Winter is the time of the wet tracks. Now I know that this is hardly profound, but it is also a time when many professional punters go to bed and hibernate. In recent years, there have been examples of what can happen to a major racecourse when the rains come and the point is that nobody is able to say with any authority much about these tracks when they go like that.

Let me go into it further. Rosehill was even on one wet weekend, and it was uneven the next. After a three-week break, it was back to its old tricks and no horse further back than third or fourth on the turn (still over 400 metres from the winning post) had any chance whatsoever in any of the eight races.

No horses which tried to go wide on the turn made ground, and even when three out from the rails they mostly floundered. It was back to the old story of one pathway, maybe two if you were very fortunate. Horses further back than fifth at the half-mile were ancient history. I backed one and saw it was seventh at the 800 mark. OK, it was only five lengths off the pace and I considered that this was where I had expected it to be. When it tried to improve, it simply stopped.

Undaunted, I backed another horse, my last bet of the day at Rosehill. It did much the same, running quite reasonably to the half-mile then doing nothing as it tried to improve. Those jockeys, who were on the off-pacers and thought a bit harder than the other riders, stayed on the rails hoping for miracle runs. One did occur, but generally if you were not in the first three then, as I say, you were history.

I will not bet again at Rosehill on a rain-affected track unless I have seen the pattern of the day's racing emerge and I can apply the evidence to my assessments. For example, if I can find a horse in a later race which is likely to lead, with a fair weight, with good form in the conditions at the track, then I might risk my cash. This brings me to the next point.

Racing at Randwick on a wet day is not the same as racing at Rosehill, nor is it anything like Warwick Farm or Canterbury. In Melbourne, Flemington is notoriously a bog after the real rain comes, while Moonee Valley has been known to provide winners who cannot win elsewhere on wet tracks. Caulfield is a law unto itself and I have never bet there in the wet. I simply cannot estimate what the degree of 'wetness' is at that course, and when they post 'slow' it is an educated guess.

As to its home turn, there are no words bad enough. I have found that Caulfield is the most difficult of all tracks any time, let alone in the wet. As for Sandown, it has been fixed and is a pretty good wet-weather track, although it is the best track in Australia for 'specialists'. It is where horses rack up wins or losses. If they cannot handle the long run down the hill or the run up again to the post, they fail at Sandown, wet or dry.

On the other hand, horses that might fail in the wet elsewhere have been known to win at Sandown on wet days. Especially, this is true of those drawn in outside barriers. I observed some years back that the outside barriers at Sandown were a tremendous advantage on wet days and this was taken with a proverbial grain of salt by many people. However, even after the drainage clean-up, I maintain that they jump better from out wide when the track is wet, especially at the 100-metre mark. I don't know why.

I did know; it was the drainage that made the inside slippery from the 1600 to the 1200, but now that this has all been fixed I am unable to say why the wider horses are able to jump better on wet days. I will not categorically say that this gives them enough advantage to overcome their natural disadvantage of being drawn way out (as it definitely did do until the remodelling), but I will say that it goes a long way to overcoming any major disadvantage, and I will back a widely drawn horse at Sandown in the mud if I am convinced that it is the best horse anyway.

They rarely lead all the way there, and the winners come from a long way back even in the wet. It would appear, and I am only theorising, that a horse, which might have had it a bit easier in the first 400 metres by being in slightly firmer ground out wide, is better able to finish hard.

Anyway, compare the tracks. What is not sufficient is to look at even a good guide and see that the horse has won on the kind of track pertaining today. The key is that it must have won ON THIS TRACK, IN THESE CONDITIONS, OVER THIS DISTANCE, WITH AT LEAST THIS WEIGHT.

All I need to do here is remind you that, in the same way that Sol is so often told about oils, it is often the case that mud ain't mud.

Mud is something I know little about, except that it sticks to a horse and a rider. A really sticky track is one where the horse cannot lift their feet. Some experts claim that this disadvantages any heavy, larger animals with big feet that gets stuck easily. A bit like glue or treacle. Maybe so.

When a track is slushy, the ‘heaviness’ of the course is at its worst. The rider comes back weighing anything up to five or six kilos more than he weighed out at! This represents about 10 per cent of a jockey's natural weight and it can make a tremendous difference to a horse's capabilities. It is especially true of a small horse carrying a big weight. Mares are very susceptible to weight increases, and this might go a long way to explaining those hopelessly inconsistent performances of mares in the Victorian winter months.

Every year one or two win at 100/1 or more and they never do another thing. They get lucky. Half the field comes down with an attack of the wobbles and the longshot is there at the right time. If you check, you might find that there is evidence of a heavy storm just before that race or during it, or the track is awash. Mares, as I say, are most likely to be hurt by this, but so are the off-pacers who get the slush kicked up in their faces. If the track has water lying on it don't support the back-markers unless you are quite sure that they have won in those conditions and have thereby proved their capacity to handle what is being served up. They are being asked to accept a re-handicap, remember.

If you were a punter and you assessed a horse as a winning chance, then, after you put your bet on, the stewards announced that your horse would carry three to five kilos more (depending on where he ran during the race), would you back him? I doubt it. At least you would sit down and have a good think about things, wouldn't you?

This is the same situation. You know that the horse races off the pace. You know he will cop the backwash. You therefore ought to be aware, as well, that he will carry more weight than he has been assigned. Sure, so will others, but how much more will each one carry? Mat answer would you prefer? Your guess or mine?

Mine is that the front-runners will carry maybe two or three kilos weight advantage over their opponents. I am not saying that this is what always happens, but that if the track is sloppy, clearly wet, there is very, 'very good reason for reconsidering any bet on a horse which is incapable of running in the first two or three all the way!

It seems to me that Brisbane has a natural advantage or two in winter. The first is the usually glorious climate. In general, Brisbane's winter racing is a joy and attracts the best horses. From May to July there will be racing up there, and racing of a very high calibre. If you strike the wrong year or at least one or two wet days, then I am the first to agree, stay out of the betting ring. But generally there is money to be made with the good animals on the good winter tracks up there.

A big advantage for the average but careful punter, I reckon, is the fact that Brisbane has only two major tracks. A few races of note are run on outside venues, but in general the big time is at Doomben and Eagle Farm. While the tracks are quite different from each other, we can nevertheless feel a little more confident that we only have to get to know two, and not four as in Sydney and Melbourne. There is much to be gained by having only one or two tracks, so long as the weather does not play a hand. If it does, then there is every likelihood of racing being abandoned on the second or third day of a heavy programme, as the track does not get time to recover.

Reverting to my point though, about the advantages of two tracks, you do get a better chance to assess a horse's chances. Let me give you a situation. Say there is a horse racing at Eagle Farm one week; it wins well. It skips the meeting at Doomben and two weeks after its win has another shot at the track on which it enjoyed its win. A nice space, it's still fit enough, and there is one less task we have to undertake; working out if it is suited to the track. It is quite true that this can be the case in Sydney (more so than Melbourne), with mainly Rosehill and Randwick used for Saturdays, but a horse can have form from several tracks in its last half-dozen runs, whereas a Brisbane horse will usually have only the two courses with a possible Gold Coast run sandwiched in somewhere.

It is a way of coping with winter; look at Brisbane very carefully and see if there is a couple of good horses with well-exposed form racing on good surfaces on which they are proven. If all these things are intact, then look to the final point.

There is nothing so galling as getting it all correct then seeing an incompetent rider destroy the horse's chances and your money. I have always argued for Mal Johnson, even when he gets into trouble, because when he is on board, the horse gets every conceivable hope. Ultimately the punter wants to win, and Malcolm gives the punter every chance that is humanly and equinely possible.

Neil Williams should be back in Brisbane by the time you are reading this. He is a marvel and- it doesn't matter whether they are 4/5 or 40/1, he gives them a show. I have had several wins, and many thrills, as he takes a big-priced horse to the front at the 200. He doesn't muck about waiting for spills, etc. If they are good enough to win, he had them in the position to go on with it.

I love that in a jockey. There are other riders up there who are top hoops-Mike Pelling, Brian. York, etc. You can entrust your money to them. Certain riders are better wet-track riders than others. Again, I think of Mal Johnston in Sydney along with Larry Olsen, Kevin Moses, Shane Dye, Mick Dittman and Jim Cassidy, who is as good as any rider in Australasia under any conditions. Melbourne has a great rider in Darren Gauci who excels in the wet, while Michael Clarke and his brother Gary also ride well in such conditions.

A good hoop is worth everything to you, and in winter he is even more vital. Look at the rider on any horse you are keen on. Check that he is capable in the wet (by looking at his win record on this track over the past dozen or so wet meetings) and that he fully understands your animal. If he has never been on it or only on dry tracks, and he does not have an impressive wet record himself, think again.

By The Optimist