In my continuing series of articles which discuss the manner in which I, personally, study the form for a meeting, I've explained how I obtain a quite comprehensive over-view of an entire meeting in about 15 minutes, without even looking away from the list of acceptors, jockeys, barriers and weights, etc. that precedes the detailed form in most guides.

I am able quickly to see how many negatives there are against each runner at even this early stage. Generally if any runner has more than two negatives against it so early in proceedings, I decide it will not carry any of my money.

So now I begin investigating only those horses which have satisfied my 'broad picture' view. First, I make a couple of quick checks. Any runner remaining under consideration must have an acceptable win percentage rate. I seldom back any runner which has not been successful at 20 per cent of its outings or, if I'm considering betting for a place, I generally eliminate any runner that has not been in-the-prizemoney at least 45 per cent of the time, preferably 55-60%.

One more easy check gives me quite a good idea of the class of a runner, as rated against its opposition. The good form guides these days list 'average' prize money won by each horse - the average earnings per start. As a rule of thumb, the more highly positioned a horse is in average stake earnings, the better its class can be assumed to be.

It is worthwhile being aware that almost all winners of handicap races come from the top six average-money earners.

An article in the September 6 issue of The Bulletin, Australia's leading news magazine, made interesting reading. It told how entries for the 1993 Melbourne Cup were very disappointing for the Victorian Racing Club and pointed out that, nowadays, most of the best Australian and New Zealand horses don't even bother to try and win the great race.

This year's entries totaled only 314 which, at $100 per entry, reduced the contribution towards the great race's stake money by about $28,000, compared with what the club would have got if its expectation of about 600 entries had been realised. Of course this amount will become a much greater debit as first- and second acceptances are taken at much higher sums.

The highest number of entries was nominated in 1989 when the owners of 635 horses put their money where their hopes were. The previous lowest number in the last 25 years had been 476 (in 1984).

This year, in a bid to ensure the numbers would be high, The VRC delayed the nominations closing time by two months, from the customary June 1 until August 1, but to no avail. The 1994 entries totaled less than half of the 1989 figure.

Over the past few years, since Australian racing has become very with much part of a global scene riders and horses now venturing frequently to overseas venues, particularly in Asia and the East - a fear has been developing that the Melbourne Cup, while recognized as our greatest race in the Australian public's eye, is no longer regarded as being that by the owners of Australia's and New Zealand's best horses.

Even though the Melbourne Cup carries $2,035,000 in prizemoney, it is very clear that the W.S. Cox Plate, with its $1.75 million stake money, run over 2040 metres at WFA has taken a lot of gloss off the Cup.

A win in the Cox Plate almost guarantees an invitation to the world's richest event - the $4.7 million Japan Cup. Even the Cox Plate 'also-rans' can still earn very big dollars by competing in the other weight-for-age events at The Melbourne Carnival, and there are quite a number.

Why, the owners of the champions wonder, should they risk their QUALITY horses by asking them to concede big weights to lesser-calibre, advantageously-weighted horses, in the tough and testing 3200m event?

Looking back over the Melbourne Cup fields of the last 15 years, not many true champions have tried to win the race that stops the nation. Kingston Town was the last in 1982, and he was narrowly beaten.

By Russ Writer