Much has been said-mostly negative about Maiden class races. The usual line of thinking is that you shouldn't touch them with the proverbial bargepole. Well, maybe so.

The one fact we do know is that Maiden races are there for the animals who have yet to prove themselves in any class, simply for the reason they have not yet won a race. To all intents and purposes, they are unknown quantities.

Some horses never win a race. They just aren't fast enough. Some horses win a Maiden, and never win another race. But does the implicit 'lack of class' of the maiden gallopers make them poor betting propositions. The general opinion seems to be 'yes' and it was with this in mind I undertook some research.

Actually, a friend urged me to look into it after a genial 'row' we had about maiden races. He was dead against them, but I said I wasn't convinced they were that bad. Okay, he taunted me, prove my point.

I set about checking the results of 2650 Maiden races in Victoria. I thought that this large spread of races--covering all minor and major country and provincial tracks-would surely be enough to settle the argument once and for all.

My checking centred on the price of each winner, and its actual position on the lines of betting. What came out of that testing surprised me quite a bit.

For a start, it showed that as far as favourite backers are concerned Maiden races are a winning vehicle. And for those punters who like backing second favourites, there was a fighting chance of coming out ahead.

In the first 1000 races I looked at, the strike rate for the first favourites was an astonishing 43 per cent-way above the usual average for all favourites of around 30 to 31 per cent. Could it maintain this high strike figure? Well, over the total number of races the strike rate ended up at 38 per cent-still a very good achievement for favourites.

From the 2650 races I surveyed, a total of 1007 were won by outright favourites. A further 23.5 per cent (610 races) were won by horses on the second line of betting, making a grand total of 61.5 per cent of the Maiden races going to first or second favourites.

The average price of the winning outright favourites was 7/4. Therefore, there was a level stakes profit on backing the favourites. You would have outlaid $2650 at $1 win each, and received back $2769, a profit of almost $120. Not much I agree, but still a profit.

Naturally, it would have been an impossibility to have backed each and every Maiden race favourite; many of the meetings I surveyed were non-TAB and held at very minor tracks, like Echuca, Edenhope, Manangatang and Horsham.

But the thread of potential winnings is definitely there-and what my survey dearly pointed out was that you don't need to worry about backing well-fancied horses in Maiden class races. The favourites have a better strike rate than favourites in quality races! Perhaps, this is part of the madness of racing.

There were few long losing runs during my test period. In fact, the favourites kept popping up with gay abandon. The worst 'losing run' was eight. Of course, when I say 'losing run' this is, in fact, a little incorrect, as I took all results straight from the Australian Race Results monthly books, and the flow of bets was determined by the order in which the results were published for each meeting.

What do we make of these statistics? Well, if a punter was to concentrate on TAB meetings only, he could-if the pattern continues-be assured of hitting with around 38 winning bets per 100 on Maiden favourites.

He could be assured of a small profit. But, more importantly, he can use the knowledge to assist him with a build-up approach on his betting. With losing runs at a minimum, there is a golden opportunity to use a good progressive, or target, staking plan to haul in some really impressive profit figures.

My figures reveal that quite often, the favourites will win four or five races in a row. This gives the punter the chance to keep ploughing his money into them, and cashing himself up with a succession of wins.

Psychologically, the statistics are good news in that they blow away the old don't bet on Maidens' outlook, which for too long has held back many a punter from tossing in for a good win or two on this class of horses.

My advice is this: You're going to get a better than average run of success with Maiden race favourites, so don't be frightened of them. Usually, you'll find a lot of informed money will send a horse out favourite in such races, so 'form' as such can play only a fragmentary role in the scheme of things.

LATE NEWS: I have just completed a further three-week study of Maiden races in Victoria. The result, over 51 races, was a win strike rate for the favourites of more than 41 per cent, and a 63 per cent strike for first and second favourites.

By Martin Dowling