With winter upon us, and wet tracks prevalent in many areas of Australia, PPM's Martin Dowling takes a look at the problems and pitfalls of punting when the going is rain-affected.

Most top professional punters consider it essential to have a 'mud-runners book'. In this they keep a list of confirmed wettrackers, those horses who have shown outstanding ability on slow and heavy tracks (note that I have not included 'dead' tracks and more of this aspect later).

Many punters refuse to bet when the going is badly affected by rain. Who can blame them? The one obvious factor in racing is that FIRM going provides perfect galloping conditions, and the safest for punters because form has every chance to be reliable (though it often isn't).

Frequently in a race to be run on heavy ground, only a handful of runners will have shown they can handle the conditions. This helps to narrow the number of major chances in a race and can give the more astute punter a decided edge.

But-and it's an important but-it's no use relying on someone else to prove that a horse can handle the wet conditions. Newspaper form guides can be misleading. Many of them only list heavy track winners. Others put the magic 'm' beside any horse which has run a placing on a wet track, albeit that the horse might have been donkey-licked 10 lengths!

The only accurate way to keep track of mud-runners is to compile your own mud-runners' book. In it, you list all horses which have won on slow or heavy tracks, as well as those horses which finished within two lengths of the winner.

Your book should be kept in ABC index order. List all the qualifying horses and alongside each name indicate the state of the going and the course at which the race was run.

It's also wise to write in the winner's time, as this can be a key guide to the actual extremity of the wet track on that day. A track might be rated heavy and the horses can clock 1m 14s for 1200m, yet another day the same heavy reading is given for the same track and the horses are lucky to break 1m 18s for the 1200m, a clear indication that this particular heavy track is far heavier than the previous one.

There are three wet-track classifications--dead, slow and heavy. Most horses, I believe, can cope with 'dead' tracks. It's when the going slips into the other two categories that you have to put on your thinking cap. For instance, you might have to analyse the form of horses A and B. Now, when they last met, Horse A beat Horse B by three lengths on a heavy track, but now they are to meet on a fast track. You must judge them on their firm-track form and not their mud form.

Every expert in racing has his opinion about betting on wet tracks. Some say you should never do it. Others say it's easier to pick winners on wet tracks than it is on firm going. Roger Dedman, author of Commonsense Punting, has this to say about wet tracks:

"The main difficulty in winter punting is not the state of the tracks-horses who can't handle wet tracks are usually spelled then. A greater problem is the drop in class. Few prestigious flat races are run in Victoria in the winter months; the better horses are spelling or interstate and the form of the remaining runners is generally less consistent.

"Of course, no horse runs better in the wet than on a dry track, but there is no doubt that some horses are affected less adversely by slow tracks than others. The form guide information that a horse has ,won in the wet' or is a 'good mudrunner' is of limited value, and can sometimes be downright misleading.

"Try to discover where and under what circumstances a horse has won in the wet. It may have been a provincial 2yo. race several years ago, and subsequent efforts on slow tracks may have been below par."

Dedman believes front-runners have a distinct advantage on a heavy track, particularly at Moonee Valley and Caulfield.

Champion pro punter Don Scott has firm views on wet tracks. In his bestselling book, Winning More, he says:

"There is a commonly held theory that some horses are mud-runners, mudlarks, or swimmers, and that they 'grow an extra leg' in the wet. I have found this theory unreliable. Horses perform in a totally unpredictable manner when the track surface is uneven, slippery, heavy or waterlogged.

"Horses that are hopeless in heavy going when they are young suddenly learn to handle it and plough through the mud to record effortless victories. Horses you think are swimmers fail miserably. Horses which handle slow going fail on heavy going.

"The main point to remember is that no horse actually improves on rain-affected going. All horses experience difficulty. The winner is usually the horse that experiences the least difficulty.

"If a mediocre horse, which you rate three lengths below your top-rated horse, suddenly wins by three lengths in heavy going, this does not mean that the mediocre horse has improved six lengths. It simply means that it experienced less difficulty in the going than your top-rated horse (and) your top-rated horse ran six lengths below its true form."

According to Don, rain-affected going is the great leveller, bringing the superior horse down to the level of the inferior horse, making the inferior horse's performance seem better than it really is.

Interestingly, Don considers the best wet-weather provincial tracks in N.S.W. are Broadmeadow (Newcastle) and Hawkesbury, with the worst being Gosford and Wyong, both situated in low-lying areas.

P.P.M's expert Statsman has his views, too, about wet tracks betting. He explains it this way:

"When you are analysing a field it's asking for trouble to mix up the firm track form and the wet track form. Always seek out comparisons, bearing in mind the state of the track today, and the state of the track before.

"My general rule is that if a horse finishes within three lengths of the winner on rain-affected ground then you assume it can handle the going of that day. Another point to remember is not to place too much emphasis on a horse covering extra ground wide out on wet tracks, because usually the horse would be travelling on a better surface than if he was on the inside near the rails.

"You should give most consideration to horses which can race in the lead., or close to the pace, because it's difficult for horses to finish on from behind on very wet tracks.

"Finally, if you have a race where there is hardly any wet-track form for any of the runners, simply pass up the race, and don't rely on guesswork."

P.P.M's Brian Blackwell believes it's okay to bet on wet tracks as long as you do your homework. He says:

"In assessing Melbourne winter form, you have to look for value bets. Often you will sort out a confirmed wet tracker and find that it's quoted at 20-1 and longer' If you can land winners like these your winter will seem a lot warmer.

"My major rules are as follows:-

(a) check out thoroughly all runners to see what wet track form they have (The Sportsman is invaluable, and you should subscribe to the Australian Race Results from the VRC in Melbourne);

(b) consider only those horses who have won in the going or which have finished within three lengths of the winner, or two lengths if you want to be really strict about qualification;

(c) check times in the early races to determine the exact state of the going;

(d) keep your own mud-runners' book."

Finally, with this article is a list of heavy track winners from July last year. The list may help you stab more winners this month.


By Martin Dowling