How do you feel when confronted with column after column of trackwork gallops in your weekend Sportsman? Like most punters, I guess you're a bit baffled. What do we make of the times each horse clocks in his gallop? What does it mean in the context of his preparation and his likely performance in a race next start?

There is no simple answer to any of the questions. Trackwork details CAN help you win, but you have to become adept at deciphering which gallop really means something.

Unfortunately, track gallops and even barrier trials can be quite misleading. They are sometimes not accurately reported and the clockers responsible do not always know the important factors behind a gallop. How much hidden weight does the trackwork jockey carry? What kind of shoes did the horse wear?

Most punters just make a note of the fastest gallops and regard these horses as coming winners. In some cases, this is a reasonable expectation, but not all the time. On some tracks, the passage of time has set standard winning gallops under certain conditions from certain barriers. The experts can assess if a horse has run a winning gallop.

One important aspect of trackwork is to ask yourself if the galloper is a 'moderate' as compared with a 'top-class' horse. A champion may run 1200m in I m 15s and such a trial could put him in the headlines, yet the second-best gallop for the distance on the morning might be l m 15.5s by a Maiden or a Novice class horse.

This gallop will probably be forgotten by the newspaper clockers and reporters. But it's often the one to remember.

If 1M 15s was good for a top-class horse then how much better is that 1M 15.5s registered by the weaker-class galloper? This horse will be going into a weak race and should be considered a strong chance.

At the various tracks around Australia, there are a number of different areas for horses to gallop on when doing trackwork. The 'steeple' grass in Melbourne is exactly that-the part of the track usually reserved for jumps races.

Then there is the A Grass (the main galloping section set aside) and then the Wood Fibre track (this is the all-weather section). Then there's the Sand Track, which speaks for itself.

In his magnificent volume, Winning More (soon, I understand, to be republished), professional punter Don Scott sets out a series of questions which he says often remain unanswered in the minds of punters regarding trackwork gallops.

  1. Did the horse work early when the track was at its best, or late when it was cut up?
  2. What shoes did the horse wear?
  3. What weight did the horse carry?
  4. What type of saddle was used by the rider?
  5. Was the horse timed from a standing start, or cantering in at full gallop?
  6. Was the horse restrained or was it ridden out?
  7. Was the horse blowing hard at the end of the gallop or was it breathing so easily that it would not blow out a candle?

All these questions are particularly pertinent. As Don states in Winning More:

"Unless you know the answers to these questions, you cannot assess the true merit of a track gallop."

But let's look a bit further at SPEED in a track gallop. Despite the reservations we should all hold, the fact remains that a horse's speed in a trackwork hitout can be vitally important. A FIT horse is capable of clocking fast times. An unfit horse is not.

When we see that a horse has registered a slick time, we can use it as part of our form study. The fact that it has run fast does not mean it was a winning gallop. Some horses are lazy trackworkers. They do only what they feel like doing, and yet they could be right at their peak for racing.

When I assess track gallops, I always rely on the FAST gallops. I do believe that, in the end, they are the most reliable trackwork factors. In the absence of other vital information, the speed of a gallop is all one truly has to rely on-and here I am talking about the average punter.

With this article, you'll find a Trackwork Card for the Rosehill course in Sydney. It uses speed to rate the strength of a gallop on the various racing surfaces (fast, good, dead, slow and heavy). Using this chart, you can check Rosehill trackwork and get some idea of the quality of any gallop.

Each issue of P.P.M. from now on will have a Trackwork Card published in it, so as the months go by you can build up your own collection of them until you finally have the cards for Rosehill, Randwick, Flemington, Epsom and Eagle Farm. These are the major training tracks.

Finally, barrier trials: This is a more formal aspect of the training of a racehorse. Results of barrier trials are usually published in the daily newspapers and the Sportsman. The trials are used to give horses experience. In Sydney, horses have to start in a barrier trial before being allowed to start in a race.

Don Scott says you should note a number of points about barrier trials:

(a) distances are usually shorter than for actual races;

(b) weights are catch weights, which means no-one apart from the jockey and the horse's connections knows the weight carried;

(c) connections can conceal the real form of a horse, as horses do not have to perform according to their merits, and jockeys do not have to ride out their mounts and can ease them at any stage;

(d) the final time is some guide to the class of the horses engaged but trials are usually slower than actual races.

By Brian Blackwell