Australian punters are fortunate to have a press that devotes a great deal of space to racing. Some of our morning newspaper formguides are of excellent quality, and contain more than enough information for the average punter's needs.

The problem often is how best to use the information that is presented by newspapers such as Sydney's Telegraph-Mirror, Brisbane's Courier-Mail, Melbourne's Herald-Sun, as well as in straight formguides like The Wizard, Sportsman, Best Bets and Winning Post.

In a way, the racing coverage is a form of 'media mayhem' in that the punter can only take in so much - but what slices of the formguides should he take the most notice of when assessing what his bets are going to be? Let's look firstly at the Telegraph Mirror's Saturday formguide, which comprises 8 pages. Columnist Ken Callander's nutshell summation of each race is contained on the front page, but the problem here is that too many horses are mentioned; a recent meeting saw 63 horses mentioned in the 'chances'.

Now we know there can only be 8 winners in 8 races - so how do you select the wheat from the chaff? Task too difficult for this section.

The T-M has a tipsters' panel containing the selections of eight experts, plus a 'most favoured' column, or the consensus picks of all the panel's tipsters. The ongoing problem with all newspaper tipsters is that they are prone to bad runs of cuts, or experiencing patches where they manage to select only one or two winners at short prices.

The punter has to do some checking to discover which tipsters are the most consistent, and which ones can be relied upon to lob with a big priced winner occasionally. The TM's experts are no better or worse than those in any other newspaper.

What the reader has to understand is that over a period of time these tipsters are highly unlikely to average more than around 25 per cent success with their tips - that is, one winner per four selections, or 25 winners per 100 tips.

A few may achieve a win strike above 25 per cent, but it won't be much above it. The warning, then, is clear: Tread carefully when following newspaper experts because, like everyone else, they get it wrong more times than they get it right.

A good point about the T-M's formguide is that it provides complete formlines for each horse's last two or three starts (in some races, anyway).

The formlines are accompanied by a 'nutshell comment' which can prove useful for the punter who has time only to skim through the form.

There was a time when the Sydney tabloids - then the Sun and the Daily Mirror - ran 'golden guides' packed with a great deal of extra information and statistics but nowadays the information isn't fleshed out as much, which is a pity.

Winning Post is a cheap ($1.40) formguide that's been around for about five years, but only fairly recently has made itself available nationally. It provides the last three starts of each horse, along with some trackwork columns (Victorian training centres), and a few regular columns about racing and breeding.

Winning Post's strong point is its total coverage of all Friday TAB meetings. Punters who bet on these meetings are well aware of the lack of form which is available, so a publication like Winning Post certainly fills that void.

For Saturday meetings, Winning Post has a small tipsters' panel (three tipsters) for the Sydney and Melbourne meetings. Our check of the strike rates over a period of several months put these tipsters on a par with other newspaper tipsters (that 25 per cent mark again, maximum).

Winning Post has its days, but like all the rest its off-days, too (such as June 26) when the formguide's three Melbourne tipsters managed just two winners between them from 27 first selections at the Moonee Valley meeting.

There are some nice winners lurking in Winning Post's trackwork section. As a change from The Sportsman's horse-and-times listings, at least with Winning Post we get something of a comment about the gallops. For instance, this report from Winning Post's Epsom clocker Joe O'Briem:

"Hyraami hasn't done a thing wrong since his first-up hurdle victory at Flemington and has thrived on trackwork. The bay was sent 1800m pacework on the course proper on Tuesday, to be joined at the 1200m mark by  stablemate Ranquet, and clocked 1m 25s for the journey.

The pair sped over the final 400m in 26s, and Hyraami was under a firm hold and eager to improve on that time. On the wood fibre on Thursday, Hyraami went a lap of pacework before running 1200m in lm 26:5s, last 800m in 52.5s, pouring on the pace for the last 400m in 24.75s."

This is a most comprehensive trackwork report, and as it turned out it was a good tip because Hyraami won at 11/4. Not all the trackwork tips are going to win like that, though, and this is the nub of the problem.

Perhaps the way to go is to tick off any horses mentioned in the trackwork reports and if they are, say, on the first two lines of favouritism (that is, very well fancied in the market) you bet them. A good flow of winners should come from this approach.

Another interesting point about Winning Post's trackwork reports is that they cover horses which are not racing on the Saturday, so you can start to compile a 'stable' of likely customers for future racing.

A friend of mine, who has been betting solidly for more years than he cares to remember, is an advocate of looking for what he calls 'the orphans' in the tipsters' panels. These are the horses which are selected on top by only one member of the panel.

My pal says he has landed a consistent string of winners by betting each-way on the 'orphan' selections. Obviously, using this method, you will need a sizeable tipsters' panel (say at least six to 10 tipsters).

You don't get a lot of bets using this idea, mainly because you are looking for a true 'orphan' - that is, the one horse selected on top which stands alone. The system doesn't operate if there are two or more horses which are tipped by only one expert.

The Sportsman, of course, is regarded as our premier weekend formguide and there's no doubt at all that it provides a most detailed and wide-ranging coverage of the major meetings in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide. In recent times, the Sportsman has introduced a number of new features.

A serious punter should examine each of them to determine if they contain the seeds of a new, profitable approach. Apart from the usual tips in the panel for each meeting (five tipsters normally) the Sportsman has its Zipform ratings.

These are found next to each horse's weight. Each runner gets a rating and the top-rated horse is indicated with an asterisk (*). Sometimes the toprated horses enjoy a big winning day; other days they fail to fire at all (witness June 26 when the Sydney Zipform's top ratings failed in every race on the Randwick card).

The Sportsman also has sections for each race covering 'form analysis', 1 class factor' and 'speed and fitness'. These can be helpful as well as a little confusing. The 'form analysis' consists of a potted comment roundup of four chances in each race.

Punters linking horses from race to race in multiple all-ups might find the 'form analysis' section useful. The 1 class factor' is a good idea because it saves you the time and trouble of trying to work out for yourself which horses are up and which are down in class.

The 'speed and fitness' section comprises a listing of how each runner is likely to race and whether there is anything of special interest about it; the headings are 1 races handy', 'gets back early', 'trackwork stars', 'freshened up', 'likes to lead', 'first-up winner', 'comes from behind', and 'races on the pace'.

Punters trying to work out how a race is likely to be run should find this information helpful. It at least gives you some idea of which horses will lead, which ones will race just off the lead, which ones will get back and then run home late. Important information for any punter.

'Sectional times' is another innovation in Sportsman, though how successful its selections are is something I have yet to work out. In this section, use is made of sectiorial times provided by some raceclubs. For bettors interested in times, this little section might prove interesting.

Some time ago, the Sportsman introduced sectional times into the formlines for each runner (where the sectionals are available from raceclubs, that is). So if you look at a horse's form you can see, in brackets, something like (Last 800m 47.10) which gives you a clear idea of what the 'pace' of a race was like, just how many rank-and-file punters make use of these little nuggets of information may never be known, but at least they are there if you  want them.

Finally, it would be remiss to write an article like this without mentioning 'turn and finish' photos. These can be found in The Sportsman (Sydney meetings only), the midweek and weekend Sporting Globes (Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney Saturday meetings) and in some Sunday newspapers.

Time spent on looking at turn-and-finish charts can lead to many winners. My pal Michael Kemp studies these charts as well as his videos. Those of you without the aid of video replays can make use of the turn-and-finish charts to find those horses which made up lots of ground.

An ideal starting point is to check the horses which are racing at the rear on the home turn, and then see where they finished. Often, you will find some horses making up enormous amounts of ground in the final 300 or 400m. They won't all win, or even place, next start but quite often they will turn up and win at big odds.

No matter which newspaper or form guide you follow, there is information a plenty. Your task as a punter is to find out which sections work the best, which ones provide the most winners, which ones are most useful in helping your own form analysis.

Always be on the lookout for small snippets of information. Read the Sunday newspaper stories carefully, to discover what a trainer his in mind for his horse. You can often spot longrange winners this way.

One thing to be wary of is putting too much faith in the tips of the experts, especially when they all agree on the same horse! Even if it wins, the horse is likely to be dramatically overbeat and as a result start at a skinny quote.

What you need ire the big price winners. And some tipsters who don't mind taking a risk, come up with those from time to time.

By Jon Hudson