What can we learn from history? According to Henry Ford, very little. But I am convinced that old Henry, while he might have known a thing or two about the internal combustion engine, knew very little about the internal-combustion horse. Horsepower was certainly his go, but mechanical-style.

History is, as I say every so often for the disbelievers, all we have to go on. Say what you like about what you think might happen in a horse race, the only thing you can hang your hat on is what has already happened.

What you think will happen - if it has never happened before - is mere hope. Dream stuff. If it has happened before, and even regularly, its chances of happening again in racing are far better.

I don't mean things like barrier 19 never having won a Melbourne Cup. If that's true (and it's not something I would even bother checking on), then it means that in the next 20,000 years that barrier will probably win the Cup several times. But, as I was explaining in the last issue of PPM, probability theory is based on large numbers, and the larger they get, the greater the certainty.

For example, a horse will win the Golden Slipper without ever having raced before. Sooner or later that will happen. But not in our time, probably. Probably, again, no horse will win in our time that is a maiden. But rules will be altered, or a year will occur with substandard youngsters, or 11 of the 12 runners (when they see some sense as to field size) will misjudge the pace, and sure enough a maiden will win the big one.

And a winner of the Doncaster will again win the Melbourne Cup. A dual Doncaster winner all but won it a decade back (can you name him?), and it happens every so often that horses surprise you (about once a day, come to think of it). All we can go on is what is possible, and, as I see it, what is possible in horse-racing can only be determined by what has happened.

I can only devise a plan from what I have seen, or studied. What my computer and its database say has happened, is the basis of my judgement. You may recall my praise for the English writer Stewart Simpson some years back. His book left a few things to be desired, with its smart-alec comments every so often, but the key to it was backing a horse to do something it had proved it could do. WIN.

Simpson was keen on the second rung of horses: not the very best, but those that go round and round in the second division, winning the best races on the country circuit and the lesser city events. Of course, he is an Englishman and his application was different from ours, and the race scene was too.

But the point is the same: a horse will repeat its best, and probably also its worst. Once a pattern is established, many horses are remarkably reliable. Even horses that only win once per campaign often do it at the same time (e.g. first-up, second-up, as soon as they step up to a certain distance, the first time they race on a rock-hard surface, etc.). This is, in one sense, consistency if only you can pick it.

That is where having a really big database and being able to identify these trends can help, but that's another story for another day.

The races coming up for us are very exciting. Let's have a look at some of them and see what we can glean by checking the past results.

The Australian Cup, run in March, is always won by a very, very good horse. Did I hear somebody mutter "big deal"? Well, it's the starting point. The celebrated win of Dandy Andy was the last upset, as such, but he was no slouch in Group company, and he happened to beat Vo Rogue and Bonecrusher.

In the past 25 years it has been won by Caulfield and Melbourne Cup winners, derby winners and Cox Plate winners. Leaders and those who can race on the pace are favoured, though a handful of swoopers have won in that period. My definite impression, though, is that we seek out horses who can go the pace all the way, sitting at worst just behind the speed.

The Ranvet, formerly the Rawson Stakes, at Rosehill is the northern equivalent, probably, and is also run in March most years. Veandercross, Better Loosen Up, and Hyperno won both races, Super Impose won this one and ran second in the southern race. Two of those horses won the Melbourne Cup and two ran second.

Again, good horses win this race, and with the exception of a handful, they race on the speed or have the ability to sprint all the way down the straight. The sprint of Super Impose was shorter than the other three, but it was explosive and he was surely one of the most adaptable horses we have ever seen. Any track, virtually any distance.

Another thing there. Weight stops trains, as we know. But it stops them harder, the longer they carry it. So at 1600, or even 2000 metres, they carry it better than at 3200 metres. That probably cost Super Impose the Melbourne Cup, as weight sure didn't stop him in all those other wins.

And as to weight for age, I am a believer in the idea that the scale is correct, and that a four-year-old that is  basically a better horse will still beat a three-year-old which is carrying less weight. It may well be that at 3200 metres the weights will tell (Doriemus in the Sydney Cup is a top example) but up to 2000 metres, in top class, I am convinced that other factors often have to be assessed more seriously than a kilo or two of weight.

Which factors? To suggest the obvious, and the most elusive, try CLASS.

The Manion Cup has lost some of its class in recent times, in my view. History says it is won by top horses but a more recent view would suggest that, with the exception of the great Dr Grace, and Air Seattle, the race has been won by horses that should be very content with their Group Three prize.

These are horses that either win lesser cups, or find excuses for not winning top races. We have all been sucked into them, and if you cast your eve down page 280 of the latest Miller's Guide, you'll recognise a few rogues.

Mind you, in their class they were good horses: the best were probably Lord Hybrow, winner of the Brisbane Cup', and Praise Indeed, a good honest stayer and cups winner. But they won because the fields were mediocre. Let's be frank here, Foromor ran a placing last year.

If you can identify a horse in the Manion capable of winning, say, a Brisbane Cup, or maybe a Newcastle, Cranbourne or Gosford Cup, go after it!

Anyway, let's get on. The Golden Slipper has seen seven girls salute in 20 or so years. Not as many girls as boys face the starter each year, so that's probably about right. A precocious filly is often the match of most colts and geldings in March and April. Later on they don't stand up to the wear and tear as well. There are exceptions, especially in the staying ranks, where the fillies are usually taken along more quietly, even these days. Perhaps fortunately for them, they often are a little bit smaller and too immature to match it in the early days of
their careers.

But anyone who saw Bint Marscay, Merlene, Burst, Courtza, Bounding Away, Century Miss, Vivarchi, Toy Show, Hartshill and that ilk win, would never doubt the class of the top female two-year-olds. It's interesting to file away the fact that most of the good female performers from this race remain sprinters.

One of the key factors with the Slipper is last-start form. Even better, a clean sheet with no unplaced runs. If they've got it, they have a heck of a chance of winning. If they can run on the speed at Rosehill, or sit just off it, they have a big chance. And if they are drawn wide they have a hell of a problem.

"They don't win from out there" is never truer than at Rosehill over 1200 metres. I would say, regardless of how careful you are in your choice of two-year-old for this race, look for the danger in the form of the horse that is likely to get the perfect ride with a top rider on board. Don't worry about it being the "most likely" threat, look to history.

By the way, this could be a good race to try for the exotics. So often the placegetters are at any old odds. And, remember this too, some of the minor placegetters go on to win big races, and I do mean BIG races, at very attractive prices.

If this race does anything for the future, it stamps "CLASS" on the noses of all three placegetters.

I will take a look at later racing in the April issue, which you will have in time for all of these except the Australian Cup. I will save the Sydney Cup, and the racing in Adelaide and Brisbane for that issue.

The Skyline Stakes, run just before the Slipper, is sometimes an excellent guide to the bigger races, but can be misleading when you are looking for the Slipper winner. Prowl, Guineas and Sir Dapper came off wins in this , event, with Intergaze and Arena in minor spots.

Similarly the Sweet Embrace Stakes, for fillies, produced Rubicall, who with a clean run may well have won the 1998 Slipper instead of being ruined forever. In the past 20 years or so only Dark Eclipse won and went on to win the Slipper, but Bint Marscay was runner-up and the champion mare Dane Ripper ran a third. A warning here: a few pretenders have won this race, elevating them to unwarranted "glory", which they never lived up to.

As I mentioned, I will look at the remainder of the Sydney carnivals, and also at the big Brisbane and Adelaide races, from these same angles next month.

Click here to read Part 2.

By The Optimist