In this special feature, Melbourne writer Paul Segar takes an in-depth look at winter racing, delving into wet-track speed factors, how varying track ratings affect performances and how weight-carrying becomes a vital factor. The article is an extract from the new, second edition of Paul's book Horse Racing Theory and Practice.

In the search for a winner on a wet track just about everything has been tried. In the end, as in most events, it more than probably comes down to one key factor: 

What effect does weight have on gallopers racing on a wet track? This is a difficult question but I'd like to put forward a few ideas and thoughts, from which you can find enough information to be able to devise a few ideas of your own. 

On a fast track, most horses can run 1600m in lm 36s (or 96 seconds). This is like a car going at 60 kms per hour or 16.7 metres per second. Now, on a fast track a horse travels 6 lengths in 1 second (1 length being the actual length of a horse). A 1600m race is, therefore, 96 times 6, or 576 lengths long (if you like, 576 little gaps in the running rail).

Sixteen hundred divided by 576 equals 2.8 metres. The length of a horse has been found without using a measuring tape. It is roughly 2.8m. On a fairly wet track, the same 1600m race may take lm 42s. The speed of the horses has dropped to 15.7 metres per second (56.5 km hr). Not a lot slower, you say, but it's actually slower by 1 metre per second!

The 1600m race has not changed in distance. We find now a horse takes longer to travel one length in fact, 0.18s. Or, to put it another way: On a heavy track, a horse in 1 second will travel only about 5.6 lengths. As you can see, then, the speed of a horse is reduced. It cannot travel as far in the same time on a wet track as on a firm track.

This is 1.5kg equalling 1 length. On a dry track, a weight change of 1.5kg is considered to be  equivalent to 1 length. That means, in theory, you add 1.5kg to a horse's weight to carry and it will run 1 length worse. Take 1.5kg off and it will run 1 length better.

One second, then, on a dry track is 6 (lengths to 1 second) times 1.5kg per length, which equals 9kg per second. So, to slow a horse down by 1 second in the dry would take 9kg. Not so on a wet track. On a heavy track, 5.6 lengths is equivalent to 1 second, which converts to 8.4kg.

The table opposite gives values for all the different track conditions using similar conversions for dead, slow and heavy ratings. Super heavy tracks occur infrequently and apply to tracks that are extremely rain-affected (usually in mid-winter).


Lens per second
Kg per second
(The figure of 1.5kg per length change for wet tracks is somewhat doubtful, but this is the figure generally accepted and as no other figure has been calculated we will use it).

Since the weight is carried the entire race by each horse, the figure in the above table can be applied to the weights carried as well. If a horse is set to carry 54kg on a dry track but, instead, can run around minus that weight it would, ' theoretically, go 6 seconds faster.

This is like running 100m less. So you can see that weight can make a huge difference to a horse's chance. On a wet track, 54kg becomes much more of an impost. The table 'Wet-Track Weight Adjustments' converts weight on the various wet tracks.

A horse set to carry 51kg will feel as if it is carrying 54.5kg on a heavy track. Likewise, a horse carrying 57kg on a heavy track will be weighed right down, feeling as if it is really carrying 61kg! But, of course, the effect of weight is nowhere near as bad on deadish tracks.

Horses on a bog track can win carrying 57kg and sometimes do well with even more on their backs - but the task is not easy. When looking for winners on wet tracks, I think it's best to shy away from the topweights.

Lightweights on wet tracks have the edge, especially those carrying under 50kg. The 55kg threshold is fast approached on a heavy track. If a horse is handicapped to carry 52kg, it's there. The horse will feel as if it is carrying 55kg even though it only has 52kg. The wet track makes it tough going.

Use the conversion table and you will find it most useful when analysing wet-track form. You will be instantly able to know that if a horse is handicapped with 57kg on a slow track, then it is really being hit with another 2kg - meaning the weight will have the crunch of 59kg.

Another example: A horse is handicapped on 59kg on a heavy track. But, if you look at the conversion table, you will realise that this is equal to the horse having to carry 63kg.

Even on a dead track there is always a weight factor to be taken into consideration. A horse handicapped to carry 57kg on a dead track is going to feel as if it has 57.5kg. If it was to run on a slow track, the adjustment would be to 59kg, and on a heavy track it would be to 61kg, and on a real bog super-heavy track it would be the equal of carrying 62kg.

Makes you think, doesn't it?


By Paul Segar