There has always been something of a battle between form analysts over the respective value of picking horses by Class & Weight Ratings or by Speed Ratings. There are good and bad points about each.

The 'war' will probably never be fully resolved. Here in Australia, and to a lesser extent New Zealand, serious punters make far more use of the Don Scott 'class and weight' handicapping approach than they do of speed-rating each horse.

Computers, though, are simplifying the task of using speed as a determinant for selecting horses, and more and more punters are starting to look seriously at them as a fine-tuned way of beating the races. Of course, it's not easy!

Whether you use class/weight or speed you are in for some work. But what does that matter if the work helps you turn your betting around and puts dollars in your pocket? It's all to be considered absolutely worthwhile if profits roll in!

One person who believes in the value of speed ratings is Paul Segar, proprietor of the Pureform service, based in Melbourne. Paul uses a sophisticated method of 'average times' to come up with his speed selections.

He says: "You have probably seen the average time included in a formguide or racebook, but although it's an interesting number it really doesn't tell you much at all because it generally includes dry and wet track runs combined.

"One of the main problems I have discovered when punting is picking the track rating - it's an even bigger problem when the track is wet. The solution, I believe, is average times but not like those in the racebook. Using an average time for each of the five different track ratings can really give you an edge."

Accompanying this article are tables for the Caulfield and Sandown tracks in Melbourne. As can quickly be seen, as the track deteriorates with rain the average time becomes greater, but you don't need to be a genius to work that out!

* CAULFIELD: AVERAGE TIMES

1000m 58.1 58.8 59.5 60.2 1:02.1
1100m 1:03.9 1:04.4 1:05.4 1:06.5 1:06.6
1200m 1:09.8 1:10.5 1:12.0 1:13.7 1:13.8
1400m 1:24.0 1:24.4 1:25.9 1:27.2 1:28.8
1600m 1:37.0 1:37.8 1:39.4 1:42.2 1:42.9
1800m 1:49.3 1:49.8 1:52.3 1:55.8 1:56.2
2000m 2:00.8 2:02.5 2:04.2 2:06.5 2:08.3

* The figures at Caulfield are interesting in that slow and heavy times are very close together. The track most likely takes very little rain to move from a slow to a heavy condition.

Paul Segar adds: "However, if the track rating is paramount to your selections, you can quickly refer to the average times chart after race one and decide the likely track rating.

"This is the first use of an average time chart - getting a true track-rating for a new meeting. Of course, the first race may be only a small field which could lead to a slower than expected time (fields smaller than 10 runners can often be run at a muddling pace). Also, if the class is particularly strong the time may be faster than expected, but for most races, day in and day out, the figures will point directly to the true track-rating.

"If we look at examples: If the first race at Sandown is run over 1400m in a truly run 1m 25.0s, is the race a fast one on a dead track, or a slow one on a good track? It doesn't really matter - the track is around that rating and is near enough to solve the track
rating issue.

"On another day, at Caulfield, the first race has 14 runners and is run in 60.4s for 1000m. Clearly, the track is slow. On wet tracks, the differences between the average times are much greater, making it easy to distinguish dead from slow and so on.

'One recent example in which a runner needed a particular track rating was Lord Monet (Caulfield, May 28). He was coming back from a strong run in the Goodwood Handicap and, being well weighted, looked a top chance in a 400m race. The only real query was the track rating; he is very good on dry tracks.

"The time for race two over 1200m was lm 11.3s or 71.3s, which put the track rating between good and dead. The next race was run in lm 24.Os over 1400m, putting the rating at fast. Clearly, then, the track was at least good, which suited Lord Monet perfectly. He won easily."

Paul says some formguides are now using the time in which a race is run as a percentage of the track record. This, he says, may be useful to some people to know that a race was run in, say, 85 per cent of the track record but it really has little to do with anything at all!

"A similar comparison with the average time for that track condition is a very powerful method and is leading to the beginning of speed ratings," says Paul. Here are the examples he uses:

EXAMPLE ONE: Horse A ran a time of lm 4.6s, or 64.6s, for 1100m at Caulfield on a good track. The average time for the course is 64.4s. To get the percentage of the average time simply divide 64.4 by 64.6, then multiply by 100, which equals 99.7 per cent, or just about the average time.

EXAMPLE TWO: Another horse runs 80.8s on a slow track over 1300m at Sandown. The average time is 81.3s, so the percentage of the average time is 81.3 divided by 80.8s which equals 100.6 per cent (faster than the average time).

Says Paul: "A simple speed rating is often more effective than using weights and class. Check the best runs of each horse and a recent good run. The runner with the highest speed rating will often win the race.'

In his support of speed ratings, Paul Segar is very much in line with the noted US authority Andy Beyer. Beyer has been using speed ratings with enormous success on tracks throughout America, though he found they worked with far less efficiency when applied to Australian racing.

I have spoken with a number of professional punters about Beyer's lack of success. They put it down to his failure to streamline his 'dirt racing' US speed method to the turf racing in Australia, and his apparent failure to allow for the great variations between tracks in Australia.

Of his speed ratings, Beyer has this to say: "When I started calculating speed figures and using them to bet the horses, I saw quickly they were the most powerful tool in the game. By taking into account the difference in surfaces over which horses run and the different distances of thoroughbred races, they translated every horse's performance into a single number that neatly defined his ability.

"They addressed the central question of handicapping: who can run faster than whom? But there was a time and place where speed figures were more than a tool. They were magic."

In his book Beyer On Speed, he gives graphic descriptions of the days when his speed ratings enabled him to hit big winners and take home the juicy spoils of war.

Experts like Paul Segar are convinced that Aussie and Kiwi punters can cash in on speed ratings, just as Beyer has done in the USA.

NEXT MONTH: Why class and weight ratings are better than speed ratings - our own Philip Roy has his say on the issue!

*For further details about Paul Segar's Pureform service, contact him at P.O. Box 476, Blackburn, Vic 3130. He has a computer program available that will calculate, using a spreadsheet format, speed ratings for Victorian tracks.

* SANDOWN: AVERAGE TIMES