Only a few years ago it was often a difficult, if not impossible, task for punters to determine whether certain horses could handle rain-affected ground. There was a virtual reliance on the 'w' and 'm' (wet and mud) symbols in newspaper form, and very little fullscale history of a horse's wet-track performances.

Fortunately, the 1980s and now the 1990s have seen a revolution in the publishing of horse form, and for the major midweek and Saturday meetings a punter can very easily see if a horse is a wet-tracker or not.

Specialist publications like The Wizard and Sportsman are particularly helpful, with Wizard going to the most trouble to give full and concise details about wet-track performances. And then there are the daily newspaper form guides like the Golden Guide contained in the Friday edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Brisbane Courier-Mail's Friday morning guide to the Saturday racing. Another helpful newspaper guide is that of the afternoon Sun in Brisbane.

Let's look at what the Golden Guide has to offer. If you want to cheek up on a horse's wet track ability, all you do is refer to the section of the guide which details the horse's complete history. It reads like this:

Wet form:
Dead 6-0-1-1
Slow 5-3-1-0
Heavy 6-2-2-1

Now here we have, in a nutshell, the clues to Aisle's ability to handle a rain-affected track. We know from the 'Dead' line that he has started six times on that going, for no wins, one 2nd and one 3rd. On the 'Slow' line we can see he's had five starts for three wins and one 2nd, and on the 'Heavy' line we can see that he's had six starts for two wins, two 2nds and a third.

From all that, it's easy to deduce that Aisle loves the sting out of the ground and that if he strikes a dead to heavy track there should be no worries about him producing a good run, providing he is fit.

Obviously, the more outings a horse has on wet tracks, and the more wins and placings it shows, the more optimism you can hold that a dead, slow or heavy track will not adversely affect him.

In the same way, the details can warn you about any horse which cannot handle wet tracks. When you see those dead, slow and heavy lines with zero's next to the number of starts, the alarm bells should start ringing.

When you are assessing horses for rain-affected tracks, you must take full account of each runner's history on such going. You have to be prepared to penalise those horses with a proven record of failing on tracks affected by wet weather. There are many professional punters around who say you should not bet at all when the tracks are cut up by rain to the extent that they are slow to heavy.

It's sound advice but, then again, with all the information available now about wet trackers, it's not such a huge gamble that it was years ago to put your money on the line in the wet. Another point is that during the winter months you would not be doing much betting at all if you placed a blanket-ban on wet-tracks betting, because the winter rains mean that for 70 to 80 per cent of the time the going is going to be affected by rain.

The one frustrating aspect of wet-track assessment is that conditions can vary greatly from one track to another. This is often because the tracks have varying soils-some able to absorb water better than others. Because of this, a 'heavy' rating at one track might provide a far different surface than a 'heavy' track at another racecourse.

It's essential, then, that when you sit down to assess a field of runners on a wet track that you look closely at exactly which tracks the horses have turned in good efforts. You may discover that a horse has performed well on heavy going at, say, Moonee Valley and yet has failed to produce anything like that form at, say, Sandown.

You can identify a horse's ability to handle different track conditions at different tracks by looking closely through past form. Your form guides might not be too helpful in this regard, but you could obtain a much clearer insight by subscribing to a service like that provided by George Tafe (07) 2689527), whose results charts would enable you to easily back-check.

Tafe's charts split wet tracks into 15 categories, from a rating of 1 (just a little bit wet) through to 15 (the worst of heavy tracks). This can be far more helpful than the basic information available through your newspapers or the specialist form guides.

You can tell whether a 'heavy' track is really bad by referring to the Tafe rating; you could have a track rated as heavy and yet it might have a 10 rating from Tafe, while another heavy track could get a 14 or 15, clearly indicating it was providing much worse going than the other venue.

Generally, as tracks get wetter the lighter-weighted runners tend to win, even when pitted against better quality but heavier weighted horses. This is always worth bearing in mind, especially when the tracks are badly rain-affected. A horse carrying 57kgs is going to find it tough to concede too much weight to the opposition, even if it does handle the mud.

A few final rules on looking at wet tracks form:

  1. Check each horse's ability to handle the going. Refer to your form guides or the Tafe service. Mark in coloured felt pen those horses which have WON on similar going to that prevailing for the current race.
  2. Use a second colour to indicate those horses which have won in the same conditions at the same track.
  3. Check all recent form for good wet-track runs at a horse's last couple of outings.
  4. Consider carefully the weight angle. In the event of two or three horses being closely rated as the main contenders, think about giving preference to the lightly-weighted horse.
  5. Never bet on a horse which has not won or run a solid placing in similar conditions to those prevailing for the current race. Example: If today's track is heavy, a contender must have shown very good form on heavy going. Otherwise, the risk can be considered too great.

By Jon Hudson