As far back as I can remember, people have been telling me that much of the mystery of racing can be solved by reading the reports issued by the stewards. One pro punter I know refers to them as "virtual tipping sheets", which may be overstating the case but which does have some veracity.

Let's take the case of the stewards of the Thoroughbred Racing Board in Sydney. Last September, apart from issuing their usual reports, they also began highlighting a couple of horses each Thursday prior to the Saturday racing.

These horses are the ones which they consider to have been unlucky at their most recent start. Surprise, surprise, the stewards began to be successful.

Or, as it was put on the TRB's website at the end of last year: "After jumping from the gates a little tardily, this merry band of stipes has come up with some nice priced winners in recent weeks."

The stewards' "highlighted horses" (not TIPS, mind you!), listed under the title of Better Luck Next Time (hey, have they pinched our column heading?), produced the strike rate of a winner for every 3.3 horses mentioned, up to December 31 (the first horses were highlighted back in mid September).

They highlighted 40 horses for 12 winners and 6 placings, and included in the winners were Bulalla $10, Lovely Jubly $9.20 and The Strutter $8.60. Overall, a $230 profit for a $10 bet on all highlighted horses.

There are many in the industry, especially some jockeys, who are wondering if "highlighted horses" are, in fact, tips. Are the stewards actually tipping horses?

Well, maybe they are, maybe they're not. The issue arises because of the action by the very same stewards in banning jockeys from being part of a new website which was to feature the pre-race and post-race comments of the jockeys on their day-to-day rides.

The stewards deemed that because a fee was being charged, the jockeys were being paid for tipping. Thus it was all against the Rules of Racing so far as jockeys are concerned.

But what about those "highlighted horses" from the stewards? Well, for a start, no-one charges anyone for accessing the selections and secondly, the stewards are only alerting punters to what they have already released publicly in their raceday reports.

So, in essence, the stewards are not really tipping, they are "notifying" punters about something which should interest them very much.

But what of stewards' reports overall? Are they much use to the average punter? Should we make an effort to look at them and take them into consideration when making selections?

YES is the answer to the questions. Yes indeed! Those punters who bother to have a look at the stewards' reports can find much to inform them. The effort really is worth it.

In the bad old days, before the Internet, it was indeed a bothersome task to locate stewards' reports. Unless a newspaper happened to print them, or you found some in the pages of Sportsman, you were very likely to miss them altogether, especially those for country and provincial meetings.

The stewards' reports for all Victorian meetings are easily accessible at the Racing Services Bureau website at:

For NSW, you go to the TRB website and click "stewards reports". All reports are neatly contained on Adobe Acrobat pdf files (you can download the Adobe Acrobat program for free).

How can you benefit from the reports? Obviously, by reading them thoroughly. Mark off with coloured pen the horses that seem to have encountered more than their fair share of bad luck.

If you're betting on NSW meetings, you can have much of the work done for you. The Racing And Sports website has a special page for each day's NSW meetings ( in which all horses mentioned recently in stewards' reports are clearly identified, along with the comments made about them.

Let me give you an example of how you could have snapped up a 66/1 winner at Warwick Farm on January 23.

There were eight runners listed as having been mentioned by the stewards. One of them was Continuously, about which it was said: "near the 100m was inclined to lay-in and was checked when crowded for room, January 5, Kembla Grange."

If you'd bothered to look at this horse, way down the bottom of the field, you would have realised it was trained by Graeme Rogerson and was to be ridden by Jim Cassidy. Had you looked a day ahead, you'd have seen it had accepted for a race the following day but that Rogerson was preferring to run it at Warwick Farm.

Had your eyes then gone to the available dividends, you would have seen that Continuously was paying more than $60 for the win.

Had the alarm bells started ringing, you may well have thought: "Hey, this one could be a knockout. Top trainer, top jockey, bit unlucky last start, racing today and not tomorrow. And it's 60/1."

A canny punter, and one who doesn't mind risks, could have taken the favourite in the first leg of the NSW Extra Double with Continuously and received $145 for the bet. A field exacta would have returned $923, a quinella with the field $389. The trifecta on the race paid more than $5800.

I point this out just as an example of how a small clue from the stewards' reports can bring home the bacon in a big way. It's all hindsight, naturally, but it's worth thinking about. Is this the way to go to land those big bikkies? The patient wait for a longshot and then to link it as cleverly as you can in the exotics?

It's the way many professionals go about their business, and they should know what's what. Not for them the dull ache of the shorties.

Continuously wasn't the only winner to have been available on the stewards' listings for that Warwick Farm meeting. Glenn 1st at $2.60 was mentioned as having been a slow beginner at Rosehill on December 29, Brandavino 1st at $4.50 was mentioned as being hampered near the 900m and steadied momentarily and crowded approaching the winning post at Gosford on January 17, and Bear Canyon was reported to have laid-in in the early part of the straight and steadied when crowded close to the line at Newcastle on January 12.

At the very least, evidence like this should be enough to persuade any moderately serious punters to start some detective work of their own on any horse mentioned in the stewards' reports.

It's particularly instructive to look at horses who were reported to have been crowded, blocked, held tip, steadied, hampered, caught wide, and so on. Maybe your next move, having ticked off these runners, is to look at the video replays of the races where the problems occurred?

If you have Sky, then this should be no problem, even if you work through the day. You can tape all the races on the "loop" service that runs through the night hours until early morning. All races are re-run over and over.

Scanning the videos will help you to understand more about what is written by the stewards in their reports. What exactly happened to Horse X when it was "obliged to shift out to obtain a clear run at the 200m mark"? How badly was the horse affected when it was "held up for a clear run" passing the 100m.

Sometimes these incidents can be minor; at other times, they are glaring and obviously cost the horse many lengths and probably a certain win or close placing.

Once you discover all these extra facts for yourself you will be able to confidently decide whether to invest your money or not. This is the final question to be answered.

In the context of the current race, how much emphasis needs to be placed on what happened to a horse last start when it was mentioned in the reports?

Not all of these horses will win next time out. Many will fail again, even without encountering trouble. Maybe they have passed the fitness peak, maybe they are now racing out of their class, maybe they again strike trouble, etc.


By Jon Hudson