viewed had four. Obviously all you have to do is pull out a ‘miraculous’ form improvement on the big day.”

Clearly, this punter pays little attention to the racing media. If he did, he may have recalled that following Viewed’s emphatic victory in the 2008 Brisbane Cup, his trainer Bart Cummings made no secret of the fact that Viewed would be put aside and set for the Melbourne Cup.

Just as clear is the fact that the punter does not understand how trainers think.

When sifting through media information, I take little notice of anything that jockeys say or are quoted as saying.

There is a long held belief in racing circles that jockeys are the worst judges of all. This comes I suspect, as a result of the number of times jockeys, when offered the choice of mounts, will pick the wrong horse.

Trainers, however, are a different story. Their comments I do pay attention to. Often they will advise the public, via the media, how a certain horse is going, what races it is being set for etc. This latter piece of information can often prove to be the most valuable from a punting point of view.

When horses begin a preparation, their trainers will map out a likely program for them. They will target a particular race or races for each horse. When a trainer tells the media what races he/she has set a particular horse for it is time to pay attention.

Watch what races the trainer puts the horse in as lead-ups to the main goal or goals. You will start to recognise these lead-up races for what they are – conditioning runs. You will then stop losing money backing horses running in races that they cannot win.

Why? Because you will have started to think like a trainer. Few punters do this and so they continue to back horses that can’t win.

Maldivian provided a classic example of what I am talking about. Given a break after his shock scratching at the barriers prior to the start of the 2007 Caulfield Cup, Maldivian made his return to racing in the 1400m CF Orr Stakes at Caulfield.

Trainer Mark Kavanagh had publicly stated that Maldivian’s main target was the Australian Cup, a 2000m race.

Nevertheless, Maldivian was well-fancied in betting for the Orr Stakes, with many punters having fallen for the media hype surrounding the horse. These punters did their money cold when Maldivian struggled home in 13th place.

The media went into a frenzy. People were stopping Mark Kavanagh in the street asking him if Maldivian was all right. What had gone wrong with him?

Kavanagh responded: “Suddenly you just can’t say he is a champion and will win everything I put him in. That is just not going to happen. It’s quite ridiculous.”

Just who put the champion label on him? The media, of course.

Consider the facts. Maldivian had not won at less than 1600m. Admittedly, he had recorded two wins at that distance, once in a weak maiden handicap at Ballarat and later in a slightly stronger 0-82 handicap at Sandown.

Hardly great formlines for a horse about to take on some of Australia’s top sprinters over 1400m.

A study of his form pattern showed that his best runs in previous campaigns had come at his third, fourth and fifth runs after a spell. There was absolutely nothing in his form to suggest that he could win first-up over 1400m against a class field of sprinter/milers.

Those members of the media who tipped him demonstrated once again that they have no knowledge of horse-training or form patterns. The post-race media inquisition that followed Maldivian’s defeat was due purely to the ignorance of the media. The horse was simply in a race he could not win.

There are a couple of strategies that you can use to help you to think more like a trainer and thereby eliminate horses which cannot win.

Firstly, buy yourself a notebook or scrapbook and start keeping records of trainers’ comments about how their charges are going and what races they are being aimed at.

Secondly, buy a good formguide (say, the Sportsman). This formguide will provide you with the most comprehensive details about a horse’s past performances. It will tell you whether a horse has won first-up or second before; what its win percentage is, whether or not it has won on rain-affected tracks, whether it has won at the distance of today’s race, at this track and more. Most importantly, it will, when combined with your own records, help you to determine whether your selection has a genuine chance of winning, or is simply having a conditioning run.

Choose a stable (or stables) to follow. This will make your record keeping easier, as you won’t be trying to record every piece of information appearing in the media about trainers and their horses, but rather following a short list of stables.

In doing this, you will learn more quickly the art of thinking like a trainer.

I will give you another insight into how a trainer thinks, based on my own experience. I owned riding schools and was involved with showjumping, eventing, endurance and harness horses for quite a few years before venturing into thoroughbred training in 1983. In that year, I bought a gelding named Rustic Affair for $150 (that is not a misprint!) at the William Inglis and Sons January sales at Randwick.

There were several reasons why I bought Rusty.

Firstly, my wife Jo had picked him out of the sales catalogue. She felt sorry for him. He was rising 10 and Jo thought he would probably end up at the knackery.

Secondly, I wanted to have a go at training a racehorse, just to prove I could do it. I had got my trainer’s licence; I just needed a horse.

Thirdly, I had noted that at his last run before being turned out, Rusty had finished 4th in a restricted race over 1900m at Canterbury. Based on that performance, I thought I could pick up an open handicap with him in the country.

It was Jo’s birthday the day after the sale. If Rust went cheap enough, I would have Jo’s birthday present and my racehorse all rolled into one.

At $150, Rusty was certainly cheap enough, although I believe to this day that he should have been cheaper. The auctioneer cried, “I am bid $100”. I certainly saw no sign of a bid. Anyway, I leapt in with a bid of $150, confident that such an audacious offer would discourage any potential rival. The tactic proved a winner. That night Rusty was on a float heading to his new home.

The night he arrived I had a phone call from the well-known Sydney trainer, the late Cyril Kearns. Cyril had trained Rusty early in his career and wanted to make sure that he had gone to a good home. We chatted and Cyril told me that Rusty was quick to reach peak fitness and that he could stay all day. He had, in fact, won up to 2400m.

The following week I was back in Sydney at the AJC offices. There I hand wrote all the details of Rusty’s 68 career starts. Returning home, I studied this information and mapped out a program for him.

Now I am not suggesting that you as a punter should study every career start of every horse you consider backing. I believe that if you buy the Sportsman you will find enough information about a horse to identify a form pattern.

Jo and I had agreed that if Rusty had not won by his fifth start for us then his racing days would be over.

When I started training him he’d been out in a paddock for three months and had not won a race for over two and a half years. Scanning the racing calendar I could find no suitable races of 2000m or more in our region.

Rusty’s racing records revealed that he had won twice at 1400m and twice at 1600m. I set him for a 1600m open handicap at Tumut on April 23.

Rusty had his first run for us at the Yass Picnics on March 4. He went around in a 1200m race. I could have given him a barrier trial but that would have cost $50, whereas a start at the picnics cost just $5.

He finished last, as I expected. Two weeks later we took him to Tumut for a 1600m Open Handicap. I gave the jockey instructions not to knock Rusty around as soon as it became obvious he could not win. He was not knocked around and came 3rd in a three horse field. We picked up prizemoney and he had a good conditioning run and a look at the tricky Tumut track.

Start number three was at Cootamundra. The date was April 9. It was three weeks to the day since his Tumut run and it was time to get serious. Rusty needed a solid hitout. I put him in a 1200m Flying Handicap, a race he could not win, and told the jockey to give him a hard run.

Rusty came third in another three horse field. He had the hard run he needed to top him off for Tumut and Jo and I pocketed third prizemoney.

I just want to sidetrack at this point to clarify a couple of issues that may be concerning some readers. So far, I have referred to horses being given conditioning runs and placed in races which they cannot win. Under the rules of racing, trainers are supposed to present their horses in a fit condition to win whatever race they are contesting.

Clearly, this does not happen. We frequently see horses contesting races while still in a “burly“ condition. This is an example of a racing regulation which is rarely enforced.

As for entering a horse in a race it cannot win, there is nothing illegal about this. If a trainer presents a horse in top condition for a race which is, perhaps, too long or too short for it, he or she has not broken any rules.

Now back to Rusty. At Tumut on April 23, it all came together. In a four horse field, he stormed home from last on the turn to score by a head.

Jo and I got 12/1. No-one it seemed, including the bookmaker had looked at his form pattern or preparation. He had never won first-up or second-up after a spell. He had never won over 1200m. He had, however, won previously at his fourth run back from a spell and had twice won over 1600m.

Rusty’s first run for Jo and I had been over a distance at which he could not win. His second run over 1600m came just seven weeks after he came back into work and it was too far too soon to expect him to win, and, as I have already said, he had never won second-up. His third run saw him come back 400m in distance to contest a race he could not win. After three conditioning runs he was back to a distance at which he had recorded two of his six wins. He also was at his physical peak.

Rusty’s win was an example of history repeating itself, or, if you like, form patterns proving a valuable guide.

A more recent example of history repeating itself and form patterns standing up occurred on November 14. It was the Geelong meeting and the horse’s name was Jennings. It was resuming after a spell. I noted that it had won four times from six first-up attempts. Now that is an established form pattern. To me, the horse looked a good bet.

I fully expected Jennings to start favourite and anticipated odds of around 3/1. I got a very pleasant surprise when I arrived at my local TAB and found the horse showing $6.00 the win and $2.10 the place. On went my money, and although his price shortened slightly in the last couple of minutes of betting time, Jennings still returned a very attractive dividend when he scored a strong win. History had repeated itself and the form pattern held true.

Hopefully, these examples will help you to start thinking like a trainer and becoming more aware of the importance of form patterns.

Before concluding this article, I want to take you back to a suggestion I made earlier. That is, the idea of adopting a stable or select number of stables to follow.

This is a betting strategy that has been discussed before in PPM and one which has proven to be very profitable for some punters.

The big question is, which stable or stables do you follow?

A word of advice. Never assume that because a trainer is at the top of the trainers’ premiership, or at least close to it, that following his or her horses will automatically show you a profit.

What I would suggest is that you examine the trainers’ premiership statistics and determine which trainer or trainers you will follow. Beware of falling into the trap of following  smaller stables which may, by virtue of a single long-priced winner, be showing a substantial return on investment. Such successes are likely to be nothing more than a flash in the pan.

By all means monitor the performances of all trainers in the Premiership, but ultimately confine your betting activities to those trainers who will consistently return a profit, based on a $ 1.00 the win every starter basis.

When I wrote my book, Horse Racing as an Investment, I devoted a chapter to following trainers as an investment strategy. At the time there were 22 trainers showing a profit. Surprisingly, Gai Waterhouse was showing the lowest return on investment with a dividend of 17.39  per cent. When I next checked the Premiership, her stable was showing a profit of 29 per cent, whilst the majority of those above her previously had fallen by the wayside.

The Gai Waterhouse stable may well represent a “ blue chip “ investment. I will continue to monitor the Premiership, and hope to present an in-depth article on the viability of following a stable or stables, based on my research, sometime in 2009.

A final word on trainers revealing through the media their plans for a certain horse. Cup’s King Bart Cummings has already nominated Dandaad as his leading contender for the 2009 Melbourne Cup.

Be sure you write that name in your notebook.

By Tim Egan