In this article, Martin Dowling talks to Gavin Haynes, author of the book Horsetorque Speed Ratings. Gavin is at the forefront of a big move in Australia towards speed ratings for thoroughbred racing.

Martin Dowling (MD): Although speed ratings are big business, especially in America, we don't seem to have embraced them with the same enthusiasm in Australia.

Gavin Haynes (GH): It's really a whole new world of race analysis, and I believe it adds a new dimension to racehorse past performance review in Australia. Speed ratings uncover a new aspect of form study and when used in conjunction with traditional form techniques, such as weight ratings or pace handicapping, they will take a punter's understanding to a new level.

MD: Weight and class ratings, aka Don Scott and others, have ruled the roost in Australia, haven't they?

GH: A prominent weight rating handicapper, who has published many books on the subject of form analysis in this country, dedicated very little attention to race time. The implication was that time was only important when you were in jail and that the factor of most importance was class.

Yet in the Olympics, in both the pool and on the track, it is always the swiftest who prevail. With that in mind, wouldn't a knowledge of race times be an enormous addition to the form techniques now in place? America's premier form guide, the "Daily Racing Form" has them for all runners for every career start as standard additional information. The creator of those numbers, Andrew Beyer, has made a career punting his numbers professionally, and isn't that the dream of virtually every punter?

MD: Tell us what you mean by speed ratings. How can the average Joe Blow punter understand what it's all about?

GH: A speed rating is simply a way of converting a horse's race time to a number, taking into account the going prevailing on the day. The higher the number the faster the horse.

To create them you need to know the average race time of every grade of race for every distance at every track, an arduous task, but one you will learn can be a most profitable labour of love.

MD: This requires what are known as par times, something our own E.J. Minnis has discussed before in PPM. These par times are in your book, of course.

GH: Yes, the book is a result of 20 years of studying, punting and research, born out of love for this game. In it are the average race times by groupings of grade and distance for all the major metropolitan racetracks around Australia and all the major provincial racetracks in Victoria and New South Wales, about 50 tracks in all.

MD: How did your interest in horse racing kick off, Cavin?

GH: From my early days when just getting interested in the punt 20 years ago, 1 wandered into a local newsagent to pick up the arrival of a magazine with a red cover, Practical Punting Monthly, Edition 1, and since then 1 have developed systems and ratings, some simple and some outrageous, but 1 continued to grow my knowledge, through weight ratings, pace handicapping and sectional times, to gaining a deep understanding of gear and training techniques and so on. I was always striving for that edge.

MD: Was there a particular moment of enlightenment for you as regards speed ratings?

GH: The big shift came after reading Andrew Beyer's books on speed ratings, I was hooked and 1 knew 1 had to start building a time data base, and things went from there.

MD: How do you explain the concept to a newcomer?

GH: I think the best way to show the advantage of speed ratings is to look at Maidens.

As far as weight ratings are concerned a Maiden is a Maiden is a Maiden, but speed ratings show a completely different picture. Based on a study of 200 races looking at how Maiden winners went at their next start in a Class 1, my research showed 23 per cent of those Maiden winners won their Class 1 at their next start.

The story is much different when speed ratings are taken into account. Maiden winners who rated 67 or less won only 6 per cent of the time at the next start, yet Maiden winners who rated 86 and above won 41 per cent of their next runs. That's a huge difference. To put it another way- : overall you would want 7/2 about a Maiden winner going into a Class 1, but if that Maiden winner rated lower than 67 you would want 16/1, but if it rated over 86 you would be happy to take 6/4.

MD: I guess that means you like to bet on Maiden races?

GH: Yes! Maidens have become one of my favourite races to bet on. Regularly you will find a horse that ran time quick enough to win an Open Handicap at a country track whilst being beaten in a Maiden. This style of horse you know will go through the grades and there is great joy in taking 6/4 about a horse that wins untouched by five lengths in a Maiden.

MD: Any standout examples of crashing a big priced winner?

GH: I knew I was on to something very early on when my early and admittedly crude speed ratings found Sharscay in the 1995 Group 1 Canterbury Guineas at the huge odds of 80/1.

Over the years speed ratings have also found many other long priced winners. Chinhoyi won a restricted race at Rosehill Gardens at 125/1 after running big numbers in a midweek win in restricted grade its start before, Curata Storm won the Group 1 Mercedes Benz over 2400m at 100/1, after winning a Class 1 at Hawkesbury by 13 lengths in super adjusted time. The list goes on and on.

MD: Are the speed ratings okay for measuring up horses travelling from one state to another?

GH: One of the other advantages they offer is the ability to gauge interstate visitors and this is an area 1 continue to make a great deal of profit from.

This year's Melbourne Spring Carnival has proved the power of speed ratings again, especially the 3yo's. While most weight rating judges were waiting to see if the Melbourne or Sydney 3yo's were stronger, speed rating analysts knew that the Sydney form was stronger via the likes of Mnemosyne, Pendragon, God's Own and Paratroopers. By the time everybody else knew, we speed raters had feasted.

MD: As far as the average punter is concerned, how much work is involved coming up with the speed ratings for a race? Is it too tough?

GH: The beauty of speed ratings is that the numbers are great indicators but the more you play with them the more you learn and there are so many angles that 1 admit I have only touched the surface.

They do take effort, though it only takes about 15 minutes to do a meeting, but in Victoria there are usually 12 + meetings a week, so you need to have three to four hours a week to allocate to your passion. They also work best when kept in a computer database, so you can access a horse's whole career at a glance and there are many computer programs designed for this type of data storage.

Mind you, Andrew Beyer made his fortune writing his ratings in red pen on old formguides!

Patience is also required as you will see instant highlights, but you will not get the most out of them till you have a year's worth of results.

I have done "the form", nearly every Friday night for 23 years, and 1 reckon 1 am now a sound punter and a good judge, but it has only taken four years of speed ratings to take me to the point that 1 make my living doing what 1 love best.

MD: What about the spring this year? Let's take Caulfield Cup day as an example. Talk us through it.

GH: Well, what can 1 say ... The day dawned gloriously, a beautiful Melbourne spring day, a day designed for going to the races.

Big crowd, good vibes and everyone looking their best; a group of friends sharing a day together, good conversation fine wine and Group 1 It doesn't get any better. And the ratings? What about the Cup itself?

GH: The Caulfield Cup was pretty much a straight ball over home plate. Railings had shown promise running great dosing sectionals in the AJC Derby back in the autumn, had rated 104 winning second-up in Listed company, and it then went on to reach a new peak of 111 running 2nd in the Kingston Town, won the Colin Stephen strongly before going to new heights in rating 117 in the strongest AJC Metropolitan in years. It had the form, times like no other runner and %%-as trained by one of Australia's best, John Hawkes, and really was a lovely each way bet.

MD: What about the dangers?

GH: Leica Falcon had only rated 89 at Hillside before improving leaps and bounds to rate 112 in taking out the Winning Edge. Looked like a genuine improver and was a little unlucky.

The next best recent run was Mummify's 105 last start, and 1 had seen him rate 117 winning the Caulfield Cup of 03 and 110 winning another 2400m Group 1 in Sydney the following autumn, and really seems to go up another notch when he gets out to 2400m.

Plastered had rated 110 in the Spring of last year and 111 on winning the WA Derby but his last two runs of 92 and 97 suggested he wasn't going quite as well. With two points equalling one length, Railings looked to have quite an advantage over the rest of the field.

MD: Can you explain in more details how these figures were arrived at?

GH: Railings had run 148.5 in winning the Metropolitan. The par time for an Open handicap was 151.3, and understanding that horses cover approximately six lengths per second, meant that Railings had run about 10 lengths faster than average. The track that day was running about .5 per cent faster than average so the time had to be adjusted for that. 148.5 x per cent .5 = .74 seconds, and that is added to the base time.

Therefore, the adjusted race time of 149.2 is then compared to a fixed average (in the city it is the restricted class time) which is 151.9. 149.2 into 151.9 expressed as a percentage 98.2 per cent.

We work out that the time is 1.8 per cent faster than average, we then multiply this by 10 and add it to 100 seeing the time is faster than average, ( if the time was slower than average we would subtract from 100) 1.8 x 10 = 18 added to 100, therefore the Speed Rating is 118.

Leica Falcon ran 149.6 in winning g the Winning Edge on a track .7 per cent slower than average, and after adjustment his time became 148.5 against a restricted class average of 150.7, following the same formula his time was 1.3 per cent under average creating a speed rating of 113.

Mummify won the Craven Plate in 123.1 on a track running .5 per cent faster than average, creating an adjusted time of 123.7 against a restricted average of 124.2, so this run was .4 per cent faster than average and earnt the speed rating of 104.

MD: We'll be expanding on this in the January PPM, Gavin, so that should be most enlightening for our readers.

By Martin Dowling