It is one of the great myths of racing that the less those supposedly in the know are aware about your horse, the better the price. About 10 years ago, John Holloway, then a racing writer for the Daily Mirror and now a director of the Sydney Turf Club, thought a horse with shocking had a chance of causing a boilover.

The horse was the now successful sire, Exclusive Planet, who was trained by Neville Begg and to be ridden by Ron Quinton.

Exclusive Planet had failed in two sprint races but this particular Saturday was racing in a mile open two-year-old handicap at Randwick against minor opposition.

So a bold Holloway, on the Saturday morning on 2UE, suggested to the listeners that "Exclusive Planet was a good bet for the girls to back each-way".

Holloway explained the colt had been working brilliantly at Randwick and if he ran up to his gallops he was "some hope".

That afternoon at Randwick some bookmakers bet as much as 100/1 about Exclusive Planet (I think he started at 3311). As Holloway ha predicted, Exclusive Planet jumped straight to the lead and was never threatened to score by nearly three lengths.

It was the ultimate tip which for many punters would have netted the ultimate return, thanks only to Holloway's expert assessment of trackwork performances. In this article, well-known clocker Rob de Courcy shares his expertise with    you.

Randwick clocker Robert de Courcy, who supplies track times for the Sydney Telegraph-Mirror and the Sportsman, has no doubts punters can take advantage of track times to back winners.

De Courcy, 32, has been clocking at Randwick for more than seven years. He has been involved in racing for 15 years, beginning in the industry as a stable-hand for well-known Randwick trainer, Mal Barnes.

In fact, for five years, de Courcy worked a 4.30 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift with Barnes five days a week then backed up for a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. stint as a clerk with the Electricity Commission.

"It got to a stage where the commission said to me I had to sacrifice one of my two jobs because fatigue naturally set in most afternoons - two weeks later I was full-time in racing," de Courcy said.

When he first started clocking, de Courcy assisted the Mirror's Joe Tauro and the Sydney Morning Herald's Mick O'Brien for no pay but to learn the trade.

"I was always a keen punter so docking appealed to me," de Courcy said. "Mick and Joe were happy for me to help them each morning and I enjoyed doing it."

Seven months later, de Courey joined the Mirror racing staff when Tauro, one of the great dockers of racing, had to retire because of ill health.

"In those days, there were about five of us working on the clocking," de Courcy said. 'Now there are just two of us trying our best to keep track of 700 horses in work."

The other clocker is Michael Fagan, who represents the Sydney Morning Herald. Fagan's role is to clock, clerk and identify horses whereas de Courcy is the main identifier as well as clocking too.

The actual clocking, de Courcy says, is a snack. "That's just a matter of knowing the markers (signs signifying sections of the track such as the 600m or 800m) and hitting your watch when the horses hit the mark," he said.

The hard stuff-and this is what makes a great clocker-is identifying the homes.
According to de Courcy, the initial part of identifying the horse is knowing the jockey or work rider. As a rule, each rider works only for one stable or a few stables so he is easily associated with horses from those camps.

The example de Courcy gave was Ron Quinton ("he always wears a black jacket") riding a horse early in the session. "It's a safe bet that horse will come from the John Morish stable because Quinton always rides a few of his horses first each morning," he said.

So once the horse has worked, his time will be recorded by Fagan on the work sheet. Then, de Courcy waits for the horse to be walked off the training track.

Then, de Courcy says, he will attempt to establish which stable the horse comes from by way of, say, saddle cloths or other distinguishing features.

Then de Courcy and Fagan will take note of the horse's markings.

"Every Randwick horse which has raced or had a barrier trial is kept on file," he said. "Say the horse was Morish-trained, was a chestnut and I was not instantly familiar with it, I would look up Morish chestnuts in my book and find the horse with the markings the same as the horse which had worked."

De Courcy says distances, too, help with the elimination process. "If a horse has worked 1200m and gone a good pace, then you know he is a stayer and that narrows the field considerably.

"Also, most of the horses which work along are normally engaged in 'a race within four or five days so the nominations available for those meetings are a help."

As for punters gaining assistance from track times in the newspaper, de Courcy says it can be a complex matter, but nevertheless, he says, winners can be found from the track times.

"It can be complex for a normal punter in the sense that a horse can work 1200m in 1.18 compared with a horse working over the same distance in 1.20," he said.

"Mathematically, the horse which went two seconds faster worked the better but a lot of the time that is not necessarily so.

"The 1.20 horse may have come home his last 600m in 37.5, and the best time for .that distance on the morning was 37.25.

"Yet the 1.18 horse may have come his last three (furlongs) in 39, which suggests this horse did not get to the line as well.

"So, what is important are the splits of gallops. This is the best way of evaluating if a horse has gone well on the track.

"From my experience, if a horse doesn't get to the post well in gallop it has gone below standard."

The problem, with Sydney anyway, is the daily press give a dismal service for track gallops, but the bible, the Sportsman, is the saviour.

Each midweek edition (available in newsagents on a Tuesday) has the gallops for most tracks around Australia for the previous Saturday and Monday. The weekend edition (available Friday) has the gallops around the nation for Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

Importantly, de Courcy gives the splits for the Sportsman for Randwick so maybe reference, from your punting viewpoint, should be made with the gallops.

But rather than go off half cocked, punters should take note of the splits and see if horses whose sectional times are good for the latter half of the gallop race prominently at their next start.

If the results back up de Courcy's comments, then obviously this is a very worthwhile service which can be used to advantage.

Another significant aspect de Courcy mentioned, was horses either making their debut or resuming from spells.

He says trackwork can often give the vital clue whether these horses are forward enough or lack the conditioning to win.

"Let's take a two-year-old who hasn't raced," do Courcy said. "The two-year-old has to trial to become eligible to race. This is where we get the markings for un-raced horses so the horse can be identified for future.

"Our example trials strongly, and is to race in two weeks time. If he gallops fast two times between the trial and the race and runs near the best time in the gallops over either 600m or 800m, then it is fair to say he is fit enough to win.

"But say that horse comes out in his two gallops and runs 40 for 600m when the best was 36.5 and 53 for 800m when the best was 49, then I would question his fitness to win against good company."

But, de Courcy points out, what is good for some horses isn't necessarily good for all horses.

Another suggestion he makes is Tommy Smith middle-distance horses. De Courcy says Smith will work his middle distance horses, when they are preparing for their resumption, over 1200m, run them in, say, a 1200m race then over 1400m.

De Courcy says because they have been worked over long distances leading up to their racing return, they are not fresh enough to race prominently in a sprint.

It is when they step up to 1900m or 2000m they are placed to advantage.
"A lot of the times those horses race well because they've done the ground work in training rather than in racing," de Courcy said.

But, as de Courcy says, there are so many variables it would take just about all of this magazine to put forward every case.

"It's a well-known fact that many horses work like champions on the track but can't get out of second gear in a race," he said.

"Then there is the opposite where horses work like donkeys, then come out on race day and shock their stable by winning easily.”

But de Courcy admits that he and Fagan have it fairly easy these days compared to the pre-70s when all trainers viewed clockers as the enemy.

"Trainers needed to bet in those days to survive," he said. "These days, with the big prize-money, trainers have to win races to survive-percentages are their main income so very few trainers now are big bettors.

"So, many of them are happy to have their horses in trackwork because the owners get a thrill out of seeing their horse in the paper.

"But some trainers prefer to play their cards close to their chest, and that's fair enough."

By Glenn Robbins