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A Primer on Australian Horse Racing and Betting – Part 1
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A Primer on Australian Horse Racing and Betting – Part 1
by Tony Kelzenberg for “”

Written February, 2006

My name is Tony Kelzenberg, and I am a huge fan of International horse racing. For years I would read about the great horses from other countries in the Daily Racing Form. Then I started to go to web sites dedicated to international racing to get more information, but primarily sites dedicated to European flat racing, and Unfortunately, I had no access to the European racing channels and their racing would go off during the workday, so I had little chance to see most of the races, either live or by videotape.

Over the years I have dabbled in betting Australian races Friday nights (i.e. Saturday afternoon in Australia) with fair success, and I’ve been asked to pass on my observations on Australian racing to BRIS readers.

Australia has a GREAT racing tradition, highlighted most recently by super-mare Makybe Diva (Desert King), who won over $10,840,535 through her six year old season, and the top class Starcraft (Soviet Star), who won $2,330,958 in a multiple Group 1 winning career. Purses in Australia are very healthy, especially on Saturdays, when typical handicap races go for $40,000 to $50,000 and Group 1 races commonly have purses over $350,000. ALL races are on grass. This makes the race meets short in duration (so the grass does not get ‘worn out.”), with racing moving every week or two from one venue to another.

Question: Which country has the largest purse in the world for a 2-year-old race?
Answer: Australia, with its Golden Slipper Stakes. This year’s purse is Aus$3,000,000 ($2.1 Million U.S.), a healthy $500,000 more than the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile. If you want to watch some excellent juveniles and what figures to be a wild betting race, it goes off this April 8 (Friday, April 7th in the U.S.).

Question: What is the most important 2-mile race in the world?
Answer: The Melbourne Cup, run every year in Australia on the first Tuesday of November. “The race that stops a nation” has a purse of approximately $2.4 Million. The Godolphin people have been trying to win this race for quite a few years, but I don’t think they’ve hit the board yet.

As you can see from the questions above, the Australian racing program is quite varied, offering horses of disparate talents and abilities the chance to run in races suited to them. The main programs are juvenile sprinters (4 to 6 furlongs), 3 and up sprinters (5 to 7f), milers (7 to 9f), and stayers (10 furlongs and up). There are stakes just for fillies, but in most of the big races females have to run against the colts. In Australia, that may not be as big of a handicap as you might think. For example, in the last 21 runnings of the Group 1 Australia Stakes, 3-year-old fillies have beaten colts and older horses 6 times (with 3-year-old colts winning 5 more times).

What I will try to point out to people reading this column that what we take for ‘gospel’ in the U.S. doesn’t always apply “down under,” partly because of the differences in training, jockey skills, pedigrees and race track constructions. The next section will outline racing conditions and we will conclude in Part 2 with a brief analysis of leading trainers and jockeys in Australia and suggested betting strategies.


Betting Numbers vs. Post-Position Draw
In Australia, as in most countries, the Betting Number “1” corresponds to the horse carrying top weight (or occasionally co-top weight). The top weight is assigned by the racing secretary to reflect what the horse has done in the past. Ideally, the top weight is the best horse in the race; the 2nd top weight (2) would be second best, etc. Usually horses in a traditional handicap with Betting Numbers 10 or higher are at a disadvantage in most races, because they are considered so slow and/or unreliable they don’t have the ability to win (though they can hit the exacta and trifecta slots).

Note: the post-potion draw is SEPARATE from the Betting Numbers. Betting Number 1 could be in post 12. Betting Number 5 could be on the rail. You get the idea. The track program and/or the past performances will say who is in which gate.

There are 1609 meters (1609m) in one mile. Since there are eight furlongs in one mile, each furlong is 201.125 meters. Most international racing jurisdictions (Australia included) write races in increments of 200 meters, nearly one furlong.

Here is a quick chart to convert meters to furlongs:

Race in Meters   “Equivalent Furlongs”
If you listen to an Aussie race call, there are no “furlong poles,” but “meter marks.” Here is a conversion chart.

Meter Mark       “Equivalent Pole”
800m½ pole
600m3/8 pole
400m¼ pole
200m1/8 pole
100m1/16 pole

Track Construction
Some tracks go left handed (like we run in North America, counter-clockwise). Some tracks go right handed (clockwise). Flemington (Near Melbourne) is a special track that has a STRAIGHT 1200m course for sprints. In other words, Aussie horses need to be trained to handle any track configuration, and lead changes in the lane are not as important as in the U.S. Unfortunately, neither the past performances in the “official” Aussie program, or the past performances offered by BRIS, say whether a track is right handed or left handed (this history is documented in the DRF for foreign horses). Some horses prefer going one direction to the other.

In addition, tracks usually have a slight hill in the stretch, which can give an advantage to stretch runners.

Workout fans, Australian racing probably isn’t for you. Why? Because there are NO OFFICIALLY TIMED WORKOUTS! Horses exercise daily, but you can never get a time for a workout. What you can do is go on Aussie websites and read rumors about who is training well, and who is not. But it is all rumors.

Case in point: God’s Own, in his lead up to the Group 1 Lightning Stakes, did not trial well. Leading Trainer Bart Cummings didn’t want to tip his hand early. God’s Own ran second, losing by a head. The trainer said he bet the horse heavy “each way,” which is Aussie talk for betting to place, as the trainer expected a top two finish.

Another case: Two weeks later, a contemporary of God’s Own, the hard knocking Paratroopers, was the “smart money” horse after his sharp trial before the Group 1 Australia stakes. Highly touted, he was a mysterious vet scratch at the gate!

I have learned that usually Aussie horses are fit enough for the job. If you think your horse has the class, AND you think they are well meant (we’ll discuss this more in part 2 – betting strategies), they are very reliable horses and good bets. Don’t sweat the lack of workout information.

About 80% of the time one horse will gallop to a clear lead and no other horse in the race will go with it. The other horses in the race will “tuck in” behind the leader and try to position themselves for the stretch run. You may be tempted to say the early leader will have an easy time of an go wire to wire, but for reasons still mysterious to me, usually the early leader will fade between the 200m and 100m marks. Aussie trainers know this, and they train their horses to “sit and pounce” in the lane. This leads to many races having horses rallying in the stretch 5 and 6 wide.

The “best trip” you can get is sitting in the flight behind the leader early, on the outside in the two path in third. If your horse is three wide with no “cover” in front of it your bet is usually in big trouble, because horses having a “three wide trip” almost always flatten. Another trip to avoid is betting a mid-pack closer with an inside post – with the slower paces, the horses tend to bunch up and it is very difficult to find a way through in the stretch.

Since pace isn’t the best way to handicap, I recommend finding the best horse on class as your initial starting point. These horses will be relatively “foreign” to you, but the best barometer I have found for handicapping Australian races is career earnings per start.

In Australia, there an NO claiming races. Horses (if placed properly) run for the biggest purse they can win, without having to worry about being claimed. A horse with high earnings per start either won a big race a while ago, or even better, is a lightly raced horse with a high win percentage. An extra advantage is that the lightly raced horses usually will carry less weight (they haven’t established their top rating yet).

The best-case scenario is a horse that is 4th or 5th top weight, but on the way up, faces a top weight and/or 2nd top weight horse that has seen better days. This is a good way to beat the weighting system, and find value at the windows.

Horses that weren’t in the top two in one of their most recent three races are horrible bets in Australia. The in-form horses tend to hold their form. What you want to see is a horse that first off the layoff was 4th, then 2nd in their second off the layoff, and then is placed aggressively in their third start. Most Aussie trainers point for 2nd or 3rd run off the layoff. Try to catch horses on the rise, as the price will be fair.

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