Phil Purser runs the Just Racing website ( and is a regular contributor to PPM. His new book, of some 628 pages, has just been released. This is an extract from the book.

In the hi-tech world we live in, punters expect every skerrick of information to be placed before them in their quest to spot an elusive winner.

The penetrometer – a device used to accurately assess a track rating – has had both its admirers and its critics over time.

Long before penetrometers came on the scene, I personally felt many track ratings that were given out were incorrect. One or more of the race club committees, stewards and course curators would often engender enthusiasm in punters’ hearts by declaring a track surface “dead”, when in fact it was later that same day proven to be “slow”, as evidenced by times run in races.

The simple and probable actual happening would be that a downgrade in a track rating may well lead to a downturn in betting turnover! Accurately measured, the penetrometer gives the punting public an exact reading when it is taken on race morning.

Doomben Racecourse Manager Warren Williams has been using the penetrometer at Doomben for some time. Doomben and the Gold Coast clubs each take a penetrometer reading on race mornings. Brisbane’s other metropolitan track at Eagle Farm doesn’t use a penetrometer.

Records taken over time, in my opinion, will show penetrometers give an accurate assessment of the track rating. On rain-affected tracks of “slow” and “heavy”, I have found that horses will perform to a consistent level on the same track given similar penetrometer readings.

Penetrometer readings are unique only to the track they are taken on, due to different soil compositions of individual tracks. For instance, in the most recent Saturday meeting when both venues of Doomben and the Gold Coast raced on the same day (May 30, 2005), a “dead” track was posted by stewards at both tracks.

The Doomben penetrometer read-ing was 5.03 (with the rail out four metres the entire course), whilst at the Gold Coast, even though their track was “dead” also, their  penetrometer reading was way below Doomben’s at 4.23. The Gold Coast rail on the day was out varying distances up to eight metres.

Down south, on the same day, Rosehill raced on a “good” track with the rail out six metres and their penetrometer was 4.15. Sandown (Hillside) was Melbourne’s venue that day and they had a “good” track with the rail in the true position and yet their reading was well above Sydney’s at 4.81.

So, let’s summarise those penetrometer readings from  May 30, 2005 in the table below, to help us conclusively understand that penetrometer readings are like  fingerprints and are therefore unique to each individual track:

Gold Coast4.238mDead
Sandown (H)4.81TrueGood

It is a good idea from a punting perspective to keep a book and list the penetrometer readings and rail placements for each track you bet on and also at the end of each day to write the winners’ names down. It becomes even more relevant for future “slow” and “heavy” ratings.

The other thing to understand is that the penetrometer readings are  generally done in the 6am to 7am timeframe on race morning. If a fine day with a top of 35 degrees is forecast, naturally the track will dry out further between 6am and the first race at, say, 12.30pm.

So a 4.35 penetrometer 6am raceday reading at Doomben would become probably about 4.15 if a penetrometer reading was taken before  the first race and the weather had stayed fine and was heading towards 35 degrees. 

Conversely, if showers happen during the morning or afternoon the penetrometer reading will go in the opposite direction – the margin of change being commensurate with  the amount of rain.

Track drying out is influenced by the season as well. Understandably, a summer track will dry out far quicker than a winter track.

So, what does a penetrometer look like and how does the Racecourse Manager arrive at his reading on raceday? Doomben’s Racing Manager Warren Williams kindly explains about penetrometers and I take this opportunity to publicly thank him for his input. Warren’s article reads:

Penetrometers have been used for many years to assist Racecourse Managers and Stewards with track ratings. This device comes from the road building industry where they used a device to measure the road profile prior to the final surfacing of asphalt. This device was then modified to measure soil hardness in turf.

Penetrometers are used in the thoroughbred industry by many metropolitan tracks and also some major provincial clubs. The penetrometer is constructed out of metal (stainless steel) and is currently manufactured in Melbourne.

The penetrometer description is as follows:

A one kilogram weight is released by a trigger action and falls one metre down a shaft, which in turn hits a 1cm square rod into the soil profile. The 1cm square rod has 1cm increments as the measurement for the depth the rod has entered into the soil profile. This action is undertaken three times in the one position, therefore ,giving three readings, e.g. 2.5, 4.5, 6.5.

A formula is used to calculate the reading and is based on the average figure for the entire course. To obtain this figure there are six readings taken every 200m around the course. Three of the six readings are taken 2m from the running rail and then the remaining three readings are taken 4m from the running rail. Each reading is recorded and then all figures are entered into a formula that will provide an average. This average then becomes your race day penetrometer reading and will correspond to your set ratings:

  • Fast
  • Good
  • Dead
  • Slow
  • Heavy

For example, Track – “Good”, Penetrometer reading –  4.25.

By Phil Purser