We can divide horses up into various categories where "distance" is concerned. If you've been reading Brian Blackwell's series on Class and Weight ratings then you will have been made aware of his views.

He talks of "best distance range" and this is what it's all about. No horse should be made a selection if it's in a race outside its best distance range. That's my opinion, anyway.

What are the categories I've mentioned? They go like this:

(a) Sprinters, up to around 1600m.

(b) Middle-distance types, from 1600m up to 2000m.

(c) Stayers, producing their best at 2000m to 2600m and further.

(d) All-rounders, good at sprints (usually when fresh) and up to 2400m.

A horse's best distance range is vitally important to assess when you're doing the form. Some punters pay scant attention to it but they are wrong not to do so.

It's very wrong to assume that just because a horse has started in a race over a particular distance that he can "handle it". A horse has to prove itself (unless, of course, the punter is able to correctly predict that it will win over a distance for the first time).

Horses, like humans, are partial to certain race distances. It's often their breeding that determines which way they'll go. Some horses are bred for speed and will never win beyond 1200m; others can "get" 1600m and no further. On the other hand, some horses will be too slow for sprints but they will have stamina and will shine at 2000m and further.

Sometimes, stayers will run well in sprints but this mostly happens when they resume racing after a spell. When fully seasoned, they would be run over by their more brilliant rivals, the same way a sprinter would be outclassed by stayers in a race over 2000m and longer.

Anyone studying form should be able to accurately pinpoint a horse's best racing distance. The past performance charts are your guide.

Naturally, all is not black and white. You will many times be faced with the problem of assessing a horse racing for the first time at a new distance. Perhaps the horse has shown good form at 1600m but is now to be sent over 2000m, or further.

It's up to you to decide if the horse can make the leap. But you would need to measure its form, and its potential, against that of its rivals. Are there runners in the field with proven winning form over 20OOm? Would it be wise to back the unknown 2000m horse against the proven winner at that trip?

A well-known professional punter once told me the following: "In doing the weights for, say, a middle-distance race, you might find the best handicapped horse in the field is tackling the distance for the first time and that his form has been at 1400m or 1600m.

"Don't be carried away by the on paper weight advantage, No advantage in weight will enable a horse to cover a distance beyond his powers of endurance.

"In these circumstances it would perhaps be a wise move to adopt the role of onlooker. The motto always being when in doubt, leave out. The clever punter doesn't throw down his cash unless he believes he has a reasonable and logical chance of winning. "

There are times when you can anticipate a horse performing well when tackling a new trip for the first time. His way of running at his most recent start or when last in winning form will often provide a pointer one way or the

There is no definite rule regarding horses going up or down in distance with no substantial break. All horses are individuals. Some experts will say that a galloper can be a betting risk if coming back 200m or going up 400m or further. This simplifies the issue but doesn't solve it.

When a horse is in full training and displays signs of versatility, it may successfully move to a longer distance but would still experience difficulty in being brought back to a race over a shorter trip.

The upshot of it all is, and it's something you should always keep in mind:


Let's examine some recent meetings to see how things go when we look at the distance factor.

RANDWICK, March 23

Race 1: The winner, Youhadyourwarning, had a winning distance range of 1400m to 2400m and was racing over 2000m.

Race 2: The winner, Ugachaka, had a winning distance range of 1000m to 1620m and was racing over 1500m.

Race 3: The winner Prince Of War's WDR was 1600m to 1700m and he was racing over 2000m. Here is an instance where you might well have decided that this 3yo could make the rise of another 300m on his last-start win at 170Orn. He had been touted as a Derby contender and the race, the Tulloch Stakes, was a stepping stone to that classic.

Race 4:
The winner, Ethereal, had a WDR of 1300m to 320Orn, and was racing over 2400m. She had a top career record as a stayer.

Race 5: The winner, Sixty Seconds, had a best WDR of 1600m to 2100m and was racing over 2000m. She came into the race off a 2100m win at Ellerslie, NZ, and was a 2000m winner there on December 1.

Race 6: The winner of this race, the 1200m Golden Slipper, was Calaway Gal, whose WDR was 1000m to 1200m.

Race 7: The winner, Mowerman, had a best WDR range of 1000m to 1350m and was racing over 1500m. He had rim 4th of 15, beaten a half length, over 1400m at his latest start. He was having his first start at 1500m but it would not have taken a great leap of faith to suggest that he could have handled it all right.

Race 8: The surprise winner, Crete, had a WDR of 1250m to 1300m and was now racing over 1200m. No worries about conceding the 5yo the ability to handle 50m less than he'd won at before.

So there you have a full meeting of eight races. Only two winners were outside their winning distance range, and they were reasonably close to it.

Bearing this in mind, I've drawn together the following system which should prove most useful for those of you who like to have an instant remedy on hand to solve the problems thrown up by the form book!


  1. Operate at any meetings.
  2. Confine your betting to those races in which all runners have had 15 or more starts.
  3. Ignore any horse whose winning distance range is outside the current distance (give or take 50m).
  4. Of the remaining contenders, apply the following rules:

    (a) Last start must have been within the previous 21 days.

    (b) Must be ridden by a leading jockey.

    (c) Must be able to handle prevailing track conditions.

This is an easy one to follow. You are able to eliminate a lot of runners with one fell swoop, and when you have your contenders, the application of the final rules is relatively easy to undertake.

Don Scott had much to say about distance in his books. He awarded bonuses and minuses for horses returning to their best distance range or racing outside it.

It might be an idea for you to draw up your own chart for bonuses and penalties. The Scott bonus and penalty table is a guide (see Winning More, page 169).

But, however you tackle the issue, try to do it with as much patience and good sense as you can. It is SO IMPORTANT to your long-term selecting success and, therefore, your long-term betting success.

If at any time you find yourself ready to back a horse which has not been anywhere near the distance of the race it is now to contest, then STOP AND THINK!

Is it possible it can make the leap from, say, 1000m to 1400m, or from 1400m to 2000m? It's a big ask, isn't it? Even a brilliant win at 1400m does not necessarily mean the horse is going to be as good when it has to race a further testing 600m.

In the same way, a horse that zips home in great style at 1000m may well not be able to repeat such a performance over a further 400m. So, don't be blinded by a good run at one distance when it's another distance you are looking at for today's race.

NEXT MONTH: The course specialists.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Richard Hartley Jnr