With winter upon us, the state of the going at racetracks all around Australia will play its usual crucial role in determining the outcome of races.

With this article, you will find a list of horses from New South Wales and Victoria who have clearly shown by their past performances that they can be regarded as true wet-trackers. We could have made it a longer list by further analysis, but by doing that we would have made the list unweildy and difficult to follow.

The list contains the names of horses who won in heavy going in May and June last year. Already, some of them have shown again this year that their love of mud has not waned (Donburn, for instance).

Punters must ensure that every time they have a bet during the winter they check out each runner to see how they handle slow and heavy tracks. A horse may have a string of 'outs' next to his name on firm tracks, but is capable of improving 6 lengths or more if given rain-affected conditions.

You can find examples of these sharp form improvements every time the going changes from good/fast to slow/heavy. This is particularly so when the going reading is altered during a meeting.

This happened recently at a Randwick meeting (on April 12) when a torrential downpour after the 2nd race meant that all other races on the card were run on a slow track.

This was the moment when keen punters reached for their Sportsman to check on past form. Those that did so would have latched on to at least a couple of winners.

The first was Clear Picture in the 3rd race. The six-year-old entire was a 101 chance in the morning markets but it was quickly obvious that when the rains came he was going to be much shorter.

A glance at his form revealed his penchant for rain-affected surfaces - victories on slow and heavy tracks at Gosford and Canterbury. Clear Picture was backed from an opening quote of 5-1 into favouritism at 4-1 and won easily. The 3rd placegetter, Avonnoto, also had good wet-track form, having notched wins on a heavy and a slow track at Eagle Farm and Southport in Queensland.

In the 4th race, there were several runners with good wet-track form - Safe Courier (win on a slow track), Belle Sheeogue (slow and dead tracks winner), Freckles Brown (slow and dead), Orwhina (heavy and dead) and Scotch Haze (heavy).

The best value odds from these mudders could be obtained from Belle Sheeogue and Scotch Haze. Belle Sheeogue was quoted at 33-1 early, firmed to 14-1 and then eased to start 20-1, while Scotch Haze drifted from 1 10s to 33s.

Belle Sheeogue went on to win the race while Scotch Haze ended up down the track in 6th place, but not too far from the winner.

These were examples, then, of looking quickly for exposed wet-track form and coming up with a couple of runners that you would not have given a strong chance to on a dry track.

The problem these days with track conditions is that although the official descriptions might be the same, the actual going is not.

A heavy track at, say, Sandown in Melbourne may vary markedly from a heavy track at its local counterpart, Flemington. Trainers and jockeys have been complaining in recent years about the lack of uniformity in track conditions.

What, then is a heavy track? We can basically regard it as one that has been badly affected by recent heavy rains. You will note that the grass, or turf, cuts up quickly and as the runners plough through it, they throw up large clods of earth and grass.

Jockeys return to the mounting yard covered in black mud, as do their horses, particularly those which have raced well back in the field and have copped the muck as it flew back at them from the leading runners.

Sometimes, a heavy track will be so bad that it will actually be waterlogged. If rain is failing during the meeting, jockeys' visibility will be hampered.

Although I have stated earlier that horses 'improve' on rain-affected going, I use this term only in its simplistic term. In fact, what happens when tracks are wet is that horses are faced with problems, and some handle those problems better than others.

The experts around the world point out that mud-runners merely handled mud better than non-mudders. In other words, they cope better with the mud.

There are many people who say that punters should not bet when the tracks are rain-affected. This may well be so, but punters being a hardy breed, do not like to listen to such well-meaning advice. A punter requires action and if that means taking on the vagaries of a wet track or two then he'll do it.

It's okay to bet on wet tracks as long as you are prepared to do your homework, to seek out those horses which can handle the conditions. The guiding line in the form is to see whether a horse has won on a wet track, or finished within 3 lengths of the winner.

It is often misleading to note in a horse's form that he ran 2nd on a heavy track. A closer look may reveal that he was 8 lengths from the winner. To be regarded as being able to handle a heavy track, he would had to have finished much closer to the winner than that!

In another case, a horse may have been unplaced on a heavy track and yet may have finished only a length or 2 lengths from the winner. In this instance, you can mark him down as being able to handle the going.

If you bet on Melbourne races during the winter you are taking on an onerous task. The weather in that city during June, July and August, and often in September and October, is atrocious and wet tracks pop up with infuriating regularity.

Professional punters, like Don Scoft, advise that you forget about Melbourne racing completely through this dark, dismal winter period. Sound advice.

But, as I have said, the majority of punters are too keen on the punt to take the advice. They probably like the challenge of the wet tracks, even though they may lose.

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 is quoted at 20-1 and longer. If you can land one or two of these windfalls, your winter may seem a little warmer.

The list I have compiled for you will help you along the way to sorting out winter winners. There are some fine wettrack gallopers on the list, like Battle Action (now racing in Queensland, where his connections must be praying for an end to the sunshine), Brave Clipper, Sparkling Century, Donburn, Golden Trice, Brigade, Savant and Stiletto Star.

Some good mudders are not on the list. Araking is one of them -watch outfor him in the winter. I included him in my book, 100 Horses To Follow 1985-86 and he got up and won for me at 100-1. He is a terrific galloper in heavy conditions.

Some months ago in PPM, I included Beau Dante in my late Mail tips but his connections apparently spelled him after he ran last on a fast track at Eagle Farm on February 1. His best form back in New Zealand was on wet tracks so he could well be a shock winter winner on rainaffected going.

The former New Zealander Super Dude, now also racing in Queensland, is another galloper who produces his top form when the tracks are slow or heavy. He did well enough last time in when racing on firm tracks.

Your Sportsman form guide is the best newspaper to use when checking out the ability of horses on rain-affected tracks. It has their wins going back several years and you will see that the track condition is listed.

The Sportsman guide may read like this for a past win:

Won, 25/5/85, long hd, 3 lens, R'wick Mississipi Hdcp 1200m, 54, Lmt 51, 12 starters, 1.13:9, heavy, S P 9-2.

The word 'heavy' is the going for the race. You will also see the words 'dead' or 'slow'; they are the other two official descriptions in Australia for wet tracks. For horses from New Zealand, you may see the going described as 'soft' or 'holding'. Soft we can assume to be the Kiwi equivalent of slow, and holding the equivalent of dead.

Finally, then, the major rules for backing horses on those days when the rain has left its mark:

  1. Check out thoroughly all runners to see what wet-track form they have.
  2. Consider only those who have won in the going registered for the meeting, or which have finished within 3 lengths of the winner.
  3. Check the early races to see if the track description is accurate. Sometimes, officials say a track is slow when it is really heavy, and vice versa. 4. Keep your own notebook list of horses which win on wet tracks. Have a section for heavy trackers, and another for those with slow and dead going form. Refer to your notebook whenever a wet track comes up.

By Brian Blackwell