When we talk about 'major' races in Australia, what are we really talking about? What are the 'major' races, and how does each race compare with the other?

The only way to differentiate between top-class races is to stick with the proven 'Group' classifications. In other words, Group One races are the best races – and qualify as our major races – while the rest follow in sequence, Group Two, Group Three and then Listed Stakes races.

It's always been my belief, and the belief of many other keen professional punters, that Group One races can provide you with a steady flow of good winners - winners that are reasonably easy to find because the form for Group One races is good, and the calibre of the runners so high.

For some time now, I've been toying with abetting plan that slips these Group One races into 'packages' so that they can be bet, race to race, in doubles and trebles. My idea is that you split the Group One races into sprints and staying races, and package them accordingly.

Let's look to the spring, from September to the middle of November, and we will find the following Group One sprint races (up to 1600m):

George Main Stakes 1600m (Randwick), Show Day Cup 1400m (Caulfield), Epsom Handicap 1600m (Randwick), Flight Stakes 1600m (Randwick), Caulfield Guineas 1600m (Caulfield), Toorak Handicap 1600m (Caulfield), The Thousand Guineas 1600m (Caulfield), Gadsden Stakes 1200m (Flemington), Honda Stake 1600m (Flemington).

Here, then, are nine races, which we can easily group into three sets of three. One way is to take them in order of running, which is as I have listed them here, but, if you wish, you can slot them into any set of three you like, bearing in mind my plan of betting attack.

Ibis, basically, is to have a parlay on each set of three races - three doubles, a treble, and individual bets on each horse, a total outlay of seven units each set of three races, assuming you back only one horse in each Group One race.

My suggestion is that you back at least two horses per Group One race, giving yourself a chance to at least provide some insurance on your main selection. Dealing firstly with these Group l sprint races, I am now going to set out some ideas on picking the winners.

(George Main Stakes, Show Day Cup, Epsom Handicap).

  1. The George Main is usually a classy weight-for-age race, and is invariably won by horses which have shown standout form in similar races. That is, you must seek out an absolutely top class horse, with ability at the distance 1600m). The top stables (Cummings Freedman, Hayes) tend to dominate these sorts of races.
  2. The Show Day Cup over 1400m at Caulfield is a tough race. A big field is usually attracted. My advice is to look for well-performed 4 and 5yos from leading stables. A good barrier draw is helpful, too. Bart Cummings is a trainer who can land a winner in this race with a 'fresh' horse, so be on the lookout.
  3. You don't need me to tell you that the Epsom Handicap 1600m is one of the toughest races on the calendar. A capacity field can be expected. Look for value. There has been talk that 3yos do well, but my own preference is for 4 and 5yos with sound 1600m form. The New Zealanders don't win it too often but sometimes they get a longshot placegetter into the picture.

(Flight Stakes, Caulfield Guineas, Toorak Handicap)

  1. The Flight Stakes is for 3yos over 1600m, and you have to look for the very best horses. It's as simple as that. Study the form and pick the standouts. They will usually be dominating the betting. Jack Denham is the trainer to watch out for.
  2. You will always find top-class 3yos contesting the Caulfield Guineas. The top trainers hog the limelight more often than not. Lee Freedman usually has a good team around this time, so keep that in mind. Stick with the first few horses in the betting when deciding your selections.
  3. The Toorak Handicap is usually a wonderful 1600m race, and can be won by horses with staying pretensions. The 4 and 5yos usually. dominate, and it might pay to keep a close eye on the mares in the race, particularly if you have a good one down from Sydney. On the jockey side of things, pay particular 'attention to the rides of the leading jockeys like Dittman and Dye.

(The Thousand Guineas, Gadsden Stakes, Honda Stakes)

  1. Probably the 'weakest' of the spring Group One races, the Guineas still manages to attract some fantastic fields. Keep a close watch out for any runners from the major stables (Freedman, Hayes, Cummings) and also for fillies sent down from Sydney, as they have a good record.
  2. The Gadsden is a sprint for really top-drawer handicap sprinters. It's a race m which experience counts for a lot, so look among the older horses (5, 6 and 7yos) for the winner. David Hayes can play an important role in proceedings, too. His runner(s) will be primed up and ready to win.
  3. The Honda Stakes more or less wraps up the spring carnival. It attracts good fields, though not the best there is. Usually, one or two horses will absolutely stand out, so the betting should reflect this. It may he wise to stick with the favourites. Preference should always be given in a toss-up to horses from leading trainers.

Now we come to the staying Group One races. I have culled them into the following:

Underwood Stakes 2000m (Caulfield), AJC Metropolitan 2600m (Randwick), Caulfield Stakes 2000m (Caulfield), Caulfield Cup 2400m (Caulfield), W.S. Cox Plate 2040m (Moonee Valley) and the Melbourne Cup 3200m (Flemington).

This provides us with two sets of three races. Once again, I will take in order of running, grouping the Underwood, Metropolitan and Caulfield Stakes and then the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup together. I have purposely left out some other Group One staying races, because I feel that with the nine sprint races and six staying races, we have more than enough betting ammunition for the spring!

(Underwood Stakes, Metropolitan, Caulfield Stakes)

  1. The Underwood is run at Caulfield in late September and is the third big WFA race of the season. Watch out for the New Zealanders. They tend to have their spring hopes fit and ready around this time, and it will be no surprise, if they can win this race. I like to look for a proven 2400m horse who will be running home strongly over the 2000m. Pay close attention to the leading trainers!
  2. Next to the big Cups in Melbourne, and the Sydney Cup in the autumn, the Metropolitan at Randwick is definitely a major staying event. Run usually early in October, it can provide accurate pointers to horses that might shape well in Melbourne. The class is usually below that of the' Melbourne cups, but nevertheless can be considered high quality. It's a race in which lesser rated' trainers can provide the placers. Look for horses with strong 2400m+ form.
  3. Run in mid-October, the Caulfield Stakes over 2000m is the final stepping stone for those horses with aspirations to win the Caulfield Cup. You have to look for the best-performed gallopers, and even more so if they are trained by the leading stables. Older horses can dominate - look for the solid 5 and 6yos with strong 1600m to 2400m form.

(Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate, Melbourne Cup)

  1. It goes without saying that the Caulfield Cup is not only one of the best staying races of the season, but one of the toughest to decipher from a punting viewpoint. The 4 and 5yos are the one's to watch, and they must come from a top stable and have confirmed 2400m form.  Look back on races like the (Caulfield Stakes and the Underwood Stakes for some guidelines to chances. The ruling favourite can usually be relied on to run well.
  2. Perhaps the best race of the year, from a purist's point of view, the Valley Cox Plate attracts the top WFA middle distance horses from Australia and N.Z. The betting can usually be taken as a strong guide to the main chances. New Zealand horses, when well performed and with previous wins in Australia, are likely to run really well. Top stables have dominated over the years. The race is always won by an absolutely first-class racehorse.
  3. The Melbourne Cup...well, what can I tell you. Search through the form for the horses with solid form between 2400m and 3200m, and ignore those' who do not race on the Saturday before the Cup. Bart Cummings, naturally, has to be given pride of place in any discussion of prospects. The L.K.S, Mackinnon Stakes, run on the Saturday, can be a good guide. Look for those horses which run on strongly in that 2000m race, especially if they drop considerably in weight in the Cup. The Cup ruling favourite usually manages to run well, and can pay a good divvy for the place due to the huge win-and-place pool on the TABS.

Get yourself a special little notebook in which to record your Group One bets. Remember that I am suggesting you bet two horses in each race. So you will have two parlays each of three races. Each horse is backed for the win. and then there are doubles and trebles.

Example: In the first of the three, you back A and B for one unit a win. They are also to be coupled in doubles with the two horses (C, D) in the second race of the package, and with the two horses (E, F) in the third leg. You also have to link them in trebles.

DOUBLES: A-C, A-D, A-E, A-F, B-C,, B-,D, B-E, B-F, C-E, C-F.
TREBLES: A-C-E, A-C-F, A-D-E, A-D-F, B-C-E, B-C-F, B-D-E, B-D-F.

You have, then, 10 doubles and 8 trebles, as well as 6 individual win bets, a total stake of 24 units per package of three races. In all, there are five packages totalling 120 units outlay.

By Richard Hartley Jnr