Time handicapping has been very much maligned over the years, with many racing experts making negative comments on times as an important form factor in horse-racing.

The legendary Pittsburgh Phil did so, as did the Australian gurus of weight handicapping, Don Scott and Rem Plante, and racing journalist Pat Farrell. And all four of them got it wrong to a greater or lesser degree.

As good as they were in their chosen fields of endeavour, when it came to the use of 'time' all were sadly out of touch, completely missing the point of it all.

just before his untimely passing, Scott wrote the following in the 1995 edition of his excellent book, Winning More: "I ridiculed times, both final and sectional, as a basis for rating horses and satirised the 'speed merchants' who study time and pace graphs and invest their cash on the so-called 'fastest' horses."

Scott went a lot further, adding:  . . . final times and sectional times are constantly being fed into dozens of computers . . . and are solemnly asked to declare what time each horse ran and what time it should have run . . . but computers continue to be as baffled by times as their programmers ... watch (them) slowly grind to a halt, explode and disintegrate!"

Interesting comments from someone many claimed to be the guru of Australian handicapping principles. More so when he goes on to claim a few lines later that class and weight handicappers don't have such problems.

In July 1966, racing journalist Pat Farrell wrote in the Sydney Daily Mirror: "I hope we have nobody stupid enough to bet money on times (and) we have people who use times and time ratings as formguides, my sympathy for them far outweighs my admiration. I really think they are entitled to an annual Button Day."

This is something that the other guru of Australian weight handicapping, Rem Plante, agreed with in 1969. In his milestone book, Australian Horse Racing and Punters' Guide, he wrote: ". . . let me say I am not in favour of time handicapping or time-weight handicapping ... I have always regarded time ratings as unrealistic and highly unreliable. What are the advantages (of time handicapping)? None as far as I can see.

Going back even further in time, to the turn of the twentieth century, George E. Smith (Pittsburgh Phil) made a fortune of $US1.7 million from gambling on horse-racing, a multi-millionaire by today's standards. Yet he is attributed with the comment that, ". . . if depended on entirely for a deduction, time will be found wanting".

Smith, Scott, Plante and others all put forward reasons as to why times are misleading:

(a) track conditions are never the same;
(b) distances may not be exact;
(c) times might be inaccurate;
(d) muddling pace; and,
(e) wind resistance.

All sound comments and logical thinking. However, time and pace handicappers like myself can only hope that the traditional weight and class handicappers who do not understand, or want to understand, time handicapping, continue in their misguided beliefs.

The ability to become a winning punter depends on doing something different from the crowd. Once Don Scott wrote and published his books, weight handicapping became so popular that those following his methods struggled to make the anticipated profits as the dividends decreased.

Like many endeavours, time and pace handicapping requires a personal commitment but for those that do, there are rich rewards to be made indeed.

The reasons offered by the non believers as to why time handicapping won't work, while valid, are not insurmountable. For instance, I have developed my own 'par' time tables (many of which have been previously published in PPM), which are based on over a quarter of a million individual horse runs and 40,000 races over the past five years or so.

Not only do these 'par' time tables assist in the handicapping and black-booking of horses, but also they often inform users of a track upgrade or downgrade well in advance of the track conditions officially being changed.

Dennis Walker from The Rating Bureau has long been one of the few 'time' experts in Australia, making the study of time handicapping and all of its implications an art form. Walker is a winner, a long-time winner, often getting long-priced winners that other handicappers have riot even considered. Time handicapping is his niche market and a successful one at that.

There are others, like myself, who use time and pace-based methods with success, often finding good priced winners. Time and pace handicapping does work. I have a current winning strike rate of over 55 per cent in my top two rated selections and there would not be too many weight handicappers who could make claim to such a strike rate.

Just as weight and class handicapping has its place in racing, so does time handicapping and the last thing that any successful time or pace handicapper requires is a Button Day!

With E.J. Minnis