Answer this question honestly: How much notice do you take of stewards' reports? A lot? Not much? None? If you are like the majority of punters the answer will be none.

I did a survey some months back and quizzed 500 regular punters at a mid-city TAB agency in Sydney. Only 23 said they took a lot of notice of stewards' reports. Another 100 or so said they occasionally looked at them, while the rest said they NEVER read a word of what the stewards reported.

In some instances, this was because they did not have access to the reports because they were not buyers of the Sporting Globe or Sportsman. The figures, then, from this set of 500 punters indicate that punters who DO take notice of the stewards' reports are in a position to capitalise on them.

It means that vital information is being missed by the majority of bettors. Many times the stewards will point out some aspect of a horse's performance which can have enormous bearing on its subsequent outing.

The most reliable publisher of the reports is the Sportsman. This formguide comes out twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and usually contains all the key reports from the major venues, as well as provincial meetings. The Midweek Globe, also out on Tuesdays, carries quite a lot of reports as well.

Going through the detail of what the stewards have to say might be considered by many to be a time consuming task - but it can pay off when you spot a piece of information that explains away a defeat or, vice versa, explains why a horse ran a better race than it did at its previous start.

Then there are the notes about those horses which were out of luck - slowly away, crowded, bumped, hampered, blocked for a run, taken wide etc.

What I do is go through each stewards' report and, with a blue marker pen, tick off any items where jockeys or trainers have been called in to explain poor runs or improved runs.

These can be crucially important in the future.

Quite often, I am able to back a winner which is mentioned in a report for having failed to handle the prevailing track conditions. The jockey might say the horse was travelling okay until the pressure was applied and then it began to flounder in the going.

Next time out, this horse may strike firm going - and a form reversal is on the cards. The same sort of thinking applies to horses which have shown improved form. Keep track of what was said and at some time in the future you can use it to either eliminate the horse from contention - or bring it into contention for a race.

It's in the area of 'unlucky' runs that the stewards can prove most helpful. After all, they get a wonderful view of each race from their racetrack perches, and they have access to complete patrol film of what went on - from a number of different angles.

I have what I call a 'Bad Luck Notebook' in which I clip out the stewards' comments on horses that struck trouble. Firstly, I outline them all with red marker ink and then transfer them to my notebook.

It's then a matter of watching out for the horses when they next have a race. It's surprising how many winners you can get at decent odds, simply by taking note of what happened to them last start, as outlined in the stewards' reports.

If a horse gets two or more 'bad luck' mentions, I put asterisks’ next to its name. These tell me to give it serious consideration when it next races. A horse may be listed as having been 'slowly away' and then it might have been 'crowded' in the early stages, and later perhaps blocked for a run, or checked when trying to improve its position.

The late Don Scott went into some detail in his books about the value of stewards' reports. He said that when a horse was blocked for a run, the stewards' reports "are your best source of information. The stewards usually tell you over what distance the horse is blocked and when it gets clear".

Scott had special tables to compensate for the various pieces of information handed out by stewards. For example, if their report said a horse was checked and lost a little ground, then Scott recommended a half-kilo compensatory bonus if the incident happened in the straight.

If the stewards said a horse 'lost considerable ground' he suggested a compensation figure of 2.5kg, or about 1.5 lengths. He gave a list of varying figures for horses that were blocked for a run. These were graded and were dependent on where the incident happened.

It is worth looking at Scott's Winning More book for a full analysis of how to make use of the stewards' reports. The book goes into close details on what bonuses to award for interference.

Let me give you an example of using the stewards' report to your advantage. I refer to the report issued by the Brisbane stewards for the Eagle Farm meeting on May 25. In race 6 they noted the following:

  • VALANCE was held up and unable to improve for some distance approaching the home turn.
  • Near the 1600m, Revenge shifted and tightened the running of SUPER SLEW.

Here are two examples of how a report from the stewards can alert you to future form. Valance went on to win his next start, the 2400m Queensland Derby, at 9/4, and Super Slew ran 2nd in the same race. The pair went to the line locked together.

Now I am not suggesting that the stewards' report was, in itself, a direct tip for the pair to run the quinella - but it was certainly adding weight to their claims in the Derby, especially in the case of Valance, who had clearly been unlucky on May 25.

"Read the stewards' reports carefully and the winners will start to flow"

The message, I firmly believe, is crystal clear. If you are serious about your betting - and you should be because, after all, you have to earn the money to bet - then you should make a point of noting what the stewards say.

They are professionals in the racing world, they are paid to watch each race with a committed eye, and they are constantly on the alert for any happenings in a race. They can be your eyes, too.

All it needs from you is a commitment to study their reports, to take note of what they say, and then to apply it to your own betting approach. Keep notebooks, or clippings, file the reports in a folder, log them into a computer program but do something!

Interestingly, those readers with access to The Rating Bureau's Winline computer service can easily notate stewards' reports by typing in their comments in the Winline 'black book' file. Then, when that horse races again, it will be specially marked in black on the Winline fields, just as a reminder. A superb touch to the Rating Bureau's service.

By Alan Jacobs