There has never been a great emphasis on trackwork gallops in Australian racing and less so in recent years, with the growth in the numbers of meetings held resulting in punters having less time to study form.

But the Sportsman continues to publish detailed trackwork times for the major centres, though it has dropped country training centres like Cranbourne and Newcastle in recent times. The Sporting Globe has a two page spread on trackwork gallops in its midweek issue (out on Tuesdays).

Can you, then, make any money by focusing on trackwork? There are undoubtedly times when it can pay off. As an example, what about Star Of Nouvelle, the W.A. visiting 2yo. who scored at double-figure odds at Rosehill in March? Had you scanned the Sportsman's trackwork pages (weekend edition) you would have clearly seen Star Of Nouvelle listed as having run the fastest 800m gallop of the morning at Randwick on the Thursday before the race (48 secs).

Sometimes, but not always (alas), these 'best' gallops can be a significant pointer to a coming winner. The champion NZer was 'starred' as a best track worker by Sportsman for his 2000m trial gallop with Rough Habit at Kembla Grange on the Monday before the Ranvet Stakes in which he easily beat Naturalism.

In the same issue of Sportsman, the 3yo. filly Burst also was 'starred' as the best track worker at Warwick Farm on the Thursday before she ran 3rd at Rosehill (at pretty good odds, too).

Unfortunately, an approach like this one is very much a hit-and-miss affair. As it is, too, with the Globe's trackwork experts. They do hit winners, but they also run into their fair share of losers.

The added problem with the Globe's trackwork tips is that you get a new list every week. So, you get, say, 50 or so horses from the five Victorian trackmen one week, and another 50 just seven days later, and then another 50 the week after, and so on. How can anyone cope with this avalanche?

I looked at a recent issue (February 9) and found the following performance in the weeks leading up to March 20:

Ten horses were listed in the February 9 issue. Of these, three won a total of four races up to and including March 20 (but one of them was Naturalism, who scored at the prohibitive odds of 4/6 and 4/9). For horses at 5/1 and under, there were nine bets for two wins (those of Naturalism), and for tips between 5/1 and 10/1 there were six bets for two winners at 10/1 and 8/1 a good performance. The winners came on March 6 (25 days after listing), February 27 (18 days after) and March 13 (32 days after), and February 20 (11 days after). The result, if you allowed each selected horse just the one run, was as follows: 8 bets, 2 winners at 4/6 and 10/1, two 2nds at 3/1 and 11/4 and one 3rd at 4/1.

Only seven horses were listed in the February 9 issue of the Globe. There were two winners at 10/9 and 9/2. From five bets for tips at5/1 and under, Meek secured the two winners only. For tips priced between 5/1 and 10/1 he got four 2nds and one 3rd placegetter. The result for allowing each tip just the one run was as follows: 6bets, 2winners, one 3rd at 10/1 and three losers.

EPSOM CLOCKER (Michael Woolsey)
He tipped seven horses. But there were no winners. The selections in the period February 9 to March 20 showed a total of 13 outings for one 2nd and one 3rd. Obviously not one of Woolsey's better weeks. For the tips that were allowed just the one run after listing, the results were: 6 bets, 6 losers.

O'Briem tipped 10 horses. Between them they had 23 starts for one winner at 9/2 (obviously not one of Les's better weeks either). If you backed each tip at its first start only, the result was as follows: Bets 10, 1 winner, 9 losers. At 5/1 and under, the result overall was one winner at 9/2. There were 8 bets for tips between 5/1 and 10/1 for one 2nd and a 3rd.

There were nine selections in this segment, which resulted in a total of 27 starts for one winner at 7/4. But Lester did snare 11 placings. At 5/1 and under, there were seven bets for a winner at 7/4, two 2nds and three 3rds. Backing the tips at their first start after listing, the result was 9 bets for a winner at 7/4, and 6 placings at 10/1, 7/1, 10/9, 2/1, 8/1 and 8/1 - not a bad effort.

This proved the most successful of the trackwork segments in this edition of the Globe. The Creeker gave 12 selections, which resulted in a total of 31 starts for 10 winners and 9 placings.

For those at 5/1 and under, the result was 17bets for 7 winners and 6 placers. If you backed each horse at its first start after listing, the outcome was: bets 12, winners 7, placings 3. The Creeker's seven winners were priced at 2/1,4/5, 9/2, 11/4, 12/1, 7/4 and 7/4, so the profit was juicy at level stakes.

If we take these six Globe track work men's selections when having their first start after listing (which seems the only practicable way in which to operate) the overall result was: Bets 5 1, Winners 13. If this strike rate (around 25 per cent) was to continue, you would need to average 3/1 each winner to break even.

The results from this issue showed the following outcome:

PRICES: 4/6, 10/1, 10/9,'9/2, 9/2, 7/4, 2/1, 4/5, 9/2, 11/4, 12/1, 7/4, 7/4.
TOTAL RETURN (at 1 unit win per selection): 61 units.
PROFIT: 10 units (or 19.6 per cent on turnover).

We have to keep in mind, however, that this particular outcome was helped very greatly by the fine performance of the Brisbane clocker in getting seven winners, one of them at 12 / 1. He may not be able to perform as well each week.

The Sportsman has a special Randwick clocker, Rob de Courcy, whose column usually appears on Page 2 of the midweek edition. We checked his eight selections in the February 9 issue. They resulted in a total of 17 outings up to and including March 13, for three winners at 2/1, 7/4 and 9/4. Looking only at each horse's first start after being listed, the result was: 8 bets, 2 winners (2/1,9/4) and a level stakes loss of 1.75 units.

The previous week (February 2 issue Sportsman), de Courcy had tipped 11 horses (two didn't start within the next month or so). From the nine which ran up to and including March 20, there were four winners from 24 starters, at 13/ 8, 8/11, 9/4 and 4/ 1.

Because trackwork indicates 'current sharpness' it is probably best that punters strike immediately - that is, the bet is the first start a horse has after being listed by a trackman. In de Courcy's February 2 listings, this resulted in a total of 9 bets for 3 winners (13/8, 8/11, 4/1) and 2 placegetters not enough for a profit but a fair enough effort.

The lesson we learn from this (admittedly) small survey is that anyone following trackwork tips has to be very careful. As you can see, the strike rate with winners is not high overall, but not too bad when you strike while the iron is hot.

Because trackwork gallops indicate a horse's current level of fitness, or sharpness, it would seem obvious that a punter should try to cash-in as quickly as possible, once a horse has received a glowing trackwork write-up.

The results tend to indicate that the shorter the space between a published report and a horse's first start then the better the performance. Not always, of course, but certainly enough times to clearly indicate that sooner will be better!

As for the Sportsman's coverage of trackwork generally - well, here we have another demanding riddle to unravel. The section is called Tracking The Winners and is contained in both the midweek and weekend editions, but in much more detail in the weekend issue.

The problem for the punter is how to make sense of what is published. It's not enough to merely cull out the fastest track workers. A recent check on these speed merchants indicated they have a high failure rate.

One approach worth investigating is to consider only those horses on the first three lines of favouritism in the morning markets. Tick them off, note where they are trained, and then check the Sportsman's listings to see if they have run strong gallops during the week.

Sometimes, some of these horses may be starred (*) as the best track worker at a particular venue. These starred horses often run well, so it's worth keeping this in mind when making your final assessments.

Let's take a quick look at the 'best' Thursday track workers in the Sportsman issue of March 19 (those engaged at the Saturday meetings). At Randwick, Gem Of The West was the fastest over 600m (35.75s) but she flopped at Rosehill. Star Of Nouvelle was listed fastest over 800m and she won at 20/1. The NZer Staring was fastest over 1200m, but she lost at Rosehill.

Hula Grey was listed the fastest over 600m at Warwick Farm but he failed at Rosehill. Matinee Idol was the fastest at WF over 1000m but lost at 16/1 at Rosehill. Burst was starred as WF's best over 1200m and she finished a good 3rd at 5/1.

You can see from this small roundup that occasionally you can pick up a big winner like Star Of Nouvelle from the 'fastest' track workers - but you also will pick up quite a few losers. Once again, caution is the mode in which to approach these horses. Perhaps it would be wise to consider only 800m and 1200m'best' times? The 'fast' 600m gallops can be misleading.

All in all, then, trackwork is something of a 'teaser' factor where punting is concerned. While you can rely on it to a certain extent, it remains a tricky and dangerous area of form assessment. What we do know is that the men who clock the gallops are picking winners but they are also picking many losers so many, in fact, that it places the entire area of trackwork tips under a cloud.

By Martin Dowling