In this article, our senior contributor E.J. Minnis continues his series of "questions and answers" in which he replies to queries sent in by PPM readers.

We intend making this series a regular feature in PPM. Please send any questions to: The Editor, PPM, PO Box 551, Dee Why, NSW 2099.

What a fantastic response following the first question and answer session in the October PPM. Here's a commonly asked query from Betty Powers of Brisbane:

"I know you shouldn't let the market change your bet but sometimes when you see your selection drifting out in the betting you begin to get cold feet. Should you take any notice of where the money is going?"

Answer: There can be no hard and fast rules re market drifters. When you state "market change", I assume you are referring to the UniTab tote market and not the bookmakers' market, which to a degree is a chicken and egg situation.

Nowadays it's normal for bookmakers to open their markets to large percentages, 140-plus per cent is quite normal. This is because they play a wait-and-see game with the punters, relying on the early tote pools in many instances in the setting of their own prices.

This is despite the fact that many of them utilise bookmakers' pricing services, such as provided by Cold Coast  bookmaker Vince Aspinall, who is regarded as one of the shrewdest form analysts in Australia.

The high opening percentages effectively mean that they will tumble, meaning most, if not all. horses will drift out in the market. So getting cold feet about a drifter is not necessarily the way to go as most horses are, in fact, market drifters.

As well, do not confuse a price drift with a market correction and subsequent late money for a horse; such events can be positive signs. However, if a horse drifts significantly then there may be reasons for such an occurrence. Quite often substantial drifters fall into one of three categories:

(1) The first-upper: first-up runners who drift significantly are in most cases, best left alone, unless you have good reason to do otherwise.

As an example, consider what happened to a few first-up runners who ran it the Rosehill meeting on September 23.

In the Starlight Stakes, race 3, three of the eight runners, Oamaru Force, Empire and Canny Fly, were first-up and with an opening bookmaker's market percentage of 127 per cent, it came as no surprise that by rice time, six runners had been market drifters.

All three first-uppers drifted in the market but by far the most significant was Empire, who opened at 4/1 ($5), drifted out to 8/1 ($9), a 9 per cent drift which was quite substantial, before firming slightly into 7/1 ($8) by race time. It ran wide all the way and did extremely well to finish third, beaten less than a length.

Respected form analyst Tony Brassel noted "Big Empire looked open to more improvement than most ... he travelled back in the field from a wide gate and this outing will tune him up for (his) next outing".

The fact that he looked big and open to improvement would have been the reason for the significant betting drift, as the opinions of the horse "watchers" in the parade ring and saddling enclosure impact on the betting market. The slight movement lite in the betting from 8/1 into 7/1 would have been simply a market correction.

In the Heritage Stakes, race 4, again there were three first-up runners, Force Zulu, Sir Craiglee and Chuckle, of which only the latter was a serious contender. With an opening betting market totalling 135 per cent, it was no surprise that eight of the nine runners drifted in the betting by the time the race was run.

Chuckle opened in the betting at 3/1 ($4), being kept pretty tight in the betting throughout and although drifting out to 15/4 ($4.80), in fact did nothing more than mirror the overall market percentage change.

It ran second, beaten a short head, getting too far back in the run due to an ill-judged ride, and should have clearly won. In this instance, although the horse was a drifter, the level of the drift was of no real concern, in fact the opposite was true, being some indication that it would run a bold race first-up.

(2) The late market drifter: this type of horse usually drifts because of reports back from the parade ring and saddling enclosure that a horse does not look at its best, i.e. sweating up, looks fat, dull coat, etc., or another runner or runners have been supported substantially in the betting market, resulting in other fancied runners being eased.

An example of the latter type of drifter occurred on the Dubai Cup programme at Caulfield on Sunday, September 22. In race 8 with a very open market, the Michael Moroney trained Feel The Noise, although a proven failure at the 1200m with seven attempts without ever placing, was sensationally backed in from its opening quote of 9/1 ($10) into 11/2 ($6.50), probably being the best backed runner at the meeting.

This caused other runners to drift out, including the well-fancied Lethal Leigh, who opened at 5/1 ($6) and then drifted out in the betting to be 8/1 ($9) by race time, with 9/1 ($10) being available with some bookmakers on track.

I was acting as a commission agent for a Brisbane colleague at the meeting who was "on" if Lethal Leigh was at 13/2 or longer. Needless to say he was more than pleased with its win but also with the price he got, which was simply due to the over-betting on the eventual race favourite.

(3) The media hype runner: this type of runner was discussed in detail in my article in the October issue of PPM.
Travis Lancaster from Melbourne asks: How important is it that a horse has run at the distance of the race under preview? Would I be correct in believing that horses going up in distance 400m or more are the ones most at risk?

Answer: I have no doubt that the horses most at risk are those moving from 1000m to 1200m for the first time, particularly if they are second-up and backing-up after a hard first-up run. Overall, they have the worst strike rates of any horses going up at least 200m and attempting a distance never tried before.

There is also a need to take into account the ability of the trainer and their history of achieving such feats. Gai Waterhouse, for example, is one trainer who has an excellent record of jumping her horses up in distance early in their preparations.

Breeding will often indicate a horse's ability to run a distance. As an example, very few offspring of Rory's Jester win past 1200m, while conversely very few of Zabeel's offspring win as two-year-olds or over sprint distances.

With lightly raced three- and four-year-olds, an idea of how a horse will perform over a longer distance can be gauged by its performance as a 2yo and an early 3yo. A 2yo that has won or run well over 1400m will generally get the mile or a little longer (up to 2000m), while a 2yo or early 3yo that has won at 1600m has the potential to perform well at 2000m, with the possibility that it will also get 2400m.

In analysing a race, you can usually risk young horses until they have proven themselves capable of getting the longer journey; while with older, more experienced horses, the question is why, after so many runs, are they attempting a longer distance for the first time?

In all situations, an analysis of a horse's running style may well give a good indication of its distance abilities, as will an analysis of the likely pace in the race under preview. Horses that show a lack of acceleration and are a little one paced normally perform better over longer distances, while those that tend to be free-wheeling types who like to race on the pace and who tend to pull otherwise are normally best kept to the shorter trips.

Negatives would include a horse attempting a distance for the first time against other horses who have a proven record at the distance, or attempting to go up in distance too early in their preparation, or where horses have a poor record of being able to run competitive last sectionals, or horses who tend to lose ground late in their races.

There are no hard and fast rules on this type of thing; some horses simply do not show their full potential until they reach a certain distance range. The best advice I can give you on this subject is to only consider horses with a proven record at the distance or within the distance range; but, even then, sometimes you may get it right, but on many more occasions you will get it wrong.

Finally, never consider races where all or most of the field have never even attempted the distance before.

Gerry Reid, an avid Perth subscriber, asks: I have a young family, which makes serious form study virtually impossible and although I've always been comfortable with weight/class ratings, every man and his dog is now using them and it's very difficult to make a reasonable return on outlay.

I've had a look at time ratings using a commercially available software program but don't fully understand them and feel uncomfortable making any adjustments. I guess my question is, given my lack of time, do you think there is any potential in becoming a system punter?

The very phrase sends shivers up my spine, given the lack of flexibility it implies.

Answer: If you want to do your own handicapping and analysis successfully, there are no real shortcuts, other than for what technology can assist with. However, in saying that, I do not believe you can rely on technology alone, as it is very much a case of garbage in, garbage out.

Time handicapping, like weight/ class handicapping, involves detailed form study and if you don't have the time to spend doing it properly, then you need to look elsewhere for a selection process. If you don't have the time to do traditional weight/class handicapping, then forget about time handicapping; it is far more time consuming and requires a total rethink of one's own philosophy and a lot of hard work understanding what it all means.

Fellow PPM contributor Roman Koz has always been a believer in a systematic approach, having his own unique way of handicapping, which is a simple one-on-one comparison method; a method titled Pick 'Em In Pairs, which was published in this magazine back in March 1998. It is highly recommended to those like yourself with limited time due to other commitments, taking about five to ten minutes a race.

Besides that, your best option would be some type of systematic approach and you may want to consider some of the products offered by Equestrian Publishing, the publishers of this magazine, particularly their "subscription" offers that they have from time to time.

Warren Knoop from Adelaide asks: What is the difference between "let-tip", 'freshened" and "spell"?

Answer: The terms "let-up", "freshened" and "spell" are open to interpretation as varying measurements (days between runs) are used within the racing industry.

Personally, I consider freshened up as a break of 22 days or longer, a let-up as 43 days or longer and a spell as a break of 84 days or longer.

Try not to get too bogged down by these definitions as the important thing is to look at each individual horse's ability to be able to run well when fresh (based on its last two preparations), and what sort of break suits it best.

By E.J. Minnis