How  to define class? Yes, it's that age-old handicapping issue and one that despite the many changing classifications of races we've had in recent years remains an ongoing riddle.

How can we compare a Class 1 at, say, Warrnambool on a Monday with a Class 1 at, say, Geelong on a Wednesday? How to compare an Open handicap at Ballarat on Wednesday with an Open handicap at Colac on Friday?

Don Scott had a go at it in his Scott Ratings but these now tend to be somewhat outdated. Hopefully, the new ratings-based handicapping procedure (outlined in the January and December PPMs) will help to a great degree to overcome the problems inherently associated with class.

I’ve thought long and hard about it. The more I thought, the more I kept coming back to one key factor: PRIZEMONEY. In other words, what is a race worth?

My conclusion is that the amount of prizemoney on offer for a race can help us enormously in deciding the strength of same-class races. So, if I see a $12,000 Class 1 at Ballarat and a $7000 Class 1 at Hamilton, then I can assure myself that the Ballarat race is the stronger one.

It’s a broad rule of thumb approach that has its ups and downs, but more ups than downs.

So, having decided that I could judge a horse’s class by looking at the dollar-power of the races in which it’s been running, I then moved to drawing up a plan of attack. I wanted some basic rules but none that were absolutely restrictive because when doing the form it’s very much a matter of instinct on many occasions, and no firm and fixed rule can be allowed to interfere with winning intuition!

By looking at prizemoney for various races we can very easily see when a horse is dropping significantly in class.

Now, I use only the last five starts to determine this. Going back any further is only complicating the issue so far as I am concerned. I use AAP’s Webform for my daily purposes. It lists the last five starts of each runner, and shows the prizemoney each race is worth. This is the important factor.

My approach is to look at the prizemoney on offer for the race under assessment so let’s say it’s a $7000 race. Okay, bearing that in mind I now go looking for horses in the race that have performed well in races worth MORE than $7000 and the MORE the merrier.

Let’s take a look at a Saturday city race as an example, and I will come to the midweekers next.

Randwick, December 6, Acufex Plate, 1200m, of $45,000.
After scratchings, my card looked like this:

MIDNIGHT AVENUE: 2nd in a $50,000 race.
SIN TRAIL: 4th in a $50,000 race.
SIR CRAIGLEE: 4th in a $70,500 race.
RANDWICK: 5th in a $93,533 race.
PORTFOLIOS: 1st in a $50,000 race.
TOM COUREUSE: 2nd in a $50,000 race.
CONNOISSEUR: 10th in a $40,000 race.
MAC’S SUCCESS: 7th in a $23,000 race.
STRIKING VICTORY: 5th in a $101,100 race.
NEWSBOLD ROYALE: 8th in a $50,000 race.

Okay, we can see from this that the horses I would now consider are Sir Craiglee, Randwick and Striking Victory.
It’s the latter horse who looks to have the most powerful claim on the race.

The 4yo, trained by Gerald Ryan, raced over 2200m last start back on May 24 in that $101,100 race, the Rough Habit Plate, at Doomben. He was beaten 2 lengths by Bob’s Boy.

I now look back on his other runs, and find that two starts back he was 3rd of 18 in the $76,000 Gold Coast Guineas over 1400m, beaten 1.4 lengths. Two good runs to his name and both in races worth a lot more than the one he is now about to tackle.

Striking Victory is racing first-up from a spell and I note that he’s had one first-up run for a win. He’s a winner at the distance, he is drawn well and he has Larry Cassidy aboard.

Led by his performances in higher prizemoney races, I mark down Striking Victory as a potential winner. He does just that, sweeping home from well back on the turn. After being at double figures in the morning pre-post market, he firms to around 3/1!

Let’s look now at a midweek race, because it’s in these races that I have been finding the greatest success. It’s surprising how many winners you can find by looking at horses dropping by prizemoney.

Wyong, December 11, Open Handicap, 1000m, of $25,000.
In this race, which drew together some handy sprinters, there were quite a few who had run good races in higher prizemoney races. This is the rundown:

SWITCHED ON TIME: 7th in a $50,000 race.
MUSTARD: 1st in a $50,000 race.
STRABANE: 2nd in a $101,200 race.
A TENNER: 1st in a $45,000 race.
CAPE HOWE: 7th in a $50,000 race.
DESERT BRAVE: 10th in a $50,000 race.
HIJACKER: 13th in a $45,000 race.
PRIDE AND POWER: 14th in a $103,075 race.
SON OF PEGASUS: 2nd in a $50,000 race.

Okay, there are two runners here which draw our attention. One is Strabane, because of his 2nd in the $101,200 Concorde Stakes over 1100m at Rosehill on August 30. He was beaten only 1.25 lengths by Stradbroke Handicap winner Private Steer.

Add to this a 2nd to Octennial over 1100m at Rosehill last start on November 15, and I found myself staring at a really hot prospect, especially as Strabane was well drawn, had won and been placed at the trip, and had Hugh Bowman aboard.

I had a look at Pride And Power but he had run only 14th in his $103,075 race over 1200m at Warwick Farm on March 15 and was resuming from a long break. I rated him a risk. As things turned out, he was a scratching.

Strabane went on to win this race at 5/2, thus underlining again the potential of this handicapping approach.
Sometimes you’ll find that a couple of horses stand out in a race, especially at the midweek meetings.  Let’s take a look at such a race at Coffs Harbour on December 12.

Coffs Harbour, December 12, Open Handicap, 1310m, of $7500.
As you can see, this is a very low-prizemoney race. Two runners stood out, as you will see.
SENSACHE: 3rd in a $30,500 race.
SAHARA COVET: 9th in a $24,000 race.
PLANET LOVER: 8th in a $12,500 race.
NIGHT TO DAY: 1st in an $8100 race.
SHINING BUCCANEER: 14th in a $13,500 race.
MANAWAA: 7th in a $10,600 race.
FONTEYN’S FLIER: 7th in a $9100 race.
OFF THE BENCH: 7th in a $13,250 race.
VIGILANCE: 8th in an $8000 race.
SNOW ARCTIC: 9th in an $8400 race.
SON OF KEL: 9th in a $15,300 race.

The two in this race are Sensache and Sahara Covet. Sensache ran 3rd in a $30,500 race over 1600m at Ballina on September 11, and his last start saw him run 3rd at Grafton over 1600m in $10,000 company.

Sahara Covet’s 9th came in a $24,000 0MW Handicap over 1350m at Doomben on November 1 and the 7yo came into the Coffs Harbour race after running 2nd to Sensache at Grafton over 1100m in a $7000 race on November 28. He met Sensache 1.5kg better off compared to the weights for that race.

Sahara Covet at 5/2 won the race from Sensache, 3/1. A perfect quinella.

For a classic example of this approach, I turn your attention to Rosehill on December 13. At this meeting, an analysis of the 8th race very easily found the winner.

Rosehill, December 13, 1MW-LY Handicap, 1200m, of $50,000.
CARIBOO: 2nd in a $176,500 race.
CENTRE FIRE: 8th in a $175,000 race.
JIVAGO: 4th in a $50,000 race.
SCHAHRIAR: 5th in a $61,000 race.
ATHELNOTH: 9th in a $141,200 race.
SIN TRAIL: 4th in a $50,000 race.
DANNY DANCER: 6th in a $61,000 race.
SENTIMENTAL TOUR: 8th in a $40,000 race.
TOM COUREUSE: 8th in a $50,000 race.
BLUE SUTTARB: 5th in a $50,000 race.
CHATLINE: 10th in a $76,000 race.
GROOVE MASTER: 11th in a $50,000 race.
SPINJESTER: 5th in a $45,000 race.

What do these statistics tell us? Well, immediately my eyes fell on Cariboo. That runner-up placing in a race worth $126,000 MORE than the current race looked most appealing.

Further examination of the formlines for Cariboo shows that the 2nd came two runs back in the 1200m Mercedes-Benz Stakes at Eagle Farm behind the very smart Super Elegant. Cariboo was beaten only a long neck. Before that, the grey 5yo had run 2nd in a $101,000 race, the 1350m BTC Sprint, to Emission. These are crack formlines.

Last start, on July 5, he was last of 20 in the Glasshouse Handicap at the Sunshine Coast but the track conditions probably put paid to his prospects.

Now, here he was resuming in a $50,000 race. His first-up record showed two wins and a 3rd from four tries, four starts at Rosehill for four wins, and four starts at the distance for two wins and a 2nd.

To my way of thinking, Cariboo measured up as a strong chance. That was the way it worked out. Backed into favourite at 3/1, he won by a length.

The next example is a Monday race at Horsham on December 15. Using the prizemoney approach as outlined, only two runners had compelling claims. Here’s the rundown:

Horsham, December 15, Open handicap, 1300m, of $10,000.
AT RISK: 8th in a $71,500 race.
OUR HARVEST TIME: 5th in a $15,810 race.
HONG SE LAD: 11th in a $22,000 race.
CASINO EVIL: 8th in a $40,000 race.
RUSCIDI: 5th in a $25,000 race.
GRENOUILLE: 4th in a $25,400 race.
BLUESMAN: 7th in a $20,000 race.
LEONARD: 3rd in a $16,500 race.
WAHEMA: 11th in a $22,000 race.
WINDY DAWN: 3rd in a $15,000 race.
HILLVIEW EXPRESS: 6th in a $20,000 race.
MR LANCELOT: 8th in a $20,500 race.

As you can see, the two horses that immediately thrust themselves into the spotlight are At Risk and Casino Evil. It’s time to examine their claims.

At Risk ran 8th in the China Bowl over 1600m at Ararat on November 16, beaten 5.7 lengths. A good effort, which was followed by a 4th in a $32,000 race, the Warracknabeal Cup, on November 23.

Yes, both solid efforts but the worry for me is that both were over 1600m while the current race is 300m shorter, a distance at which At Risk has no performance record.

Casino Evil’s 8th in a $40,000 race was his latest run at Moonee Valley in an Open Handicap for 4YO’s and upwards over 1200m. He was beaten 6.2 lengths but did run up against the useful sprinter Toast Of The Coast. At his previous start, the 6yo ran 2nd in a $20,000 race at Ararat, beaten just under 2 lengths over 1200m by Stacks On The Mill.

Weighing up the two horses, I give the nod to Casino Evil, who definitely has the sprint form to measure up. I like At Risk, too, because he’s such a game horse but I fear he will get back and will have to run home hard to get up and catch the speedier types.

The result of the race? Casino Evil won by a half length at 4/1 from Our Harvest Time and Hong Se Lad. At Risk was sent out favourite at 7/2 but could finish only 9th. He was, though, only 3 lengths from the winner.

What I am saying is that such an approach can very quickly high­light the runners you should be con­cen­trating on for your selections.

After all, isn’t a shortcut to the main fancies what we really need as punters? Too many of us rely on the pre-post betting markets to find the horses we tend to concentrate on, i.e. the first few in the market.  With my approach, you might well be focusing on horses at double-figure odds. 

Let me give you another example of what I mean. This is a race from Cessnock on December 15, and it threw up only two key chances.

Cessnock, December 15, Open Handicap, 1150m, of $8000.
SHY HERO: 9th in a $25,000 race.
DRAMAWAY: 5th in a $35,525 race.
GLEN IDOL: 9th in a $14,000 race.
NASRULLA KING: 7th in a $50,000 race.
NIGHT CALL: 12th in a $20,500 race.
NOBLE DRAGON: 5th in a $30,800 race.
RAFFIN GLOW: 3rd in a $23,000 race.
ROMAN SPLENDOUR: 3rd in an $11,000 race.
BY MY STAR: 8th in a $23,000 race.
CYNATHEA: 10th in a $30,000 race.
SPEECHMAKER: 9th in a $20,000 race.

Which horses do we zero in on? Dramaway and Nasrulla King. I think Nasrulla King has excellent claims. His 7th in a $50,000 race was his last-start run at Rosehill over 1400m behind Malta on July 19, so he is resuming from a spell. However, he is a first-up winner and he’s a winner at the race distance.

Dramaway is an interesting runner. The 6yo formerly raced in Tasmania, where he ran 5th in the 1200m Newmarket at Launceston on November 18, 2001. He hasn’t had a start since running 4th at Swan Hill in Victoria back on June 9, 2002. His record shows six starts at 1150m for three wins and a 2nd; that’s good.

The query is, of course, his long break from racing. Can he return with a win? My decision at the time was to go with Nasrulla King and take a saver on Dramaway.

The result: Dramaway DID make a winning comeback and was 11/2 in the betting. Nasrulla King ran into trouble and finished 5th at 13/4 favourite.

I think you will find this a very useful handicapping tool. Just follow the simple rules:

  1. Look for the highest prizemoney race in each runner’s last five starts.
  2. Isolate the top two or three prospects and then analyse their formlines.
  3. Keep in mind that the BIGGER the drop in prizemoney to the current race’s prizemoney, the bigger the class drop is likely to be.

By Martin Dowling