3 Strategies for Handicapping Australian Races

by Tony Kelzenberg

With their abundant field sizes and turf racing, Australian horse racing offers some of the best opportunities for horseplayers around the world, especially for those who are seeking value when they wager.  Here are three simple angles that I have found to be very effective when handicapping the races from ‘down under.’


In the States, we don’t write a lot of 5 furlong races for older horses, with the exception of turf sprints at Churchill, Del Mar, Gulfstream Park and Canterbury Park, and even then they are usually curiosities.  In Australia they write these races all the time, and if you look at the ‘career boxes’ of some of these horses, it will be apparent that some Aussie sprinters relish the shorter distance.

Going into a recent 3A race from Moonee Valley, BROKEN had raced at 4 and 3/4 furlongs, 5 furlongs and 5 and 1/2 furlongs (combined) 24 times, for 7 wins, 2 seconds and 8 thirds.  Not a very bad record, and it had won a graded race at 6 furlongs in good time in its last start.  Despite this, Broken was dismissed at 11/1 in the North American pool before splitting horses and getting up late to win.


Be very wary of betting an Aussie horse first time off the layoff.  Most Australian trainers will use the first race off the layoff largely for exercise, and then go for a top try second or third time off the layoff down the line.  The one BIG exception is if the trainer has won with the horse first time off the layoff in the past, he or she may try to get the horse ready to win “first up.”


Wide post positions (‘bad barrier draws’) can lead to a horse being 3-wide or worse going into the turn, without a horse in front of the wide horse to block the wind  (the Aussies call this ’3 wide/no cover’).  Unless you think the jockey can overcome this obstacle, it is better to focus on horses that have posts 1 through 6, where your preferred selection can save the ground.

A Method for Attacking Races with Lightly Raced Horses

Handicapper Kelzenberg Tonyby Tony Kelzenberg, aka The Flat Bet Prophet

Not everyone likes betting on lightly raced horses in maidens or allowance races. These types of races have few horses with starts under them (in fact many races are filled with First Time Starters – a.k.a. FTS), and evaluating pedigrees of race horses can confound experienced players, much less the novice fan. Despite these challenges, I can attest I do very well playing lightly raced horses every year. I have a basic method that combines QUANTITATIVE and QUALITATIVE analysis of experienced runners and FTS.


Lightly raced runners – QUANTITATIVE FACTORS
(1) Trainer stats – some trainers are very successful winning with a FTS. Winning trainers will have developed a “winning pattern” to get their horses ready to win.  Most data services in the States will provide this information to punters.  A guideline I use is a trainer that can win with 14% of his FTS is a solid threat to win with a FTS in today’s race.

(2) Pedigree information – I uses Brisnet.com’s Ultimate Past Performances, and they are really effective at identifying which horses have a pedigree to “win early” in their first or second start. Using Brisnet.com’s data I can identify if a sire (father of the runner) and damsire (father of the MOTHER of the runner) both produce 14% winners or more from FTS. The higher a sire’s percentage of winners from FTS, the more likely the combination produces a quick firster. Another stat I look at is the dam (mother of the runner). If a dam has produced 50% or greater 2yo winners from 2yo starters that also implies today’s runner could be quick. Lastly, a good rule of thumb for “win early” breeding is look for a sire and damsire that both had sprinter/miler speed when they raced


(1) Workout Pattern – To me, workout pattern of any lightly-raced runner is the key to determining the type of runner a horse is (early speed, mid-pack, or back marker), and how fit the horse in question really is.  I look at the initial work first, to see if the horse “breezed” well.  Usually a North American-trained horse makes his first breeze at three furlongs.  I want to see a decent time. A good initial breeze would be 36 3/5 or faster, but 37 1/5 would be OK. This demonstrates that the FTS has some talent. Then, the FTS should work every 6 to 7 days, leading up to race day with NO BREAKS in its work tab.  If there is a break in the work tab either the horse may be lacking in fitness or may have had a training mishap.  Lastly, I want to see some 4 furlong works in 48 seconds or faster works mixed in with some 5 furlong works for stamina.  I consider it a strong negative if a horse shows ONLY fast workouts.  Very often, these horses are hard to control and they “pull” against the exercise rider in the mornings, and it is likely they will do the same thing in the afternoons.  Ironically, these types of runners take a lot of public money, because they are “fast!”  But alas, most likely too fast to last, it seems.

There was the workout pattern for a nice 5/1 FTS winner named Anusara who won a $50,000 Maiden Claimer (all horses were up for sale from $45,000 to $50,000) going 1300m in Race 8 on May 19, 2013 at Churchill Downs.  The purse was $25,701 (maiden races where there is no claiming price run for a much higher purse – $50,000).   Anusara won by 5 and ¼ lengths.

Feb 27       3 furlongs   38.0 seconds (first career work)

Mar 7        3f             36.8 sec (Note the quick second breeze)

Mar 17       3f             36.0 sec (even faster)

Mar 26       4f             48.4 sec (very nice)

Apr 8         4f             49.6 sec (stamina work)

Apr 22       5f             62.6 sec (stamina work)

May 1        4f             48.6 sec (work out of the gate)

May 10      4f             48.0 sec (best speed work yet – also out of the gate)

In North America the Form has to include every work for lightly raced horses.  In the “olden days,” the Form only included a horse’s last four works, which would be incomplete, at best.  It is easy to see that reviewing the Anusara’s work pattern, from the START of the workout cycle, indicated she was ready to win and was a must use in the exotics.  5/1 on this kind of horse is OK, but I was able to bet some exotics that hit after Anusara won her race.  I should add that Anusara’s works were not every 6 or 7 days, so this would not be ideal.  Note Anusara was entered against claiming maidens, so it might be inferred that she needed those extra days to recover between works and/or may have some soundness issues.

The same day, I used a three year old filly, a once-raced runner named Intelyhente, who last ran November 24, 2012 at CD on the grass, showing some early dash before being beaten by 12 lengths.  Not a very auspicious debut.  The level was straight maidens – a $50,000 purse.  The pedigree was good for grass (Smart Strike out of a Boundary mare) and the price was right (8/1 on the morning line and 6/1 when she won by going “over the top”).  The race distance was 1800m.  Here was her workout pattern:

Apr 7         4f             50.0 sec (first work back)

Apr 13       4f             49.2 sec (stamina work)

Apr 20       5f             63.4 sec (stamina work)

Apr 27       4f             48.6 sec (speed work)

May 4        4f             48.0 sec (speed work)

May 14      5f             60.2 sec (speed work)

Most of the works were EXACTLY seven days apart, meaning everything was going to plan and she was fit and well.  The speed works put some speed into her.

 (2) Sales Prices – generally yearling sales prices are meaningless in trying to predict success in sprint baby races, so I would submit not using yearling prices as a benchmark. I can recall a 2yo MSW at Saratoga a few years ago where a $50,000 yearling THRASHED a $250,000 yearling. 2 year old buys, on the other hand, are extremely dangerous. Why? Because 2yo buys have another 6 to 8 months to develop, they are thoroughly vetted, and they have to work out under a STOPWATCH. Expensive 2 year old buys ($250,000 and up) almost always can run. Cheaper 2 year old buys ($50,000 to $245,000) often times can be overlooked at the windows and should be considered live animals.

(3) Number of starts – Horses that don’t break their maidens by their third start are huge under performers at the windows. They often tend to lose by narrow margins, so their odds will be low, but it is my experience you are better off with a horse making its first or second start than betting on a potential “career maiden.”

How to Study the Races Effectively

by Tony Kelzenberg

As horseplayers, especially as weekend players, we may make an observation or two that we think explains how the races work.  Or we may remember hitting one or two long shots over a few months of playing and base our (positive) experiences as an extrapolation to ALL future races, or at least to a significant portion of future races.  On its face, this is a falsely based assumption because our pool of data is biased.  Largely we are affected by anecdotal evidence:

Evidence based on personal observation, case study reports, or random investigations rather than systematic scientific evaluation

I was a huge abuser of using anecdotal evidence.  First, I tend to be lazy and since I was watching the races anyway I just stuck with what I knew.  Also, I am quite good at looking at animals and I know what physical types I like to bet on, especially with first time starters, turf milers and 2 year old runners, so I was able to limp along.  “Limp,” being the operative word.

PPs Ill Have Another

2012 copyright Brisnet.com and Equibase

A lot of this changed after I met a horseplayer named John Dingley.  John was what I would call an empiricist – he would buy any reasonably prized horse betting system advertised on the market.  Then after he got the system in the mail, he would see how the system worked against the results of real races.  In other words, he validated these systems with REAL RACING DATA.  What was interesting was many of John’s plays he came up with were “unconventional” and had great wagering value.  Many horses John selected had unique workout patterns, or seemed outclassed, but John was a fairly successful contest player for many years while he ran several small businesses in the Twin Cities’ area.  He now has significant business interests in Iowa that preclude us from getting together and playing the races as much as I would like.

Many years after I had met John, I independently decided to use “systematic scientific evaluation” on the races.  I can affirm that these studies work, as 2011 was my best year including touting and betting on a 58/1 horse named Exothermic when he broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park in his first start.

First step:  What handicapping angle do you want to learn about?

Asking this question will narrow down your search.  Each handicapping topic will require a data base of at least 30 races of the same type and class level.

Second step:  Acquire the data

Probably the best sources for getting race results are the FREE result charts posted at equibase.com, DRF.com or brisnet.com.

Third step:  Analyze the results

Are there trends in the data?  Are certain workout patterns producing winners?  Are certain trainers or bloodlines more productive in getting winners?  General metrics to quantify trends could be win %, in the money %, and $1 R.O.I. (Return On Investment).

What if there are no trends?

If there are no trends in the data perhaps the scope of your study needs to change.  For example, I would not start off with a study comparing 2 year old winners at Delaware Park to winners on the Belmont/Saratoga circuit, because while good horses and trainers do come from Delaware Park, in general the horse and trainer populations are quite different.  Another question to consider is the data sample LARGE enough?  While 30 is a convenient number, the sample size needed to get more accuracy may be 50, 100, or 1000 races.  Please see a college level Statistics book, such as “Intro Stats,” 3rd edition, by De Veaux, Velleman and Bock, for clarification (such a text can be purchased used on Amazon.com for under $30).

Without going into too much specifics, I have put out a plan that any horseplayer can use to increase his or her knowledge of the game through study.  Good luck and happy researching!


Tony Kelzenberg is a horseplayer that has contributed essays and commentary on handicapping and betting for Brisnet.com, AGameofSkill.com and Derek Simon’s TwinSpires.com’s podcasts dealing with International horse racing from Australia and Royal Ascot.  He is a very active student of pedigrees and hopes to get into the bloodstock business in the near future.  He also has a horse betting themed blog titled “The Flat Bet Prophet.”  He can be reached as ANTHONY KELZENBERG on Facebook or through e-mail:  TonyKelso@aol.com