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A Primer on Australian Horse Racing and Betting – Part 2 (Betting Strategies)
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A Primer on Australian Horse Racing and Betting – Part 2 (Betting Strategies)
Tony Kelzenberg for “Brisnet.com”

Written Spring, 2006

In Part 1 of this series, I outlined the basic differences between Australian and North American racing (race conditions, track layouts, lack of official Aussie workouts, pace, trip and class). In this follow up to Part 1 we will try to give some examples where a little “common sense handicapping” and knowledge of the race conditions can help us identify which horses are “live,” and which are not.

How to Determine who is the “Live” horse in a Handicap Race:
There is a central authority in Australia that assigns a “handicap weight” to each racehorse in Australia. A weight assignment is adjusted after a horse wins a handicap or performs well in a stakes race.

In other words, class (and weight carried) determined by the central authority is AFTER the race has been run. That gives us handicappers the chance to cash bet(s) on a horse ON THE WAY UP the class ladder before they are assigned extra weight. This is a significant advantage to the bettor, if they note horses that got bad trips or bad starts out of the gate. Lightly raced horses that appear to have a lot of ability can also climb the ladder quickly. They make good bets too because their weight assignments are low and they haven’t determined their class ceiling yet.

To recap, we want to play horses on the way up the class ladder. Generally horses on the way down (droppers) are shaky plays because they must carry the weight they earned while they were “good,” but they aren’t operating at peak efficiency anymore. And droppers have a large earnings/start ratio, which usually gets the crowd’s attention, usually eliminating any chance for value.

Another “trap” to be aware of in a handicap race is the stakes winner coming back after a significant vacation (2 months or more). Australian horses are not worked into shape; they are RACED into shape. This usually requires a race or two until they are ready to take on stakes horses again. A legitimate stakes horse IS the class of a handicap field, but it is almost always in there for strenuous exercise first. The “go” run will be for the big money down the line in a stakes race, usually at the same track as the prep race.

Lastly, the weight ratings of a handicap are not too far off. If the #10 horse (tenth on the weighting system) is not light lightly raced and looks slow, it probably is slow. Unless you are looking for a 30-1 shot to complete your trifecta, discard horses like these and don’t lose sleep over it.

Distance Changes
Sprinters stretching out (example: 5f to 6.5f) seem to have a big advantage to horses turning back in distance. The “turn backs” usually don’t get the pace they need and tend to have traffic problems.

Fillies vs. Colts
Fillies beat colts all the time in Australia. Don’t discriminate against the “fairer” sex when it comes to betting at the windows. Miss Finland (Redoute’s Choice), a well-bred 2yo filly, just beat a field full of colts to win the Golden Slipper, the 2yo championship in Australia (earning US $1.2 Million for her connections). Other recent examples fillies that won Group ones against colts in Australia were Alinghi (Encosta De Lago) and Makybe Diva (Desert King).

Betting Stakes Races
In North America, pace or the affinity for the racing surface can be as important as class in determining stakes races. This is not true in Australia. In their stakes races the classy, “in form” horses win much more than their fair share. This doesn’t mean the favorites win all the time. Just make sure every horse you play in a Group 1 is sharp and can handle the distance and you will be ahead by the end of the year. Most Group ones in Australia are very competitive, and they generally feature 12 horses or more, so good odds can be had.

Pedigree Handicapping
The current “king of the studs” in Australia is Redoute’s Choice (Danehill- Shantha’s Choice – Canny Lad, 2nd Dam by Nijinsky). Inbred two times to Northern Dancer and three times to Northern Dancer’s dam, Natalma, Redoute’s Choice has essentially turned the Australian racing scene on its collective ear.

Producing million dollar yearlings and being visited by the best mares, one knows he gets quality offspring, but his get have been winning big on the track as well. His colt Nadeem won the US $700,000 Blue Diamond Stakes, and his Miss Finland ran second in the Blue Diamond and April 8th she won the US $2.1 Million Golden Slipper by a commanding 4 and ½ lengths. He has also produced a Group 1 winning sprinter named Snitzel.

Like many of Danehill’s progeny, offspring of Redoute’s Choice like it firm. They are also very fast, and some will show “North American” type pace in their races, and are good bets to win first out. Their “distance range” would be 1000m to 1600m (5f to 8f).

Encosta De Lago (Fairy King – Should Creek – Star Way, 2nd dam by Mr. Prospector) is also a top young sire, more of a miler type of producer, but he can also get winning juveniles.

Zabeel (Sir Tristam) and his son Octagonal (Zabeel) are the main sources of stamina in the Aussie thoroughbred. Their offspring tend to get better with distance and race experience. They are not good “first out” bets. Also in the “stayer” races (2000 to 2400m, or 10f to 12f) give an extra look to horses bred in New Zealand (they will be identified as “NZ” horses on the program). The New Zealand-bred horses tend to have more stamina than their Aussie counterparts (Zabeel and Octagonal were both bred in New Zealand).

In “big time” Australian racing, there are two main centers: Melbourne and Sydney. Except on notable stakes days, jockeys and trainers stay in one center or the other. The best racing is Saturday in Australia (Friday night in the US).

Notable Jockeys
Craig Williams is the new star on the Australian scene. A native Aussie, he went to England to further his riding career, and then moved on to Hong Kong, where he said the tough competition improved his riding skills. In August 2005 he moved back to Australia, and resumed his relationship with David Hayes, one of Australia’s top trainers.

Currently atop the Melbourne jockey standings, he is a dynamic rider on the front end, often times getting his horse out quickly and holding it together to the finish. Not one dimensional, Williams has won Group ones for Hayes from well of the pace in the last month too. Williams has exceptional balance on a horse and appears to be a very athletic rider. In addition, Williams will be frank with the media on how well his mounts performed in exercise work or in races. Usually his assessments of horses are quite accurate. I would compare Williams with a young P-Val in terms of his raw ability and riding style.

Dan Nikolic is second in the Melbourne jockey standings. A very shrewd judge of pace, he will always place his mount in the best spot to win. He is also a savvy reader of the “form,” and is very good at picking up mounts that had troubled trips. Unfortunately he is also very good at picking up riding suspensions – he will be on the sidelines for the next four weeks. I would compare his riding skills very similar to Edgar Prado.

Darren Beadman is Sydney’s top jockey. Riding at the top level, he is only winning at a 27% rate. Solid in all categories, he is especially good at getting a good closing type horse home, and usually has his choice of mounts in the big races. He also LOVES to win races. More than 40 wins ahead in the 2005-2006 Sydney jockey race, he’s going for 145 wins in a full season, which would beat the old Aussie record he already holds, 141 wins in a season. A logical comparison to a US jockey would be Garret Gomez (though Beadman has had a much longer career at the top level).

Glen Boss has had a great career already. A three-time winner of the Melbourne Cup piloting Makybe Diva, Boss is considered the best “money rider” in Australia. He is currently riding the stayer Eremine, who Boss predicts will help him win another Melbourne Cup in 2006. A comparison to America’s Jerry Bailey would fit.

Notable Trainers
David Hayes, son of Aussie Hall of Fame trainer Colin, spent the last 10 years in Hong Kong training there (where he employed Craig Williams as a jockey). Coaxed to come back to Australia by some of the most powerful breeding operations on the continent, he re-opened his Aussie stable in August 2005 with some of the best-bred two years olds around. And has he taken advantage! He won 35 2yo races with 26 different horses so far in 2005-2006, including the two biggest Group ones for two year olds in Australia: The 2006 Blue Diamond with Nadeem and the 2006 Golden Slipper with Miss Finland.

Craig Williams is Hayes’s “go to” guy, but I think he also loves to “score” with uncoupled entries at a price. Nadeem (21-1), Field of Omagh (8-1), and Miss Finland (6-1) all won as uncoupled entries in Group 1 races, with Williams only riding Miss Finland. Also Nadeem and Miss Finland were “first time blinkers on,” when they got their Group 1 scores.

Overall Hayes is only winning at about 10%, but I think as his Australian operation gets more established his winning percentage will go up and he will be more consistent.

Jonathan Hawkes is Sydney’s leading trainer, currently with a 20% win rate. He’s only 10% win rate at Melbourne this season. Solid plays with Hawkes include horses that ran poorly at Melbourne (where they race left-handed, or counter-clockwise), and are back at Sydney today (where they race right-handed, or clock-wise).

Gai Waterhouse is known in Sydney for being a successful woman in a male-dominated field, her splashy race day outfits, and her ability to produce winner after winner (she’s currently at a 27% win rate). Ms. Waterhouse’s runners are always dangerous, and it appears her runners are always well meant, even in handicaps (her Bentley Biscuit won its first 8 starts this season, nearly tying an ancient Australian race record of nine straight wins from the 1880’s).

Hopefully this primer will help you recognize many of the leading players in the Aussie horseracing season. Good luck and good racing!


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