This is the time of the year when betting thoughts turn to the big Spring races - especially those races listed as 'Group' events, from Group I through to 3. These are the 'cream' races of the spring and every trainer worth his salt is chasing them.

Take John Hawkes as an example. We will see that all his top horses will be aimed at taking out Group One races. He has more reasons than most to prize those Group One scalps. Why? Because he's the private trainer for the rich Ingham Brothers, and they desire Group One wins more than anything else.

Lack of them was the motivating reason for their split with trainer Vic Thompson Jnr. He simply didn't provide them with the Group One victories. The task was handed to Hawkes, and so far he's done a fine job. But, of course, he is only as good as his last winner, and in the new season he will need to maintain his strike rate.

That's why when we talk about 'Group Giants' we have to include John Hawkes in the list. Others, of course, are Lee Freedman, David Hayes (though his impact seems to be weakening), Bart Cummings, John Meagher, Jack Denham and, increasingly, Gerald Ryan.

Let's look at what happened last Spring, with the Group races gearing up from early August. Hawkes took out the San Domenico (Group 2) with Sashed on August 7, then Noel Mayfield-Smith's ill-fated filly Angst won the Group 2 Silver Shadow Stakes.

The first Group I race was the Manikato on August 21, and this went to Bart Cummings with Never Undercharge, thus underlining again the power of the 'Group Giants' in these all-important races.

You will note that as the Group races get 'weaker' the impact of the 'second brigade' of trainers becomes more evident. These are the trainers who usually do not have access to the very best horses, unless they happen to land a one-off special!

You'll see trainers like John Morish and visiting New Zealanders picking up races like the Warwick Stakes (G2), Peter Pan Stakes (G2) and the Premiere Stakes (G3), as they did last August. But, always, you have to give first preference when analysing form to the 'Group Giants' trainers.

Last season, Lee Freedman had an enormous impact on the Group races, and not only the Group I events. For example, he took out the Group 3 Up & Coming Stakes with Mahogany on August 21, a win that was the forerunner of the colt's barnstorming Spring campaign.

As the Spring racing unfolds into September, we will see more and more top-class races, headed by the Underwood, the Vic Health Cup and the George Main Stakes (all Group 1), followed by the Chelmsford, Memsie, Ascot Vale, Craiglee, Gloaming, Theo Marks Quality, Newcastle Gold Cup and a string of others (all Group 2s).

Lee Freedman grabbed the Underwood last September with Runyon, and even pulled in the runner-up Mannerism as well! Other trainers prominent in the Group I and 2 races were Alan Williams, John Morish, David Hayes, Max Lees, Bob Thomsen, John Meagher.

David Hayes made quite an impact during September, and this is something to keep in mind when assessing this season's racing during that month. It's been a fact for some years that the Hayes horses do very well during this month, and on into the early part of October.

Usually, you will be able to keep a close track of those runners from the big stables which are firing as they near the Group I and 2 races. Inevitably, they attract much attention in the lead-up to the running of the races, so it's virtually impossible to miss them!

On raceday, get your formguide and start to assess each entry from the major stables. Look for 'close up' runs last start, and wins, of course. A fit, in-form horse from a 'Group Giants' stable is usually a top bet.

Oddly enough, you can usually secure very good value. Look at Fraar in last year's Caulfield Cup. Although from the David Hayes' stable, and possessing pretty good lead-up form, he was allowed to drift out to 33/1. He won the Caulfield Cup in scintillating fashion!

We have stated before in the magazine how you can back the winners of a host of Group 1 races by following horses trained by Freedman, Hayes, Meagher and Cummings. When we last discussed this aspect of betting, in the February issue of P.P.M., my colleague Martin Dowling took up an idea from Statsman that you should bet MORE on the longer-priced horses.

Martin used as an example the result of last year's Caulfield Cup when, by betting to take out 100 units according to price, a profit of 388 units could have been achieved on the Cup. (Assuming $10 per unit that's $3880 for a bet of $1080.)

This approach has continued to work well. For the record, here is the suggested rundown of bets under the 'bet more the longer the price' approach:

21/1 onwards16
It is vitally important that the 'Group Giants' be followed for the October-November racing in Melbourne and Sydney. This is where big winners can be collared. The races we are talking about are as follows:

Caulfield Cup, Caulfield Guineas, Caulfield Stakes, Epsom Handicap, Flight Stakes, AJC Metropolitan, The Thousand Guineas, Toorak Handicap, W.S. Cox Plate.

Gadsden Stakes, Honda (Nissan) Stakes, Mackinnon Stakes, Melbourne Cup, Victoria Derby, VRC Oaks.

Last November, David Hayes took out the Nissan Stakes (Group 1) with Primacy - and the odds were good. John Meagher emphasised his mounting importance in the training ranks by winning several Group 2 races. He is very likely to assume an even more important ranking as the new season gets into full stride.

When the autumn comes around, it's odds-on that the 'Group Giants' will again be to the fore. Last season, Hayes picked up the C.F. Orr Stakes with Primacy and Freedman took out the Australian Guineas with Mahogany. These races were run in February.

In March, the amazing winning splurge continued. Hayes won again with Primacy in the Futurity on March 5, Freedman stole the Australian Cup with Durbridge on March 12, Meagher won the Winfield Classic with Kapchat the same day, Hayes scored in the Ranvet with Dark Ksar and also with Blevic in the VRC Sires Produce Stakes, and a week later took out the Rosehill Guineas with Star of Maple!

As if that were not enough, Freedman was at it again at Rosehill on March 26, picking up the prestigious Golden Slipper with Danzero. That made it, in March, a total of seven Group 1 wins from only 13 Group 1 races - a strike rate of more than one race in two.

And it's not as if the winners were at poor odds. In fact, most were sent out at very attractive prices, making each race a paying proposition for those punters who linked all the runners of the 'Group Giants' in multiple bets.

Let's take as an example, the Rosehill Guineas won by Star of Maple. Using the 'Group Giants' trainers, there would have been only four bets in this race: Star of Maple (David Hayes), Pillar of Salt (Lee Freedman), Four Chase (Bart Cummings), Steinzitz (Cummings). The bets, using the fore-mentioned table of staking, would have been as follows:

STAR OF MAPLE (1st, 20/1): Bet 14 units.
PILLAR OF SALT (25/1): Bet 16 units.
FOUR CHASE (33/1): Bet 16 units.
STEINITZ (200/1): Bet 16 units.
Total Bets: 62 units.
Total Return: 294 units.

PROFIT: 232 units. (Assuming $10 units, the bet would have been $620 out for a return of $2,940, and a profit of $2,320. The bet on the winner was $140 at 20/1).

Now this profit has been achieved on just one race. You can see, then, the potential in this approach. Another example is Dark Ksar's victory in the Ranvet Stakes on March 12. In this race, there were only two bets, which were as follows:

DARK KSAR (1st, 15/1): Bet 12 units.
RUNYON (15/1): Bet 8 units.

Total Bet: 20 units. Total Return: 192 units. Profit: 172 units. (Assuming $10 units, this was an outlay of $200 $120 on Dark Ksar, $80 on Runyon for a return of $1,920, and a profit of $1,720.)

Why should this trend continue this season? I suppose the answer is, why not? Freedman, Cummings, Hayes and Meagher must still be regarded as the kingpins of the training scene, each has a solid team of horses, and each is hell-bent on winning the Group I races, simply because the prizemoney is enormous, and along with it comes prestige and power.

Why not jump on the bandwagon now, and make sure you get your share of the Group-races' spoils?

By Alan Jacobs