TO: Jonno, let me start this month with a congratulatory word re: your Saturday Punter. Readers may like to know that this interview is taking place on June 30, and you’ve just come up with a great $848 trifecta and some beaut winners. Of course it’s not always that good.

JH: Sadly no, but we’ve been doing well lately, and we keep working at it. I try to restrict the number of selections and to make them value, so when they do pay, they pay well. It isn’t easy though.

TO: Which leads me into the second part of our interview this morning. I’d like you to take us through your basic selection criteria.

JH: Well, we’ve been there a lot in PPM, haven’t we?

JO: Yes we have, but your personal views in 2008 might make for good reading. Oops. Sorry! They WILL make for good reading! I know they will, because, as you did on Saturday, you’re finding winners.

JH: OK then, but that was a good day. Look, in whatever order I come up after this one, number one is going to be form. It isn’t as straightforward as one might think, though. For instance, when Efficient won the Cup last year he really hadn’t done much for a year. Yet you and BB both homed in on him early and I recall you nailed the first four.

TO: Brian says I stick like chewy.

JH: Actually he says you stick like something else that gets on your shoe. Much nastier.

TO: Yeah, well all right. I do hang on. But then, we get Sirmione and company. I see what you mean though, Jon. Form isn’t necessarily “two weeks’ form”, or “last start form”, is it?

JH: No, it’s appropriate form, if you want to give it a name or a title. Take Gorky Park this year. David Hayes reckons he’s underrated. Well, he’s won at that special distance now, but not in VRC Derby class like Efficient won. And not a top staying event like Makybe Diva did in the November before her three big ones. It’s form, and it’s a great clue. But is it appropriate to the Melbourne Cup? I’d need more convincing, although I acknowledge that it’s better than the form offered by, say, Weekend Hussler.

TO: Holy Smoke, that’s a bombshell!

JH: Yes maybe, but we don’t even know Weekend Hussler can go further than a decent mile at this stage do we? And we will be paying the bookmakers to find out. I can never see much point in the average punter “shelling out” to “find out”. And that might as well bring me to the second criterion.

TO: No, hang on there. Appropriate form, OK, you give one or two examples, but what about week to week? I mean to say, we don’t have a Melbourne Cup every Tuesday.

JH: True. Well, I guess last start form is the usual clue; maybe second last start form, maybe a bit further back. I mean you’d go back ages, I know you, but I tend to like what’s been done pretty recently, as far as the average weekend meeting is concerned. I need some sign. I do like a last start winner, but more than that I like something that looks to be up the task and is fit to do it. For example, and I can think of three from last weekend, take Derringer in the Grand National Hurdle. Had one jumps run, won it, stays all day, always looked a pretty fair to decent flat stayer, and there he is against a bunch of ordinaries. But yes it was a hurdle and it was over about ten miles, so ultimately I left it alone.

Another example. Pinnacles up at the Sunshine Coast on Saturday. We got eights. Amazing really, as this horse was right up with the best, damn near winning the Doncaster. The only equivalent class against him was the mare Alverta. The form for Pinnacles was not immediately recognisable, as he’d failed in the Straddie. In fact, Best Bets suggested he was over the top.

TO: Great little guide isn’t it? I’d have commented that your patience was at least the level of mine!

JH: Point made. Anyway what about Imagining at Rosehill? She was on Mike Kemp’s current list, and I watched her videos again. That last run was a blinder. You know, way back at the start of her career she could have been anything. Lee Freedman had her, didn’t he? Five from the first six. Then she lost all form. Went north and we all waited and waited. But that last run at Randwick said she was ready. I debated long and hard about sticking her on my selection list, but we finally opted for another one, which managed to win anyway. The odds weren’t as good though. Anyway, her form was all recently at 1400, same as today, and her last run was a big one. Blake Shinn went on her, and she brained them. It’s easy to be smart afterwards of course.

TO: Isn’t it just? It all looks just so obvious. Like Efficient last November, and more so like Makybe Diva, third time.
Yet they gave 20s at one stage. Anyway, what’s the next criterion?

JH: Class. I referred to Derringer a minute back. Well, his class was about fifteen points above that field. The only query was experience. On the Rosehill card, With A Chance stole that 1800 affair with 58kg on a slow tack. And when the Hill is slow, it’s slow!

Class, though. It’s vital to have some. Placed six of seven at the track, a couple of wins in there, a 31/60 strike rate at decent class, lots of pluses. Big Al Hazim that almost collared him, isn’t renowned for his final sprint and he stopped just short. The only winner at the distance in the whole field had no city form for yonks. By the way, just mentioning class, the one that might have some from that race was, to my eye, Lodge the Deeds. He worked home hard for third and he’s got a decent strike ratio too. You look for a horse of this class in the next five or six weeks, before the best get fit again.

TO: So what’s next?

JH: This might floor you if I put it up front, but I’m into riders. Barriers can be coped with by a top rider. Not all the time, but I’ve lost a lot of races by not trusting the rider to handle the barrier.

TO: But you commented privately on an email to me that it may well have cost Alverta her race on Saturday! And anyway, I regard it as absolutely vital. I recall many years back Mickey Rooney came to Sydney and, as he was a mad punter, went to Randwick. He made a killing that day, and never ventured outside barrier 3. He maintained that it was THE biggest clue. Let’s have a quick look.

JH: Well thanks for letting that out about Alverta. True, but not regularly so. The outside barriers did OK at the Coast, but I see Kelly benefited from barrier 1 in the last. Look, I really reckon that most times it’s down to the rider. I accept exceptions like the short races at Rosehill. I know what you think there and I agree with you entirely. The Golden Slipper is mostly won and lost from the barrier. I’ll stick to the rider to sort that out. Now being very straight about it, I’m not going to take 6/4 about a horse from barrier 15 or so, but that’s because I try not to pick those shorties anyway. A horse like Sea Battle at Flemington had young Nick Hall, who is in my book getting very near the top down there. It was an education to see him set that horse alight when it mattered.

I also think that the statistics tell the tale here. The top riders stay near the top of the tables. Blake Shinn and Nash Rawiller, along with others like Hugh Bowman, Danny Nikolic, Tye Angland, Larry Cassidy, Glyn Schofield and Jeff Lloyd, Tim Clark, Peter Robl, young Mitch Beadman, Peter Wells and Josh Parr. Strike me pink so many gooduns, and they will dominate Sydney for the next five or six years at least. Seb Murphy and Nick Hall and also Willie Hernan who has a lovely sense of timing, will join the half dozen at the top in Melbourne. Craig Williams, Craig Newitt, Darren Gauci and Damien Oliver, Brad Rawiller, Corey Brown wherever he settles.

And there’s young James Winks and Steve Arnold, along with Steve Baster. Gosh, then Luke Nolen comes back. We hope soon.

I just think that with this lot (and I’ve omitted some for sure that should be there), the punter has a surfeit of wealth. They used to make that noise about being able to toss the colours in the jockeys’ door at Randwick and be confident that anyone who picked them up would get the job done. I believe it’s come to that again.

TO: And perhaps the very best of them is not even in the country?

JH: You mean Darren of course. Yeah I’d back him to ride you home!

YO: Even from barrier 24?

JH: You don’t make it easy, do you? Track conditions are my next criterion. Horses either can, or can’t handle the soft stuff. Look at that Grand National Hurdle we spoke about. Derringer has great slow track form, but his firm track output is not as good. It’s all right, just not as good on paper. So what do you look at? A brilliant fourth to Gorky Park in the Ramsden at the track on a dead 4. Saturday was rated at 3. Benefit of hindsight again, La Chasseuse had a win and two seconds from three on the track, all her worthwhile form’s on good tracks, and she’s good first-up.

Look at David Payne’s Kettledrum. Best on dead. Gets slow, just misses at $15. Anchored in the final 50m. As you say, it happens, and you learn. Track conditions and what horses can do, I mean what they have done, are very, very important.

TO:  One more to finish?

JH: Just one? Yeah, all right, one you taught me, then I read the Stewart Simpson book. Repetition. Back them to do exactly what they’ve already done. That’s the one I see so often afterwards, and I always get so mad! Study a big race and seek the horse that’s been there and done it. Not just Makybe. Others, too. She was an exception. But they’re creatures of habit. Believe that and you’re a long way advanced in winner-finding. The losers will just keep right on losing!

TO: Thanks Jon. It’s been great. I’m sure the readers join me in saying we’ve all learnt a lot.

JH: You’re welcome, as always.

Click here to read Part 1.

By The Optimist