4 hours in the life of our expert, The Optimist

I am going to stick to Saturdays for all my comments in this article.

That is because (1) Saturdays are probably the principal days for virtually 95 per cent of most punters' racing activities, and (2) they are the days that lend themselves best of all to planning. Most of the biggest races (okay, not the Cup) are run on Saturdays.

So, when we start talking about the various planning procedures, you will find me saying that such and such occurs Thursdays, and so and so Fridays, all in preparation for Saturday's racing.

As early as Monday nights, and at latest on Wednesday mornings, you can get the nominations for the Saturday races in the major venues. Most major fields are declared, even down to the barrier draws, by Tuesday afternoon.

I can inspect the weights and so forth, for the metropolitan meetings, in my Wednesday Sydney Morning Herald almost all year. And that, as I stressed above, is besides the usual day-to-day racing: I am only talking Saturdays, when I might have to analyse several meetings beforehand.

This early information proves very helpful in the long term and, as many of you know, I am, basically, an "early selector". I tend to weigh up (both literally and metaphorically) my races quite early, depending on how the weights, barrier draws, riders and form stack up, and even prior to making my comparisons I will have a handful of horses in mind.

As an example, the result of a learning process, I made a fundamental change to my Pinnacle selections earlier this year, and we have enjoyed several great wins from our specials, after a dreadful run dented many punters' confidence. In a radical change from my original selecting processes, I concentrated on having my selections ready on Friday afternoons. I went back to what I did best. My proven basis is to pick them early, then stick. Set in concrete, as they say. Well, almost, anyway.

Most recent to writing this article, I gave three selections for Saturday, August 14.

Beauchamp (won, 8/1 to 4/1), El Camino (won, 11/8 to 5/4) and Rocket Ball (third at 3/1 to 11 / 4). Also, I provided just one quinella, numbers 4 and 7 (El Camino and Boldly) in Melbourne, which won at 7/2. An excellent result, and if I did that every week we could all retire to a tropica island. It happens, though. I selected them on the Friday, being convinced that track conditions were irrelevant: these horses would still win their races, or run darn close to it.

I felt thwarted by the rider of Rocket Ball, who elected to go a little early for my liking, but then, as I have often said, it's easy to be critical from the stand, or from what you see on the monitor. Still, two specials up, a quinella and happy callers.

This was followed with three special bets, the only bets, on Saturday 21, for three winners, again chosen early.

What's the point? The point is that I am generally able to tell you on Fridays what my best chances for making money on Saturdays are likely to be! And for the Pinnacle, while I always said that the long haul was the only one that counted, it was a good feeling to pull things back into line, which happened soon after I realised that I was allowing Saturday material to blot out my instinctive Friday reactions to the fields. I had committed myself to a
situation where I was sometimes changing my mind.

This flies in the face of what many experts will tell you, and of course many of PPM's best systems rely on late information, or at least or, the final markets and the polls. My personal position is that, since the emergence of the computer, I can test all I need to test against my own judgment and skill, well ahead of time. Naturally, if the sky falls in Brisbane (and it has done so more than once this year), then I must reassess. So must we all. It would be
brainless not to. And if a horse is suddenly and clearly better placed by the scratching of one or more of its opponents, I am very interested.

Naturally, I must make those late assessments, and sometimes significant comparisons can crop up late.

But, as a general rule, I know where my money is likely to go 24 hours before the racing takes place.

On Thursdays, the fields are available on the Net, regardless of where you live. On Fridays, unless you are well out of reach, the papers carry the full fields for all the major races on Saturdays. Some of these papers, restricted because of the Friday meetings, do not carry provincial or country fields for the weekends, and the SMH is, in fact, one of those. I understand that the Illawarra Mercury carries a very comprehensive list, and the Newcastle
Herald sometimes does too. Both those newspapers have excellent daily liftouts. As to other States, perhaps some readers can drop us a line and the information can be included in a later PPM.

What I can get quickly are the fields, the riders (as announced early, usually most of them), the barriers, the weights and TAB numbers, the race conditions, and so on. In fact, all the basics. As to extended form, my database goes back further than the life of the oldest horse winning in the eastern cities at present (I think that's Colorado Ring, at 10, the old marvel).

The brief details, then, without the back form, give me a start. I home in on horses I have been awaiting. For example, I am at present waiting to see where they place Blue Storm. Just one example, and she will have had a couple of runs by the time you read this. I am interested in where she is entered.

I am also interested in likely winning horses with no rider nominated. I assume that the trainers and connections can just be a little late getting their acts together, but often this can mean they do not expect to run, or that they have been unsuccessful in engaging the rider of their choice, or that the weight, or some factor, is causing problems in getting the right person on top.

When I find that the rider who had the mount last time out is on another horse, I am very interested. Especially if I think the riderless animal is a real chance this time. I am interested, yet wary. And you can multiply this by five if the rider concerned is someone of the calibre of, say, Damien Oliver.

Why is Damien forsaking a good chance? Is he doing Lee Freedman a favour? Is he uncomfortable at the weight? Is the horse unreliable? Was Damien less impressed than I was last start? Has Damien switched to a better horse?

Aha, now that last question will really occupy me for a while! Why has he switched?

And another thing: there he was in Sydney recently to ride one horse, Testa Rossa. Enough said? Bet of the season so far at 9/4. True, only two-and-a-quarter to one, but (with good old hindsight again) a good thing. I should think Damien was able to fly back to Melbourne first class.

Barriers! What of them? Well, at Rosehill on that day I mentioned above, August 14, the subject came up in the press room. I could not come at Catbird because of his barrier, and of course Shalt Not, from 5, won in the last hop. The way the race panned out, she was favoured by the pace, while Catbird, from 15, flew the lids, got across to lead, and only struggled the last furlong under the conditions, after the fast and testing pace. They can win from out there, but the odds are so much against them that I got rid of barriers 15 through to 20 (pre-scratchings) straight off.

As it turned out, Danglissa came from barrier 10 after scratchings, and the other two (winner and third-placed Walk The Wild Side) were drawn towards the centre, just inside her. It is interesting that we came more or less to agree in the press room, with one exception, that centre barriers (say 5 to 10) are best in big races, with big fields, at 1200 and 1500 metres at Rosehill, and that the wide barriers are suicidal.

Barriers are very influential with me in my early explorations. I often dispense rapidly with any event where the horse I initially think is the likely winner, is drawn badly. I am also not keen on straight Flemington races, as I have no idea whatsoever as to which side of the track (or indeed the centre) is the better side.

I swore off those races when Notoire beat Rock You in the last Spring Carnival, with 19 horses going down the grandstand rail and one down the flat side. You don't need to have a good memory to guess which one went down the flat, with me having a sensational bet on Rock You, at big odds, before the money knocked the bookmakers over. Rock You beat the horses in his race, but Notoire, in another race altogether, won by a flared nostril. I find it hard enough to win a race without having to guess at the track bias!

By The Optimist