With the Australian racing community waiting for spring to roll around, much of the country's racing focus will switch to the UK, where the flat racing season is starting to heat up.

Interest is intensified by the presence of top Aussie sprinters Takeover Target, Glamour Puss and Falkirk, trying to emulate Choisir's feats at the Royal Ascot meeting in 2003. Not only has Australian interest in UK racing never been higher, the opportunities to bet on and watch racing from the "old dart" have never been better.

The licence granted to Betfair late last year to operate out of Tasmania presented Australians with a whole new world of betting opportunities. Greater access to international racing markets, and opportunities to bet on some of the best and most competitive racing in the world are two of the major benefits. With the expected arrival of regular, live UK racing on Sky, Australian racing enthusiasts are now able to see the best that Europe has to offer, including all of the races from the Royal Ascot meeting and a host of other big race days from the UK.

Before you can begin to dream of successfully betting on UK racing, it's important that you have a basic understanding of what you are up against. Racing in the UK is a completely different entity to Australian racing and there are nuances to racing there that distinguish it from what Australian punters are used to.

I've compiled a list of 10 factors I feel are the most important for a punter to know about racing in the UK in order to increase the chances of making punting on those races a success.

The best website for horse racing information is the Racing Post site - www.racingpost.com. There are many useful tools on this site. As well as providing details of every start that a horse has had, the site contains video form plus comments from the horse's owners and trainers for certain runs. It also provides a review of all races run in the UK, including how the race was run and the overall race quality. Declarations for races are listed five days in advance and final fields two days before races. All big race entries are also listed.

www.attheraces.com is another free site, useful for getting horse form. Like the Racing Post site, it also features a horse search tool.

Thanks to the Internet it's almost as easy to bet on UK racing for someone in Wagga Wagga as it is for someone in London. As well as being able to back and lay horses on Betfair, Aussie punters have access to some of the UK's largest betting shops via the Internet. William Hill and Ladbrokes are the biggest bookmakers in England, and can be found at www.willhill.com and www.ladbrokes.com. They have prices up for most of the day's races in the morning, and usually have several Ante-post (pre-post) markets for the big races available as well.

Sir Michael Stoute has been knighted for his services to racing as a trainer, and when you look at his achievements it is not hard to see why. He's won the trainers' championship nine times and is an enviable winner of 13 British classics. Last year's champion trainer - which is decided by prize money won - has landed 883 winners at an incredible strike rate (SR) of 20.9 per cent for all turf runners in the UK over the past 10 years. To date this season, 38 of his 115 runners have saluted for a staggering 33 per cent SR. His consistency has proven that he is one of the best trainers in the world.

So who are the other trainers worth following? In order to get some consistency in the research that we are doing, we will look at the last three completed seasons and the current season. Despite having trained more than 700 winners between them over that period, Richard Hannon and Mick Channon are not worth following. They have a lot of horses in training and return ordinary strike rates (Hannon 11 per cent: Channon 10.7 per cent).

In the same period of time Stoute has returned 321 winners with a SR of 23.2 per cent. Godolphin produces plenty of winners at a good SR (207 winners at 22.1 per cent) and is another stable worth watching. It's had a horrible start to this season though, with only one of 12 runners saluting up to early June, and should be treated with caution until it begins producing winners again. The Ballydoyle team, led by Aidan O'Brien, also feature prominently in many of the big races. The SR (14.9 per cent) in the UK over the last three and a half seasons is reasonable, considering Ballydoyle horses mainly contest Group races and often have more than one runner entered.

Mark Johnston trains plenty of winners (405 at 16.2 per cent) a d is certainly one of the best British trainers. He is known for his training prowess with stayers, however, and his record with horses running over 13f and more is highly impressive. During the period we are looking at, he has had 42 winners at a SR of 16 per cent over these distances producing an impressive ROI (Return on Investment) of 19.3 per cent. Johnston is the man to follow when it comes to staying races.

Sir Mark Prescott is known as the "King of the Handicaps". and with good reason. His overall SR since the start of the 2003 season is 22 per cent while his SR in handicaps over the same time is 26.6 per cent. He is a master at beating the handicapper by getting his horses into handicap races on a low mark and running up a winning sequence with them.

In the last three completed seasons of flat racing in the UK, the champion jockey has been different on each occasion. Jamie Spencer won the title last year, Frankie Dettori in 2004 and Kieren Fallon the year before. Eight men have filled the top four positions for each year's jockeys' championship over the same period. As these statistics reveal, the jockeys' championship is not a foolproof pointer towards the jockeys to follow.

If we take a look at the respective strike rates (SR) of some of the "top jocks" in the UK, we get a better indication of who to follow. Spencer rode 138 winners last season with a SR of 14.3 per cent. To date this season, Spencer has ridden 34 winners at a much more impressive strike rate of 20.1 per cent. He trails only Robert Winston in the jockeys' championship, who has ridden two more winners at a similar strike rate of 19.9 per cent.

For the current 2006 turf season, their SRs are bettered only by Philip Robinson (20 wins at 22.2 per cent) and Kieren Fallon (14 wins at 20.3 per cent). Looking at the jockey strike rates for the previous three completed seasons and the current season, the cream rises to the top. Of those who have taken over 700 rides, Frankie Dettori (SR 19.9 per cent) and Kieren Fallon (19.4 per cent) lead the way.

Aussie expat Kerrin McEvoy (16.8 per cent) is next best. Spencer has a strike rate of 15.2 per cent over the same period. It is interesting to note that the three jockeys with the best strike rates are retained by the big stables; Dettori and McEvoy by Godolphin and Fallon firstly by Stoute and now by Ballydoyle and the Coolmore operation in Ireland.

Of the leading jockeys, Kerrin McEvoy has proven to be the most profitable to follow, in terms of ROls (Return on Investments). Since joining Godolphin and beginning to ride in the UK in 2004, he has an impressive ROI of Z2 per cent on all rides. Since the beginning of last season, his ROI for each unit wagered is a staggering 21 per cent!

Approximately half of the races run in the UK are handicaps. There are six flat racing handicappers who have the task of allocating a handicap rating - calculated in units of Ilb - to horses that run in the UK. To be eligible for a rating, a horse must have run on the flat three times. Once it is eligible, the horse is given a rating from 0 upwards. Top Group 1 performers are usually rated in the high 120s.

The horse with the highest rating is given the appropriate top weight in a handicap race and the other competitors' racing weights are calculated relative to that. At this stage, a rating is also allocated to any entry without a current rating. All black type races - with the exception of 10 Listed contests - are run under WFA conditions with the handicappers' rating having no effect on the weights. Previous Group race winners are subject to weight penalties in Group 2 and Group 3 1 races, however.

While the majority of trainers in Australia like to get their charges fit from running them in races, many European trainers take a different approach. This is particularly the case with some of the bigger trainers. In the last three and a half years, Sir Michael Stoute has a 28.7 per cent strike rate with horses returning from a layoff. Gosden, Jarvis and Loder are other noted trainers whose strike rates for horses returning from a layoff are better than their normal strike rates.

In many of the big races, horses go into the contest without a prep run. Connections often only target the very best races with their top horses and train them to peak for those contests accordingly. Eight of the last 11 English 2000 Guineas winners have won the mile race without a prep run.

Do not be overly concerned with backing horses first-up, especially those from the bigger yards.

Each track in the UK is unique and not every horse handles every track. As well racing in different directions, there are other quirks with tracks such as the "tightness" of the course and course contours, etc. Chester is one of the most unique tracks in the UK. It is a very tight circuit where an inside draw is imperative, and horses racing on the pace are at a massive advantage. Folkestone and Catterick are similarly tight courses.

The track can also have a bearing on whether or not a horse is suited to the trip it is running over. Some tracks conduct races up to a mile over a straight course. These tracks include Ascot, Newbury, Newmarket and Doncaster. Some horses love "straight" racing and will not go around turns.

Others still do not handle the straight course.  Several of the 'big" tracks in the UK are known for their undulating racing surface. The Rowley Mile at Newmarket is one of the most famous courses. The course is downhill from the start and rises sharply near the finish. The July Course - which is also at Newmarket and is used in June, July and August - is slightly downhill and also rises near the finish.

Epsom and Goodwood are two other tracks that race on rolling courses that are not handled by all horses. Ascot and Sandown are two of the major tracks that have a stiff uphill finish that some horses do not manage to get up.

York, Newbury and Doncaster are considered to be some of the most even tracks in the UK for their long, straight, flat courses that produce a good galloping speed that give every horse in the race a chance.

In UK racing, it is vitally important to make sure that your horse can handle the racecourse that it is to run on.

When lining up the form from various races, it is important that you understand the grading structure and relative strength of each type of race. UK races are graded from Class One to Class Seven, with Class One being the strongest grading. This classification includes Group and Listed races.

Class Two races are open handicap races called Heritage Handicaps; open two year-old handicaps called nurseries; and handicap races for horses rated 86-110. Heritage Handicaps have a minimum value of C45k and generally have some historical significance and feature big fields.

These races represent one of the best betting opportunities in UK racing. A place dividend is paid on the first four home in all handicap races with 16+ runners. With the big fields that these races inevitably produce, they usually make for competitive betting affairs. In many instances you can secure an each way price on any runner and get paid on a first four finish for your fancy!

Nurseries are basically the equivalent of a Heritage Handicap for two-year-olds. The remaining categories of races are simply restricted races for horses that fall into the ratings banding for that class of race. Class three races are for horses rated 76-95; Class four races for horses rated 66-85; Class five races, 56-75; Class six races, 4665; and
Class seven races, 0-50.

Many of the big race meetings on the English racing calendar are besieged by horses bought to the UK from abroad. In the last couple of years, horses from Japan, Italy, USA, Germany, Hong Kong, France and Australia have raced in England with success. When studying the form for the big races, always have a careful look at the international runners. They are often under-rated and represent value against the local runners, presenting punters with a tempting betting proposition. Recent examples of overpriced international runners that have been successful include Choisir, Electrocutionist and Cape Of Good Hope.

Even if you do not bet with the exchanges they can be an extremely helpful pointer to the likely outcome of a race. Thousands of pounds are wagered on each horse race on the betting exchanges, and they are fast becoming as popular as the traditional betting shops. Because so much money is wagered on them, their market moves often provide a reliable clue to the respective chances of runners.

This probably applies most appropriately to "dodgy" or "weak" runners that were well fancied but "drift" in the market. Take a tip from the exchanges and view market moves on them very seriously.

* Follow Jason Colley's tips for UK racing every month in PPM.

By Jason Colley