Let’s get straight down to this, because we’ve still got seven points to get through. For anybody that didn’t read the first installment, see the link below to the previous article.

The barrier plays a significant part in many ways. The first is that quite clearly there will always be better barriers and worse barriers. The trick is to know which are the bad ones and which are the good ones; for example, I have read some debate recently that as Caulfield programs progress, so wide draws are not as bad.

The thinking is that after the first three or four races, you need to track out wide. Reading between the lines from the various reports, it looks as though Caulfield still has problems. I wouldn’t say that we have been subjected to its old “fast lane” dilemma, where first around the corner wins, but certainly there are places that it pays a horse not to be. 

Flemington can be a hopeless proposition if you draw the wrong side on the straight track, but at the moment it’s out of contention.  Moonee Valley can be suicidal if you draw wide over the sprint distances, but then again, I’ve read comments to the effect that many people who know what they’re talking about prefer a wide barrier to the rails at many Moonee Valley distances. 

We could go through these one by one, but that would take all day (and the next four pages).  If you check my Plan of the Month, there is a bit more there on Rosehill, and especially the Golden Slipper distance. One thing: I don’t know how a horse can possibly win at Doomben unless it is drawn towards the inside, but statistics can lie.

It’s often very hard to get a line on barrier statistics because so many things come into play. I know one expert who is quite prepared to allow for a horse’s wide barrier if he fancies the horse, because it often means he will get five or six more points for it. 

He also demands a top jockey.  Makes sense. See later. To be honest, it’s very hard to draw up a set of regulations that will cover more than one track. I’m going to have some fun trying to place this criterion in the 12 when we rank them. And as to how many points we allot to barriers as a significant factor, I think it’s the most variable of them all.

Jockeys can have a massive effect on barriers, and arguably there is no more significant consideration than the person on top. I’ve been beaten more times than I like to remember, because I have gone for someone other than the very top. One of these light years, I’m going to bring in a rule of my own to never bet on anyone but highly experienced, fully qualified jockeys.

The trouble is, the kids can do a great job on several runners in succession, and you persuade yourself that they are riding up there with the best. But then something happens in a race, something that they haven’t experienced before. Or something that their (let’s be frank here) super-confident juvenile attitude doesn’t permit them to see in all its depth. 

The truth is that they are P-Platers. We sometimes fail to remember this and, just like you, I’ve been burnt. If I sense a kid with a clock in his head, as happened with Michael Rodd a few years back, I can put you onto it and together we can make some worthwhile money. We did. But impatience sometimes gets the better of us. It’s a very narrow line.

I sometimes wonder how my betting would go if I restricted myself totally to the top three or four riders on the premiership tables. No exceptions, no arguments. I’d say that Sydney would prove massively successful at the moment. Looking at Melbourne, and checking the premierships at the beginning of March, we couldn’t go too far wrong. 

For once, Paul Harvey is getting a bit of a challenge in Perth, but of course he’s had a lot less rides than anybody else near the top of their list. Brisbane and Adelaide are reasonably predictable, except for two notable exceptions in Adelaide. 

Dwayne Dunn, just like Paul Harvey, hasn’t had as many rides or he would be up there, whilst Scott Leckey, who burst on the scene like a shooting star, is nowhere to be seen.  I would suggest that any jockey near the top of the premiership who is riding to a win strike rate of six or less, is probably very reliable.

Form on the track is one of my little favourites, as regular readers would know.  I’m much more at peace with myself when I know that my horse is not racing on the track for the first time.  Horses are not the most relaxed of individuals and if you really watch them on the parade, you will see as many different personalities on view as you’ll see in any human parade. 

This is particularly so amongst the youngsters. Some of them are extremely interested in everything that’s going on around them, others are having a bad hair day and others are not really all that happy with the world; and still others couldn’t give a hang about anything around them and are probably wondering what’s for dinner (the usual, to be honest, maybe a carrot or some salt if you win?).

Having a horse win on the track before today’s race gets one of my big question marks out of the road. As to the actual form, well of course impressive winning form is the best. But if you come across a horse that is a regular placegetter and an irregular winner, and it has plenty of form on this course to show you that things are no different here, you have to be very wary (unless you’re a place bettor). There is always the chance that the horse is a herd runner, and while he could beat his opponents, he probably won’t, as he will prefer to just run along with

The early markets can be highly educational if they are not somebody’s flight of fancy. You see, there are two kinds of pre-post markets. The first and significant one is provided by people who are actually prepared to bet you those odds. Most bookmakers these days will offer pre-post prices on the big races and of course all of the TABs will also have their markets. These markets are a challenge to punters like you and me, because nobody is giving anything away. 

One of the best stories I ever tell against myself is of the time I backed Flying Spur at 20/1 for the Golden Slipper, as soon as the barriers were known, and found out on track that I could have 25/1 anywhere. There was even 33/1 although it was not reported. I was not a very impressed little Vegemite! So you can come a real flop betting early, but the bottom line is that you can also get it right.

The other kind of pre-post market belongs with the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. That’s the one published on Fridays by your local newspaper.  Unless they are drawing on fixed odds, their pre-post prices are figments of somebody’s imagination.  They have absolutely nothing to do with reality, no money whatsoever is changing hands, no one is ever rapped over the knuckles for getting them hopelessly wrong; and the best thing to do with them is to totally ignore them. There is one proviso here. Their market order is very frequently close to spot-on.

That’s what they’ve always been good at.  But as to the prices, dream on.

Newspaper polls can be of some significance. One difficulty is always that, when everybody selects the same horse, it’s going to end up hopelessly under the odds on all the TABs. Since most “small” punters are TAB bettors, they will be well and truly taken to the cleaners if they try to get a bet on these horses. But the polls can be a magnificent guide, nevertheless. 

When you get the best polls, and you are able to allocate your own preferred points, you in effect have a system of your own. For example, if you never bet outside the groups of horses which finish up fourth or better on the poll, you will back a lot of good horses.

As a rule of thumb, it’s not a bad one. I’ve known punters over the years who have restricted themselves to horses that are in the first four in the betting order, and the first four in the poll. The horses have to qualify in both. 

It’s a surprisingly easy way of fining a field down, and of taking advantage of a whole range of informed opinion.

Naturally, you have to choose your poll very, very carefully. Some punters I’ve known have actually nominated their selectors. The Australian’s selectors, for example, have enjoyed 40 years of following, so much so that there was a near-riot when one of the editors tried to eliminate racing from this newspaper a decade or so back (maybe longer, but I’d say it was about 15 years ago – the racing public was very unimpressed).

If you distribute points on the basis of 4, 3, 2 and 1, for each of the poll and the market order, you could probably come up with a rather tidy little system. In fact, I might go back to this myself on Saturday Punter one of these days, and see if we can draw up one of our weekly angles based on this.  (As you might have guessed, I’m a little bit starstruck by our new website, but then it’s more than a little bit special.) 

Anyway, you would have the possibility of eight points, and then any combination down to one if you applied this number sequence recommended above. You could have a lot of fun with it, if you then allocated premiership jockeys the same points, meaning that you’re now up to 12 points possible. As you can see, it has potential.

Before I leave the markets and the polls, however, I’d like to remind you again that you can’t bet blind on them. You’ll still get your winners if you do, but you won’t get the vital “value”. How many of you were wondering when I was going to introduce this word? Exactly. Don’t leave home without it. I’ve said so many times that Value is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s also got some concrete aspects to it. 

I mean to say, you can have some arbitrary rules to protect yourself against not taking value. I simply do not bet odds-on. I am fully aware that horses are sometimes practically stone-cold certainties. However, for what I am going to get back when I win, I am not prepared to lend the TAB or the bookmaker my money.  Everything in my experience says that this is not a good idea.

At the other end of the scale, a horse that is $101 may be terrible value. That is where the nonsense that is spoken on the radio and television gets out of hand. We have such lines as “I’ve gone for a bit of value” . . . meaning that the horse is $6 as against the favourite which is $2 . . . when in fact that $6 is about three points under what the horse really should be.

Another example is that a certain horse is claimed to be “value on the TAB”, because it is significantly shorter in the ring. That is not necessarily a fact. The horse might be $20 on the TAB and only $11 with bookmakers, but you and I might believe that the horse is still under its correct price. So $20 is not value at all, it is merely a more attractive version of “unders”.

So much of this depends on opinion, but for all that, value has to enter your calculations somewhere. You have to have some arbitrary ruling.  Something that your experience, or your reading, or just your gut feeling tells you.

Value is the bottom line, and without it we would sink like a stone without trace.

Ratings are something that I was taught by the late Dick Whitford in the UK in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He worked for The Sporting Life, a grand racing newspaper.  Dick provided numerically assessed weight figures against every horse, and when I returned to Australia I applied his principles to our new weights. A couple of years after I returned, Don Scott went public with his profound methods of assessment, and a few years after that he combined with possibly Australia’s finest early racing educator, Warren Block. Warren remains enormously respected within the racing industry, and his Superform is something that many professionals regard as a benchmark in Australian racing. 

Today in PPM, I provide the Class and Assessments sector as a service to those who like to see a numerical figure placed against each horse. I try to calculate and weigh up the horses one against the other, and I mostly try to focus on horses that I know will be competitive in the next month or so. It isn’t as easy as it used to be, because computer assessments assist bookmakers, and of course the TAB, to make a finer and more accurate analysis of each horse’s possible winning chances, than was the case when we started out. Still, we find some nice ones!

Trainers are the final criterion that Laurie listed for us. Thanks again Laurie for such a great set. I have only added value to the ones you put in. So we have 13 instead of 12.  A baker’s dozen.

Anyway, back to trainers. If you stuck with David Hayes, Lee Freedman, John Hawkes and Gai Waterhouse, you would get a lot of winners. As a matter of fact, in the last seven months you’d have backed 289 winners. To do that, you needed to have 1547 bets, so you’d have needed average winning returns around $5.35 (in the old language, approaching 9/2, give or take) to cut even.

I should think that this would be unlikely, and I see that a dollar invested on all four of these trainers would have lost about $262. However, one of the four did make a profit in the first seven months (the lady, actually) and place punters might be interested that the strike rates for these trainers for their placed horses were 1.8, 1.9, 2.2, and 2.4. Frankly, that’s brilliant and overall it tells you that no less than 727 placed. 

That’s 47 per cent!

So, all other things apart, there would have to be some very interesting systems based around just sticking with these four trainers for placings.  And that’s a whole new ball game.

It’s time to see if we can rank these criteria in numerical order of importance. Look, this is going to be a personal opinion, but here we go.  I’m not going to allocate any points to value. I think it stands apart as the ultimate personal and vital factor, but I can’t assess it. Ranking if I did? Number one. It’s as simple as that. But we are leaving it out of calculations, as it is very rarely a mechanical thing.

  1. Finishing position last start
  2. Winning strike rate
  3. Form at the distance
  4. Form at the track
  5. Rider
  6. Trainer
  7. Barrier
  8. Days since last win
  9. Days since last run
  10. Ratings
  11. Early markets
  12. Newspaper polls

If I did this again, I might push my own ratings a little bit further up; and then we have such magnificent ratings as Practical Punting Daily’s Impactpro, which I inadvertently omitted to mention earlier on.  Many PPD followers regard these assessments as the ultimate early tool in race analysis. If you haven’t experienced them, you’re missing something special.

There is argument for placing the trainer above the rider, especially in the case of the four trainers I mentioned above, because they make very few errors when they allocate their rides. They are the top of their trade and they know exactly what they are doing. You can do worse than take a lead from them. A lot worse, in fact.

I don’t think that I would ever move away from the idea that form is at the top, above all other factors.  Recent form, overall form, form at the distance, form at the track . . . an absolutely vital grouping. So then we have the rider, the trainer and (in many cases the decider of the race) the barrier. 

Following this, recency of last win (it may not be vital if the horse has not stepped up to its optimum distance for some time – that’s why it’s a fair way down the list). Next, recency since last run (and in this case you really have to look at the horse’s overall history because, you know as well as I do, that some horses perform well fresh and some need a run or two every preparation, before they show anything much).

Finally, after the ratings, I included the early markets and the polls. It would be perfectly understandable if you decided to go another way on this order. As to allocating actual numerical figures, I’ll have a crack at that next month.

Click here to read Part 1.

By The Optimist