We closed the year off with an extract from the booklet Winning Form by George Tafe. The response was so great that I have started the New Year off with what George called the "Ten Commandments of Winning at the Races".

To win at the races you must acquire at least some knowledge of the sport. In the sport of kings, knowledge is power.

In racing there are winners and conversely there are losers. There are, and there must be, more losers than winners. If this were not so then the sport would cease to exist, as it is the losers who, by the very act of losing, pay for the sport.


You must have a method of measuring the innate ability of a racehorse, when it is:

(a) Fit enough to win.
(b) Racing over a suitable distance

This is what ratings are all about. The horse's current ability and fitness are measured (i.e. as well as you can measure the ability of a horse, which is, after all, a flesh and blood animal and not a machine). The measured results are "quantified" as a numerical rating.

These ratings must be filed away in some form that allows easy retrieval of the information.

The only absolutes in racing are time and distance.

It follows that if time and distance are the only absolutes, then, despite the opinions of some experts who do not place much credence in time, this is a good place to start in your effort to measure the innate ability of a horse.

Distance divided by time will allow you to measure the raw speed a horse attained when racing over a certain distance, under some defined set of rules.

Obviously, this figure of distance/time is not the be-all and end-all of rating a horse; it can be a very good starting point from which to gain a first approximation of the horse's ability, i.e. rating for a race.

For distance/time to be of any practical use you must devise a method of allowing for the daily track variant. Over the past few years, I have developed a very accurate way of measuring most track variants to a very high degree of accuracy. (Measured by Tafe's Class Ratings.)

A horse is born with an innate ability to run out a given distance in a given time. (This innate ability is sometimes referred to as Class.)

On a racetrack, this innate ability will be affected by age, fitness, distance, track conditions, health, training methods, and weight.

It will also be affected by the number of other competitors in a race, and the luck of the barrier draw, and luck in running on the day.

A skilful jockey can help the horse in overcoming, to some extent, bad draws by riding with judgement and skill.

On any given day there will be a track bias in operation. The track bias will be affected by the state of track, weather, wind direction and the distance separating the starting point of a race from the first turn.

Jockeys are aware of this daily track bias; you will see them searching for the good going, often racing very wide when the track is slow, in an effort to find the firmest footing. The firmer the footing the faster a racehorse can run.

I have always preferred to bet on race meetings when the track rating is from fast to dead. At one time I never bet when the track conditions were slow, or worse than slow, but times change, and what was impossible to do at one time becomes possible, as knowledge increases.

You can make a profit on slow tracks; it just takes a bit more skill and knowledge.

The most difficult thing to do is to accurately judge the quality of a horse's run when the track conditions vary greatly from one day to another. It is far easier to judge the quality of a run when the track conditions are relatively even, be it fast, or slow, or heavy. If the conditions are stable then the horses will sort themselves in their races.

The most difficult task for a handicapper is to judge in advance what the true conditions are likely to be on the day of the race.

When the racing is on good tracks, fast horses win more races than slow horses. The fast horses (or speed horses) need a good track to show their best. They like to race on top of the ground and not in the mud. They are easier to rate.

On the other hand, a plodding type of horse may win races on poor racing surfaces, and frequently puts in what the uninformed punter calls form reversals. This is because such plodding types are difficult to rate and aren't overly consistent.

The mudder is another type of horse. He will race well on fast tracks, as well as slow tracks, and although the genuine mudder, or swimmer as they are sometimes referred to, may be difficult to rate, it is well worth the extra effort. Good odds can be obtained for the genuine mudder.

As the old saying goes, "Weight will stop a train"!

But racehorses are not trains, they are animal athletes. In modern times, on good tracks, the effect of weight has been, in my opinion, overrated. Modern rules of racing, at least in Australia, seldom allow sufficient weight differentials to exist between the bottom and top weights in a race for weight to be the primary deciding factor in determining the winner of a race, at least in predetermining the winner of a race in good going.

On slow or worse tracks, it can be a different matter. A few ounces on the foot is frequently, under such conditions, equal to a half kilo on the back. This is another very good reason for caution when assessing the chances of horses racing on wet tracks. Therefore, I pay more attention to the weight to be carried when the going is slow, or worse, than I do when assessing chances on good tracks.

Knowledge is the key to winning at the races. Knowledge, and how to apply that knowledge, is the key factor that will give us an edge over the lazy and uninformed punter, who is the cannon-fodder of the racetrack.

There is no substitute for seeing a race, or, if this is not possible, viewing the video replays.

The video replay is a very important weapon in our armoury of knowledge. It lets us see how a horse races, and under what conditions it races best. It allows us to pre-read the manner in which a race is likely to be run.

The importance of what you see in a race, and how you put this knowledge to good use in picking future winners, will also be governed by how accurately you assess a particular race; e.g. if you spot a horse losing, say, two lengths in the straight, this knowledge will only be of practical use to you if you can accurately class a race.

Should the horse compete in a race that is four lengths stronger, it will still lose in the stronger race, even though you know that it is a couple of lengths better than it appeared to be in the previous race.

It follows, then, that you must be able to judge the class or quality of a particular race if you are going to put it all together on the racetrack.

The knowledge of how to class a race. The knowledge of how to assess the going on the day (i.e. the real track variant, and not the official estimate for the day). The knowledge of how to read a formguide. The knowledge of how to frame a market for your selections, according to their chances on the day. The knowledge of where the likely track bias will be on the day.

This knowledge cannot be gained in a day; it is the result of dedicated study. The intelligent racing man can win, providing he is willing to learn. 


  • The breeding of a racehorse is important. It determines, genetically, the innate ability of a horse.
  • Time and distance will allow one to calculate the raw speed that a horse is capable of attaining.
  • Raw speed is the actual speed that a horse may attain when racing over a set distance, under predetermined conditions or rules.
  • Knowing the track variant will enable you to make some practical use of the raw speed figure.
  • Class is the innate ability that a horse is born with, and it will be affected from day to day by fitness, health, distance, track conditions, training methods and the weight to be carried.
  • Track bias is that section of a track that from day to day provides the best racing surface.
  • Fast racehorses are the easiest to rate, and perform at their best on top of the ground on good racing surfaces.
  • The amount of weight carried and the distance the weight is to be carried will affect the speed which a racehorse can attain.
  • Knowledge of how the various factors interlock will enable one to be a winner and not a loser.
  • The importance of seeing a race, and how the horses perform in a race, either on the track or on a video replay, cannot be overstated.

By Steven McAlister