A serious punter who aims to back winners in South Australia should leave no stone unturned in assessing a race.

There are several factors to be taken into account before finally settling on a top choice:

Step 1:
Check the class of the race and the class of the horse. Make sure the horse is racing in the correct grade.

Step 2:

Judge the quality of the trainer and jockey. Remember the top jockey does not cost one cent more to engage than the average rider, but some trainers are forced to engage an inferior rider if he or she rides the horse in trackwork.  Top jockeys can make the difference between winning and losing.

Step 3:
Look at the horse’s breeding and judge if the horse is suited by the distance of the race.

Step 4:
Has the horse won at the track in the past or at the distance of the race? Track conditions are of most importance as some horses love wet conditions while others can be “duffers” on rain-affected surfaces and the study of their record will reveal a good guide to their preferences.

Step 5:
Some horses have a regular pattern and go well fresh into a campaign while others need a few races to bring them to their top. It’s important to check if a horse has won first-up or second-up. If so, you will usually find the trainer will prepare the horse accordingly.

Step 6:
Generally a trainer will aim a horse at his/her best distance and may take a few starts for that pattern to become clear.

Step 7:
There is not a lot of depth in the jockey ranks in SA. Jockeys at the top of the premiership have a decided advantage over their rivals, as they normally get the best rides and that adds to a jockey’s confidence.

Step 8:
Naturally the top five trainers on the premiership saddle up the majority of winners and their representatives should be given added credence.

Step 9:
Betting fluctuations can also be a good guide. Horses can improve if they come in for support on course or on the TAB. Many winners are found by watching betting fluctuations.

Step 10:
Be wary of an apprentice rider utilising his claim on a horse when it was previously ridden by a senior rider (vice versa, take careful note when a top rider takes over from an inexperienced claiming apprentice). Trainers constantly attempt to beat the handicapper, but with the new rating system, horses are better graded and a rider’s claim can be important if he has the right ability.

Step 11:
Stewards’ reports can be a good guide to see whether a horse suffered interference in recent starts (blocked for a clear passage etc).

Step 12:
Observing gear changes is a must to finding winners. Gear changes are made by the trainer for a genuine reason to improve their horse’s performance.

Step 13:
Have a good staking plan. Never become too greedy; it’s usually best to stick to the plan in order to overcome a “dull” period in betting.

Step 14:
Always respect Victorian-trained horses when they come to SA. The horses have to please their trainer before making the long trip, because there are so many other options in their home state. They generally don’t come to SA unless they are ready to win.

Each of the three SA city tracks have different characteristics and barrier positions can make the difference between winning and losing.

Morphettville is the premier racetrack in SA with a 400m straight. The 1000m and 1050m start give the inside barriers a decided advantage, while, 1100m and 1200m start the best barriers to draw are between 3 and 8.  If caught wide here early on 1600m a horse can find itself wide for most of the race; 1800m, 2000m, 2400m and 3200m those drawn outside of 10 are at some disadvantage.

Cheltenham has a straight of 293m and horses who are capable of sitting on the pace are usually to the fore. A horse has to be within touch of the leaders on the home turn to have the best chance here. 1000m starts from a chute and have a long run to the turn. Imperative to draw well at the 1250m and 1350m start; there is only a short run to a sharp turn and inside barriers have a decided advantage. At the 1450m and 1500m starts, best if drawn inside of 10. 1850m, 2250m and 2400m starts are not that important.

Victoria Park has two tracks, inner and outer circuits. Inside barriers on the inner track are most important at the 1200m, 1250m and 1400m as the horses have a short run to the turn and if caught wide can cover a lot of extra ground. Most of the barriers on the outer track give a horse every chance, except for the 1000m chute where outside barriers are a huge advantage especially on a rain-affected track.

Northern track, Balaklava is the prominent Provincial circuit. The track is very roomy with a 400m straight and a cutaway rail that gives every horse plenty of time to wind up. Inside barriers are an advantage at the 1000m and 1050m start where they come out of a chute, while at the 1200m and 1300m starts, it is essential that a horse draws inside as they only have a short run to a sweeping turn. Leading trainer David Hayes usually places his better type of horses at this track, where he takes some of his team for a training gallop from time to time.

Gawler can come under the category of “horses for courses” with sharp turns and locally trained horses have the best record here. A short straight of 200m can cause some upsets. Inside barriers are most important from the 1050m and 1200m with a short run to the first turn. Caught wide here and you are in trouble. Most of the other start positions give horses every chance.

Strathalbyn is an undulating track and a jockey who rides well at this course can be an advantage; for example Paul Gatt and Simon Price. There is a certain spot just before the home turn where a jockey has to get busy on his horse and have him in a winning position for the run to the line. A lot of horses get held-up for a clear passage if not in the right position on the home turn. Inside barriers at the 1200m start are of the utmost importance.

Murray Bridge has a steep downhill run to the home turn and horses who handle this track have an advantage despite the long straight. There can be a bias for horses on the rail in the straight and pay to monitor the pattern of racing during the day. Horses have an even chance at most of the race starts here, except for the 1200m start where there is a short run to the turn and inside drawn horses appear to have an advantage.

Punters should take all these factors into account and add up the positive and negatives before coming up with a top chance. After assessing several races you will get much quicker in establishing the better chances.

The late great trainer Colin Hayes once said a horse is at his or her best after five starts from a spell and this has been proven correct over the years. The first two placegetters Efficient and Purple Moon in the 2007 Melbourne Cup both had their fifth start from a spell in the prestigious event.

By Mal James