This month's article is on the influence of the "track bias" and barriers and how they may affect a horse's chances of winning. The article was written by the late George Tafe and is part of a booklet he wrote called Winning Form.

On any particular day there will be a Track Bias in operation.

What is a TRACK BIAS?

Track Bias refers to the part of the track which, on the day, has the most favourable racing surface. In other words, because of some effect such as drainage or disturbed earth or whatever, there will usually be a section of the track that has a better racing surface than other parts.

To put it simply, on a fast or good track, the track will usually be biased in favour of the closest part of the track adjacent to the running rail.

This means that all other things being equal (which, of course, they are not) on a good track the horse that races closest to the running rail will cover a lesser distance from the start to the finish than, say, the horse with the widest draw, i.e. widest barrier.

As a result of this, on good tracks, the position of the Track Bias will be more predictable than it will be on wet tracks. This allows one to pick winners with a little more accuracy than is possible on a wet track.

On a wet track, the running that is not so close to the rail will probably be firmer than the ground close to the rail. This will be because the racing surface is generally higher in the centre of the track, from which the water will run off more readily (at least this is the condition on many city tracks). Another factor is that a greater number of horses will be running closer to the rail and the ground will be more disturbed.

Therefore, on a good track,, the best running will probably be close to the running rail, and it follows that a horse that is drawn close and jumps smartly will be in a more advantageous position at the start because of the luck of the draw.

Of course this will not help an outclassed slower animal unable to match the speed of the field. It will get shuffled back regardless of barrier draw.

If the track is slow or heavy, then the inside draw will probably be nullified, and even become a disadvantage in some circumstances, and the slow, outclassed animal with a wide barrier draw might find itself on the better going, where the running is easier. In this instance the Track Bias might favour the slower animal on the better going out wide.

This is a good reason for anticipating the likely going when you are attempting to pick winners.

On good tracks the variables may be fewer and winners easier to find than on wet days. This usually results in shorter-priced winners. On wet tracks, there are bound to be more variables and you would be advised to look for VALUE on such days.

To summarise: What I have just suggested is that fast horses racing on the top of the ground on good tracks will be better suited close to the rail, when the track condition is good.

This increases predictability, and in turn allows us to pick more winners. Conversely, slow horses that are better suited on slower tracks may be better suited out wide, or in the middle of the track, and usually should be approached with utmost caution, unless you are sure of a horse's ability to handle slow tracks.

It follows that if the fast horse is better suited and more predictable from close barriers then these are the horses we should be mostly interested in when searching for winners. When the weather is fine and track conditions are good, fast horses from good barriers can be top bets, especially if the track is good.

In the winter, however, and especially in Melbourne, track conditions may make it impossible to find winners among the "fast, top of the ground" type of horses. We may have to look to a different kind of galloper in our hunt for winners.

On tracks that are no worse than DEAD it is obvious that wide barriers disadvantage all horses to some degree. If there are no good horses with good barriers, then of course the good horses with wider barriers have increased probabilities of winning. I am convinced that on good going, any barriers beyond No. 5 will, to some degree, disadvantage any horse.

Not to any real degree if it is a good, fast beginner in a field of slow, poor class gallopers, but, in any good-class field there will just about always be some fast horses and if these horses start from an inner barrier, then the probability is they will set up a fast early pace, which will stop a fast horse out wide from taking up a good position.

Now, suppose we consider the situation of a moderately large field with three or four fit and fast contenders. Two are drawn well inside barrier 6 and the other two have drawn the wide barriers 8 and 12.

The probability is that the horses with the inside barriers will set up a good early pace, and the horses with the wide barriers of 8 and 12 will have to expend valuable energy getting across to the inside running rail, or they will be trapped wide and have to use energy just keeping up. Remember, they are traveling a greater distance. The alternative is that they will have to drop back to get to the fence and they have to make up ground in the straight.

Because of this they become a poor risk and any little thing can disadvantage them even more in the run home when they must try to catch the better-drawn horses of equal class.

What is "reading a race"? By reading a race I mean attempting to predict the likely way a race will be run.

In the above example, the badly drawn horses will probably not win. It could be a far different case if there were no fast beginners drawn well, or the track is rain affected.

If we read the race correctly, it is frequently possible to eliminate many otherwise logical contenders in a particular race, because of the track bias on the day.

This track bias can be further exaggerated on the day when the false running rail is positioned far out. Sometimes the running rail at major city tracks can be out 5 or more meters all the way. Such conditions even more favour the well-drawn speedster, who will be leading into the straight as they round the home turn.

Closers (horses which normally run on late) might not have enough room in a tightly packed field to get through the pack. They have to try to run around the outside on the home turn, and because of this will have the added penalty of having to run a greater distance than the leaders.

To further complicate the picture, from some starting positions (the 1810m start at Eagle Farm is a good example) the poorly drawn horses are even more prone to a track bias, simply because the track is curving all the time, from the beginning to the turn, which is soon after the jump.

Any starting point that is on, or very close to, a turn is more prone to an inside track bias, and though a horse, with luck, may win from such poor starts, it is most inadvisable to bet on such horses. They lose far more frequently than they win.

The disadvantage of poor draws is one way of losing. If you combine this disadvantage with top weights then it is probable that the weight differential allowed in modern racing might start to have a measurable effect, and although horses with wide barriers, and big weights, have won, you should be wary of betting on such disadvantaged horses.

The track bias is a fundamental Part of the barrier draw equation. It determines whether or not a particular barrier is advantageous or a disadvantage, and the barrier draw itself, irrespective of the state of the going, will be more or less important, depending on the geometry of the track layout, and the distance of the start from the first bend.

If you have found the article interesting and would like a copy of George's book, please contact either the P.P.M. office or myself at Tafe's Turf Guide and I will arrange a copy to be posted out to you free of charge.

By Steven McAlister