Trots fans, especially those who bet big on the pacers and trotters, will testify that a good driver is worth a great deal in a tight finish, or in a race where tactics play a key role.

Many and varied are the views on the importance of the so-called Demon Drivers. Those who are firm believers in the 'good drivers, good winners' maxim will claim that a top-notch driver is akin to a top-notch Grand Prix motor-racing ace like Nigel Mansell.

In his book Harness Racing To Win, Bruce McKean writes: 'I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance one must attach to the reinsman when assessing a race.' He is backed up by Canadian expert Don Valliere who, in his book Betting Winners, says: 'Never bet on a horse without at least knowing who is in the sulky.

'And you should really know a lot more about the driver than just his name. You should know his winning percentage and how well he is doing lately, if he has driven the horse before and if his record is better or poorer than that of the previous driver.

'Some handicapping authorities recommend that you bet only on horses driven by one of the top 10 drivers at the meeting. I do not recommend you be this restrictive - but still it is true that at most tracks... a large percentage of races are won by a small percentage of drivers.'

A friend of mine, Bob Wilton, bets professionally on the harness racing at Harold Park. He rarely bets elsewhere, figuring that two meetings a week, with at least 16 races to choose from, are more than enough. He has a systematic approach.

He looks at the horses that figure in the pre-post betting, then scans the drivers, chooses the best and uses their drives as the pivotal point of his race assessment. Once he has isolated the likely top three or four he puts their last few runs through the 'form grinder', checking Mile Rates and how they actually ran.

He places strong emphasis on how a race was run. Was the horse caught deep all the way? Did it get shuffled back into a hopeless position? How did it finish powerfully or weakly? If it won, did it win easily, or was it a soft win, or did it do it tough and still manage to win? How much did the win affect it?

Of course, just talking about factors like drivers, form, last-start performances, bad luck etc can become confusing. I know that rank-and-file punters 1 have talked to over the years say they find their 'unstructured' approach to form analysis leads them into troughs of despair and frustration.

Just recently, one of them said to me: 'I find I just don't know where to start and, as a result, I never really start at all. I just glance at a few races and then consult the formguide tipsters. I seriously doubt my own ability and all because I haven't got an approach to it all that gives me a definite starting, middle and finishing point.'

His worries are echoed by many others. When I first introduced Mark I of my Striker system I felt I was going some way to helping punters maintain a degree of consistency in their approach. But the Striker is not for everyone (though I have made it easier for myself in recent times through having a computerised version programmed for my IBM).

In this article, I want to put before you a new plan which will enable you to get yourself a 'model' approach to harness racing selecting. I have adopted a 'points' system for it, because this is the best way for punters to go to get a fix on the best chances.

If you can come to grips with the demands of this approach then I am pretty confident you will increase your win strike rate and latch, on to value-priced winners at any harness meeting in Australasia.


  1. Choose the 'realistic' chances: Your first task is to mark off the horses on the first four lines of prepost betting. It is very likely the winner will be one of them. Sometimes there will be just four horses, sometimes five or more, depending on how many there are on each line of betting.
  2. Concentrate on each of these horses. Then rank them in order by

    (a) win strike percentage, and
    (b) average career earnings.

    This will give you two lists. If you find a runner that tops both win strike and average career earnings, you should mark it with an asterisk (*). You should now have a good idea of which runners are the 'class' in the field.
  3. Now we want to look at laststart performance. Check each of these horses again to see how they have performed in SIMILAR, class races within their last four starts. Tick off their placed performances in races of the same or similar class at the track at which they are now racing. Ignore other performances.
  4. The next step is to rank the drivers. Tick off the runners which are to be driven by a driver in the current top 5 standings in the premiership. (If a premiership is unavailable, use your own knowledge of the drivers to assess this aspect.)
  5. Now, underline each horse's BEST performance in its last four starts. Look closely at each race and make a judgement as to the best run, taking into account class, trouble in run, ease of win etc. 

You now look at all the other horses in the race and go through the same steps as you did for the main chances.

Once you have completed this work, you should allot points for the following sections, as follows:


POINTS FOR MAIN CHANCES  (First 4 lines of betting)
Factor Points
BEST WIN %10 (7)
2ND BEST % 8 (5)
3RD BEST % 6 (3)
4TH BEST %4 (1)
2ND BEST E/A8 (5)
3RD BEST E/A 6 (3)
4TH BEST E/A 4 (1)
4 WIN OR PLACE10 (10)
2 WIN OR PLACE 5 (5)
1 WIN OR PLACE 2 (2)
DRIVERS (Last 4 starts)
#1 RATED DRIVER 10 (10)
Last-start win 5 (5)
Last-start 2nd or 3rd 3 (3)
2nd-last start win 4 (4)
2nd-last start 2nd/3rd 2 (2)
3rd-last start win 3 (3)
3rd-last start 2nd/3rd 1 (1)
4th-last start win 2 (2)
4th-last start 2nd/3rd1 (1)
Once you have handed out the points to each horse you will then be able to simply add them up and discover which ones have the most points - and thus the best prospects in a race.

Now, you keep the two sections separate when you do your working out. Go through the main chances first, then do the secondbest chances. You will note that in some sections the second-best runners get the same number of points as the main chances, while in other sections they are awarded slightly fewer.

But all are considered as 'one field' when the points are added so it could be that a value runner from the second-best runners will be a key selection.

The vital elements to solve the riddles of the form.

In the following items we have gathered together some advice and comments from leading international harness racing experts.

  • If a horse is well bet, and goes to the post at 2/1 or less, it is likely the stable connections are putting their money on his chances. If an obviously superior horse is returning after a lengthy layoff and his odds are 'easy' then take care - the connections could be holding back on him this time around. (Don Valliere, Betting Winners).
  • The purchase of a stopwatch is not only the first investment a harness racing punter should make; it is also the one which will generate the greatest return. A stopwatch is the yardstick which gives order and regularity to form assessment, (Bruce McKean, Harness Racing To Win).
  • Points to remember with 2yo events - avoid the early races where the form is flimsy and the horses are often undergrown, inexperienced, erratic and flighty ... Be extremely wary of betting in events where one or more of the runners are having their first start; you never know, one of them could be a topliner. (Bruce McKean).
  • The Universal Drivers Rating is a way to analyse each driver in much the same way as a batting average in baseball. A driver is awarded 9 pts for a win, 5 pts for each 2nd place and 3 pts for a 3rd. All his earned points are added and the total is divided by the number of starts multiplied by 9. (Don Valliere).
  • My advice is that you should never handicap a harness ra ce without knowing how fast each horse was able to pace or trot the final quarter 'mile' in their most recent race. It is an excellent guide not only to a horse's ability but to his current condition. (Don Valliere).
  • Make the top drivers work for you. Consider only their drives at a meeting. Pluck out the top drivers and back them - this approach not only saves a lot of time and trouble but gives you a high win rate. (Alf Lyle, New York Pacing Newsletter, 1959).

Click here to read Part 1.

By Rick Roberts