Drivers play a major role in the harness code. Good drivers possess what is known as a 'light touch'. Couple this with the ability to control emotions, race experience and lightning-fast reflexes and you have a top-flight driver.

Tactics, naturally, play a big role, too. When you consider that being a metre out from the rail at the turn will add metres onto the actual distance of the race-and extra 10ths of seconds onto the time-the driver MUST know when to take the horse around the field, and when to 'sit' in a position before making a final dash at the end of a race.

Drivers with a high win strike rate are those consistently able to achieve a favourable position for their horse, and use the horse's energy and ability most effectively. This can often make a 'good driver, ordinary horse' combination a better bet than it might seem.

Most form guides and racebooks give driver statistics, such as the number of lsts, 2nds and 3rds from total races driven. Win percentages are the easiest and can be a most reliable guide to evaluating a driver's ability. A good guide is to check to see if a driver has a strike rate of 15 per cent or more. Couple a good driver like this with a good horse, a good post position and a class advantage and you definitely have a solid bet.

If a driver is achieving a high win percentage because of a large number of drives then this, too, is indirectly in our favour. When a driver is obtaining drives on a large number of quality horses the 'quality horse/good driver' situation arises, usually making the horse a bettable one.

Gallops fans will no doubt be asking, 'what about the driver's weight?' This is an understandable question, because some harness drivers are big men. The truth is that on a fast track a driver's weight is inconsequential but when it comes to a rain-affected track, it's a different story. On wet tracks, the sulky will sink further into the surface with a heavy driver, thus giving the horses pulling a lighter driver an advantage.

But always remember that harness racing is handicapped by post position, age or at fronts, not by weight as in the gallops code.

During the warm-up period before a race, a driver's form can be gauged. He must be able to exercise the horse without wasting much-needed energy. If the driver has to struggle with the horse, you should note this because it could indicate that rapport between horse and driver is missing.

Junior drivers are able to get concessions from the horse's handicap. A horse which is to be driven by a junior driver is entitled to an advantage of one class. This is 10 metres for a standing start or one-class assessment for a mobile start, or a preferential draw race.

One of the key methods for rating driver ability is known as the Universal Rating System (URS) and this is often tabulated on driver statistics. The system assumes that a win is 80 per cent better than a 2nd, and 150 per cent better than a 3rd. This comes down to nine points for a win, five points for a 2nd and three points for a 3rd.

This is then divided by nine times the number of drives. Here's an example:

A driver has six races with two wins, two 2nds and two 3rds. The win points are 2 x 9 = 18, the 2nd points are 2 x 5 = 10 and the 3rd points are 2 x 3 = 6. The points for the number of races are 6 x 9 = 54. The URS is calculated as 18 + 10 + 6 = 34, divided by 54 equals 0.629.

This example shows that an exceptional driver would have a URS of 0.629. Good drivers have a rating greater than 0.300 (Vin Knight, for example, has a URS of 0.4938). There are problems associated with this type of rating method, as with most methods which allocate points to finish positions.

An example is this:

  1. Driver A has five wins (45 points), 12 seconds (60 points) and 10 thirds (30 points) with 50 starts (450 points) giving him a URS of 0.333.
  2. Driver B has 10 wins (90 points), nine seconds (45 points), five thirds (15 points) with 50 starts (450 points), for a rating of 0.333.

Obviously, Driver B has the better win percentage compared with Driver A. With a win strike rate of 20 per cent, Driver B may have more drives on better horses, but Driver A may still be a better driver.

This is a somewhat subjective discussion on which you are going to have to make up your own mind. SO, some of you may prefer to rely on win percentages and not the LTRS rating.

A second method of rating drivers can often be found on tables of driver statistics and is the same as the one used to allocate points to harness horses. The rating method is to allocate five points for a win, three points for a second, two points for a 3rd and one point for a 4th. For example, using Vin Knight's form line up to December 7, 1987, we see the following: 38 wins (190 points), 26 seconds (78 points), 16 thirds (32 points) and seven fourths (7 points), for a rating of 307 points.

A typical table of Victorian driver statistics can be seen on the 'table' accompanying this article. The table gives all the vital statistics to help you evaluate a driver's ability.

The ratings methods, then, enable us to compare the relative merits of individual drivers, so they can be most helpful. Probably the most useful method of comparing drivers is to look at the percentage of winners they have driven.

A horse with a high win percentage driver may be a good bet simply because of his driver's skill. With a favourable post position, pace and class a safe bet is available.

Always remember, however, that an unfit horse-no matter how brilliant the driver-is a risky bet. The best drivers have a win strike rate of 20 per cent and better; dominant drivers have a 15 per cent win strike rate or more.

Finally, with junior drivers--even with the concessions they have--can be risky as far as betting goes. Experience counts for so much in harness racing, as it does at the gallops. Often it comes down to which horse has the better driver.


Click here to read Part 1.

By Peter Davies