How important is 'trackwork' for punters? Can we trust the times we see listed in the racing pages of the Sportsman and other publications? Do raceclubs pay enough attention to ensuring the betting public gets all the information it needs about track gallops?

These are pertinent questions so far as the Australian racing public is concerned. Unlike other racing countries, our trackwork reporting is very much a hit and miss affair.

At the Sydney tracks, the enormous workload of clocking hundreds of horses every week is left to a handful of overworked and underpaid 'clockers'.

There is little or no regulation. In Japan, for example, all track gallops are strictly monitored by the use of computerised bar codes which automatically time each gallop. In Hong Kong, all horses sent out to trackwork are numbered for easy identification, and the racing and daily press report each and every workout.

Much the same happens in statistics-mad America, where morning gallops are taken very seriously. But here in Australia it's a different thing altogether in that punters have never really been given the opportunity to take trackwork gallops seriously.

Raceclubs have never taken an interest in organising and disseminating the information. Given that information drives betting turnover, the casual attitude of the clubs towards the monitoring of workouts is hard to explain. It would seem to be in their interests to see that as much information as possible is made available to the betting public.

Craig Tompson does all the trackwork clocking at Randwick for the Sportsman. He is dedicated to his job - but he admits it is ill rewarded and surrounded in frustration.

The following is a rundown of a 'conversation' I had with Craig via the Internet. There will be a second article in our February issue.

BB: How do gallops on dirt and grass training tracks compare?

CRAIG: When I moved to Randwick from Rosehill, I was very apprehensive about the dirt track, mainly due to the Equitrack at Rosehill, which is a particularly poor guide, but having watched the dirt closely over the last few months I've come to the conclusion that it is a worthwhile guide, although no match for grass.

The reason why it can be misleading is that it is 'easy' on horses and they don't work as hard within themselves as they would on grass. However, with the grass tracks being in pretty patchy condition much of the time, you can hardly blame the trainers for appreciating the dirt, which is very uniform.

BB: Have you any advice about aspects of trackwork gallops that might help punters?

CRAIG: Take note of the trainer. I think you'll find over time that some trainers have consistently impressive trackworkers who fail to reproduce in races, particularly where 600m gallops are concerned. Watch for patterns which exist with many big stables.

A couple of examples I can offer are Bryan Guy, whom I consider an outstanding trainer, who rarely gallops a horse on a Thursday prior to Saturday, but when he does it's usually a good sign, and jack Denham will invariably work a horse fast two days before a race.

If he doesn't it is often a sign to be a bit wary, especially with two-year-olds. I also think you should watch for a sudden increase in workload after a horse has had a run or two back from a spell, especially with quality middle distance horses.

BB: Is a fast gallop always an indicator of a coming winner?

CRAIG: Don't always assume the fastest time indicates the best worker. Look at all the horses that have galloped over 1000m and further and compare their last 600m times. You sometimes find the fastest 600m of the day is amongst these and not those who have just worked over 600m only.

I reckon these are the first ones you should be looking for - and don't forget to do the form, too.

BB: Don Scott said that the weight a horse carries in a trackwork gallop is an important but unknown aspect of morning gallops. What's your view on this?

CRAIG: Don's points are valid but a little pessimistic. I think weight carried in gallops is mostly not an issue. Horses are not going at race pace throughout a gallop, so weight doesn't affect them the same. A time of 1m 15s for a 1200m gallop is very fast, but disgraceful if it were to happen in a race. There are extremes to the scale, though, with either very heavy riders or very light riders.

It is also worth noting that if a trainer puts a particularly heavy rider on a horse for a gallop it is often because he is an excellent rider or can hold it better if it is a hard puller.

This is more beneficial to the horse than if it were ridden by someone lighter. So you can see that this is a very grey area.

BB: What about saddles used, the shoes a horse wears, and so on, which are other points Don Scott made?

CRAIG: Saddles and shoes are not an issue. Deteriorating tracks can make a difference, but usually to a substantial degree only when it's wet, and mainly on the grass.

BB: Tell us something about the actual timing of the gallops and how you manage to recognise each horse.

CRAIG: All horses are timed from a moving start. A horse that works over, say, 1000m will most likely have cantered off from around the 1400m and built up speed from there.

I would like to think that the times are very accurate. Like most things, if you do it long enough eventually you'll get good at it. If Mick Fagan and myself both clock the same horse there is rarely more than one-tenth of a second difference, for any distance. As far as identifying the horses, it is just up to eternal vigilance.

All horses must barrier trial before they race, so I go to most trials and take the markings of the horses, like brands, white legs, head markings, etc, and keep them on record. Trainers are mostly helpful but that can't be relied upon.

Gai Waterhouse gives us her worksheet every day, which is a great help, and trainers like Graham Begg, Bill Mitchell and Graeme Rogerson always let us know about their horses. Bart and Anthony Cummings don't give too much away but we keep a pretty close eye on them. With all that, though, we do make mistakes but hopefully they are at a minimum.

BB: How do you go about your morning's work?

CRAIG: I take a printout of all Randwick-trained horses nominated in the next week and try to concentrate mainly on these. About 90 per cent of the trackwork you see in the Sportsman takes place between 5.15 am and 6.30 am, so it gets extremely busy, and it's impossible to time them all.

I use three watches but only have two hands and two eyes! The ideal situation would be to have three clockers and another two people identifying the horses but currently this is impossible.

Hopefully, things will improve in the future when raceclubs see the value of trackwork information.

NEXT MONTH: Craig Tompson talks about how trackwork coverage could be undergoing major changes and why raceclubs should support wider coverage in order to boost public confidence and betting turnover.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Brian Blackwell