Track bias means many things to many people in racing. Even various commentators and racecallers seem to have their own ideas of what does, and what does not, constitute track bias, so a few words of explanation early in this article would be helpful.

The Macquarie Concise Dictionary (2002) has a number of explanations, but perhaps these four might be closest to describing track bias in its most meaningful terms to the racing industry and punters in general.

An oblique or diagonal line of direction, especially across a woven fabric (the racetrack surface and subsoil being the woven fabric); a particular tendency or inclination, especially one which prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question; to influence, usually unfairly; and prejudice.

How can you tell? Lateral track bias is to be in no way confused with “racing pattern”.

This is the tendency of a particular track to favour, or otherwise, horses leading or racing handy or what is commonly known as “swoopers” (horses who tend to settle near the tail of the field and are either ridden for luck looking (hoping) for openings that may or may not happen, or swoop down the outside of the field in the home straight; it doesn’t happen nearly as often these days as it used to; most tracks favour leaders and on-pacers).

Rather, it is the tendency of a racetrack to race differently, say, hard up against the inside rail, or hard up against the outside rail at tracks and distances such as the 1200m at Flemington and the 1000m at Victoria Park, and  three to four horses in from the inside rail and all other points in between.

Racing bias, or lateral track bias, can certainly be very confusing for those punters whose only exposure to the term is from various commentators and racecallers who all seem to have a different slant on the term. I believe in track bias as do many other serious punters, trainers, jockeys and track walkers.

I am unashamedly a Zig Zagger. Early most Saturday mornings you will find me walking the track of the day (fellow aficionados in other States do the same and we pool our information for our common good over the ‘phone).

Sure, this does require effort and commitment but as many of you will have discovered by now, there is no easy way to consistent profits in racing.

You might just get lucky from time to time, but the problem is, unfortunately, that the luck simply does not hang around long enough to produce those long term, consistent profits that serious punters seek.

By walking the track, you are rewarded in a number of ways and that’s why most top jockeys and stables either do it themselves or have someone reliable do it for them.

Sometimes, in inclement weather, it may be necessary to have a second look later in the day.

Another benefit is that once you are experienced at track walking and track assessment you are more able to make a valued judgement on the true state of the track (the going).

In recent years, since the almighty tote dollar has become so important, there has been a tendency for race clubs to err toward the better assessment.

Race clubs and TABs hate to have to post any track as worse than Dead, as figures prove that once a track is rated as Slow or worse, turnover dips substantially and, of course, it’s turnover that provides the TAB shareholders and the race clubs with their profits. High turnover, high profits; low turnover, low profits.

There is a right way and a wrong way to walk and assess a racetrack on raceday.

It is of no use whatsoever to just walk around the track hugging the inside rail, or, for that matter, spacing yourself, say, six horses off the inside rail and sticking there for the whole circuit.

This is exactly why penetrometer readings are of very limited use when assessing track bias.

Even when reporting the penetrometer readings at Flemington, we are told what they supposedly are on the inside and what they are on the outside. What about the 30 odd metres in between?

Every experienced track walker has his/her own favourite method, but they are all very similar.

Personally, I like to start at about the 600m to 800m mark and make my way toward the winning post; others like to start at the winning post and work out from there.

Unless there is a very real reason to change my method, I will walk across the track from the inside rail to the outside (or near to it ) at a 45 degree angle, then walk straight back across the track to the inside rail. I walk along the rail for about 10m and then repeat the process until the winning post is reached.

Do not make the mistake of assuming that just because a particular track is reading a certain way over the final 300m, that that is how the track is reading for the entire circuit.

As an illustration, let me tell you about Victoria Park in my home state of South Australia. At Victoria Park they have an inner track and an outer track. It is possible for both the inner and outer track to be racing as genuinely Dead, and yet in places around the top turn, more predominantly on the outer, the track can be heavy for some distance. Why is this so??

The reason, partly, is because they are racing on a base surface that has not been replaced for over 100 years and the general drainage system dates back to those days, but the main reason is that this part of the track is lined closely by 300-year-old magnificent gum trees that prevent the sun and the wind from drying it out properly.

I simply use Victoria Park as an illustration; many metropolitan tracks in all states have their various idiosyncrasies.
On the other hand, certain tracks are very fair and maintain the same track bias week after week.

Lateral track bias most definitely favours leaders and horses that race handy to the lead, when the true lateral bias is known to the jockey.

On most metropolitan racetracks in Australia, the “sweet spot” is not very wide, maybe three to four horses across at best.

It is just plain commonsense that a horse entering the straight (where lateral bias is most important) who is leading, or racing close to the leader, is in a far better situation to pick his preferred line to the winning post than a horse racing mid-field or near the tail.

At least the horse racing near the tail has the opportunity of pulling to the extreme outside and taking his chances with the state of the track surface say 10-12 horses off the inside rail.

Always bear in mind – the quickest way home is not always the shortest. This is one of the common myths of racing today.

Is track bias a new buzzword syndrome? Most definitely not. The term has been used for many, many years by serious racing followers but it’s only recently that it has been used so often, mostly in a confusing way, for the edification of the general punter.

Lateral track bias is most certainly more prevalent these days than it used to be years ago and there are reasons for this. I refer to these changes as the changes in the “General Fabric Of Racing”.

Racing, and therefore punting, is in a constant state of flux; it never stands still.

Some punters stand still, live in the past, continue the mythology as passed down to them from fathers and uncles, who may, or may not have been, giving them correct information AT THE TIME, and they generally lose money overall.

The reasons for the increased incidence and importance of lateral track bias are many and varied.

They include, not necessarily in order of importance:

  1. Every Metropolitan track is now subject to much more racing by a lot more horses, thanks to the TAB craving for more and more turnover (read profits).
  2. Many Metro tracks have been completely relaid, which involves removing all of the subsoil and existing drainage systems and replacement with various other drainage systems, some of which work more effectively than others.
  3. Many other tracks have simply had upgrades and band-aid remedies; these can be compared with having a very rough main road with a poor base simply smoothed out on the surface by a layer of bitumen.
  4. Most new tracks have excellent cambers on the turns; some older Metro tracks have no camber at all to speak of.
  5. There are track surfaces and track surfaces; some companies produce excellent products, some are very poor.
  6. As with (5) above, there are drainage systems and there are drainage systems; some very good, some worse than poor. In fact, many new tracks tend to drain toward the inside rail with very little provision for removing the excess water from this part of the track.
  7. Rail placement is constantly changing because of the extra racing and wear and tear each track is subjected to and this is a constant reason that lateral track bias can be very different from one week to the next.

To me, a mid level, serious, profit driven punter, it is very important, just as the other items I factor in to my selection methodology, such as distance, performance at track, jockey strength, barrier draw, etc, are all important to me and each of these, together with the other filters, help to give me “an edge” when applied diligently.

Knowledge of track bias will not necessarily win the race for me (although quite often it is a big help), but when used with other important selection factors, it can prove valuable.

There is no substitute for actually being at the track and conducting the lateral bias assessment personally. If I was unable to do this, as many cannot for one reason or another, I would begin to assemble a detailed video library with rail placements and track surface conditions recorded. This is not very expensive or hard to do these days but it does require effort.

I would then replay these meetings prior to today’s meeting at the same track. This would not be all that difficult for me as I only bet on Saturday Metro meetings; I find that I’m able to put a lot more work in on these meetings.

For those of you looking for the holy grail of punting, that is consistent profits for minimal effort, forget it, it does not exist!

If you cannot do the required work yourself, pay someone to do it for you. There are plenty offering to do this, but as in most things in life, some are good and some are not so good.

Michael O’Shaunessy Duffy is a mid-level, serious on-track punter. He has been involved in various aspects of the racing industry for 40 years.

By Michael Duffy