Much is published in daily newspapers about the manner in which horses perform during trackwork. But how much does it actually help you to back a winner?

For a start, does the average punter pay more than a cursory glance at the lists of trackwork gallops and times? And even if he does, is he able to analyse them critically? What do they really mean? More to the point, are they always true reflections of a horse's fitness?

There are so many questions relating to trackwork - and so many left without answers - that you could be forgiven if you felt the faintest whiff of scepticism about it all. One answer is that you don't have to know anything at all about the ins-andouts of track gallops - all you do is read what the trackwork experts have to say. That's true.

Most newspapers have a section where the men who get up at unearthly hours to watch and time the track gallops can hand out their selections for the day. You'll also hear these experts on Saturday morning radio racing programmes.

But here, once more, we must ask the penetrating question: Do they know what they are talking about? And, even more penetrating, are they letting us in on everything? Are some track gallops 'protected' by not being reported, and are some times for the workouts being 'doctored'? Who knows - only the experts themselves.

Let's look first at track gallops and times as they are reported in the newspapers. Here's an example:


Now, what can the average 'punter in a hurry' make of all this? Do the times reported mean that the fastest trackworkers are the ones to be on? Or are the times basically irrelevant- in other words, horses with slow track times to their name actually come out and win?

We see that on Thursday, August 28, Pleasant Flight ran the fastest 600 m on the steeple grass at Randwick. On Saturday, August 30, it finished 6th of nine behind Whinavi at 9-1, having blown out from 61. Gallery Level is reported to have run the fastest 800 m at Randwick - on the Saturday, he finished 4th to Drought at 7-4 equal favourite. Interestingly, Drought had also worked over 800 m at Randwick on the Thursday, but his time of 58 seconds was nine seconds slower than Gallery Level's!

My point is this: How would a punter have deduced from these two gallops that Drought would beat Gallery Level? My personal answer is that he wouldn't have had a clue what to make of it, but he certainly would have backed Gallery Level if he was pinpointing fastest times as a benchmark of a horse's fitness and potential.

Over 1000m, Chanteclair was a fast worker at Randwick, clocking 64.5 seconds for a 1000m workout. This is what is termed 'very smart' work by the track clockers. On the Saturday, Chanteciair finished 5th of nine to Whinavi.

Now, another interesting point: Scan your eyes over the Rosehill track gallops ... Can you see Whinavi's name anywhere? No. He is trained there by Jack Denham but, according to the official track reports, he did not work on the Thursday. Nor, I can assure you, did the earlier reports on Tuesday workouts contain his name. So there we have it - the winner of the race is not even reported in the trackwork times. Maybe he didn't work at all; I don't know. But this is yet another point to prove that anyone who was taking track gallops as a guide would never have been in the race for the winner of this particular event, because the horse's name wasn't mentioned in the trackwork!

We now come to another moot point: What about all those horses who are trained away from the major centres? Because of the restrictions on newspaper space, and the fact that country trainers are averse to having anyone time their horses working, the punters are completely in the dark over how these horses have worked. Only a direction by the stewards for trainers to lodge 'training gallop' reports would overcome this problem.

That isn't a bad idea, of course. If trainers were forced to reveal what their horses had done during the week by way of gallops and work, etc., and newspapers would co-operate by publishing the information, then punters would at last be given all the required details.

So what about the trackwork experts themselves? Just how reliable are they, and are they any better than anyone else in determining the outcome of races, or even the fitness of horses that gallop before them at the various tracks.

I decided to do a three-week test and chose the experts whose advice is handed out in the Brisbane Courier-Mail newspaper on Fridays. The C-M publishes an excellent three-State guide on this day, with full form and lots more interesting information. An integral part of the form guide is the panel devoted to the trackwork experts - Garth Stubbersfield at Eagle Farm, Alan Welburn at Doomben, Bruce Clark at Deagon, Russ Maddock at the Gold Coast and Susan Searle at Toowoomba.

In Week 1's panel, Stubbersfield gave positive wraps for six horses for the Eagle Farm meeting on August 6. He got one winner, Chaurella at 7-2. Welburn said he expected a 'mighty' race from Prima Place in the first. It finished 12th of 14. He did, though, score a winner with 7-2 chance Vihtavuori, which he said "might sneak a place." He tipped four losers. Clark nominated three horses and all lost. Maddock got one winner from five selections, Latin Flair at 6-4. Searle failed to land a winner from five positive selections.

Week 2 saw little improvement. Stubbersfield nominated one winner (at oddson), Welbum got one winner, Clark struck out again, Maddock got one winner while Searle also managed one, the short-priced Sleep Walk.
 Week 3 was again a blot for the experts' panel. Stubbersfield mentioned eight horses as having prospects and none of them won. Welburn named four horses positively and again failed to land a winner. Clark, for the third week in a row, scored a zero, this time from four selections. Maddock struck one winner, while Searle also managed one winner.

Those, then, are the pretty disappointing results from the track experts' panel in the Courier-Mail, and I publish them not to cast any aspersions on the people involved, but to show you that even the men and women whose job it is to cast eagle eyes over trackwork, cannot capitalise on it to any major extent. Perhaps I chose three bad weeks. But the results would have to improve an enormous amount for punters to be able to cash in profitably on them.

What I believe the average punter can do to make the most of trackwork details is to note good times, and then follow the horses for some weeks. Thus, if Horse A runs a good time, you then 'follow' it for, say, the next three starts. In this way, you will be giving the horse a chance to really prove that its trackwork times mean something. (PPM's excellent Ready To Win In All States is based on this idea and the results in the last 12 months have been excellent.)

Another idea is to back only those horses whose trainers are quoted as being pleased with their track gallops. There will not be a great many bets with this plan, merely because newspapers usually only quote one or two trainers about the manner in which their charges have worked.

A further plan, giving the track experts a final chance, is to follow only those horses they hand out as their 'best bets' on the radio. My personal survey of such an idea is still in its early days, but results are encouraging.

My clear warning to you is not to blindly choose the fastest workers from the trackwork columns. 'Fastest' in the morning doesn't mean 'fastest' on afternoon raceday. You see, many horses are wonderful gallopers over 600m and 800m but the sparkling times they record in training can never be repeated on the track, where they face competition and pressure and longer distances to travel.

I guess you have all heard the racing term 'morning glories' - well, this is what many horses produce. They sizzle in training and slop-slop in races. All their brilliance is left on the training track.

One veteran track watcher put it like this to me: "Some of these horses are buggers - they'll run you an ordinary time over 800m and confound you by winning a couple of days later. What I look for, and what we should all be looking for, is how a horse works and not what time it registers. A horse can amble along in a gallop but you can still know that he is fit and in order, because he does it so well.

"I've seen thousands of horses that could peel off the fastest times of the morning, but not too many of them reproduced it on raceday. By all means, take account of the fast workers but just as equally, never write off a horse because it has a slow time next to its name. That might not mean a thing."

My friend pointed out that stayers have to be looked at in a different manner to sprinters when assessing trackwork times. It's obvious, he told me, that stayers will never run track times as fast as those clocked by out-and-out sprinters and milers.

"Solid work by a stayer might seem slow, but when you take into account what he is being pitched for, then the time will be reasonable," he said. "I'd be quite happy if I had a stayer and it went over 1200m in 1 m 30s plus, as long as it was moving out nicely and had it all together."

There you have it, then. Trackwork is not all that it seems to be and it's definitely not all 'fast times' and winning action. You have to approach it carefully and look deep for hidden clues as to how a horse is working along.

And don't worry if you reckon you're having some problems. As we know, from the figures produced in this article, even the experts have trouble working it all out!

When is a gallop a winning gallop? Everyone seems to have some idea, but nobody bothers to tell the horses. Here are some extracts from recent comments by trackwork experts about certain horses - and then the result of the race.

Brave Fool - he skipped over 800m under new race jockey Dave Murphy in a tick over 48. That looked winning work to me. Result: Brave Fool 3rd 4-1.

Mr. Edition - he worked strongly over 1600m, coming home the last 600m in around 40. I think he is ready to score. Result: Mr. Edition  6th 11 -2.

Imperial Blackzeph - A top chance. He has been racing and working well and the 1350m will suit. Result: Imperial Black Zeph 7th of nine at 3-1.

Zany Zephyr - will not find an easier race in which to strike winning form. She has been kept pretty fresh since her fair Gold Coast run and is well placed with the claim for Michelle Overell. Result: Zany Zephyr 4th 4-1.

On the other hand, sometimes the trackwork experts get it right.

Prince Frolic - faces a near-impossible task first-up at Doomben. Although he has worked well on the tracks, a first-up win would surprise. Result: Prince Frolic 7th of eight at 2-1.

Silver Relic - gets his chance to race into the winner's circle. Result: Silver Relic 1st 4- 1.

Dame Du Siecle - worked brilliantly on Tuesday. Result: Dame Du Siecie 1st 10- 1.

By Martin Dowling