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Punting Pointers: Barrier Trials

Punting Pointers is an eight-part series aimed at educating punters to help take their wagering aptitude to the next level. Brad Gray sought the insights of five of the most respected industry figures when it comes to punting, form analysis and bookmaking.

  • Trusting Your Eye
  • Barrier Trials
  • Speed Maps
  • Jockeys And Trainers
  • Favourite Types Of Races To Bet In
  • 10 Minutes To Do The Form…
  • Sectionals
  • Parting Advice

Most trainers in Sydney will trial their horse once, and often twice, before they resume their preparation but how much should punters factor them into doing the form? Is there still an edge to be had? Every punter will have their own opinion on this but what all of our five experts agreed on, in Part Two of the series, is that it is a specialist area. Start training that eye!

Dominic Beirne (@domran)

Trials are crucial but they don’t tell you everything about a horse unless you’ve got very granular data from a times perspective. The two most important factors in a barrier trial, which we’ve been observing and forming opinions about for 40 years, are the jockey pressure and the closing sectional. The combination of the two is important because any horse can be under a throttle hold and run no time but you want to find a horse that is not under a lot of pressure and runs a fast closing sectional, where your eye is telling you that it has many lengths up its sleeve.

People have definitely got an eye for barrier trials but once again it comes with practice and it comes with making honest post-race appraisals of how good your eye was. Eventually your practice will become perfected.

The untrained eye may have skimmed over Dynamited in his only trial

Rob Waterhouse (@RobWaterhouse)

Horses that trial well are very easy to lay as a bookmarker because people put a lot of stock in them. Barrier trials do play a part but I haven’t had much success with them over the years. It’s more of a specialist job for all sorts of reasons. Gai’s horses are there to see in barrier trials while other trainer’s horses are hidden away. Until a horse is extended how do you know how good it is?

With barrier trials you can’t say a horse deserves 'this' rating - all you can say is that it deserves a rating no more than this or a rating no less than this.

Nathan Snow (@snowbet)

They’ve been an enormous tool for me over the years. It used to be a huge edge but that has diminished. I used to pay for a VHS tape of barrier trials to be posted to me once a week and I’d say there would have been 10-15 people in the country that were viewing those trials. Now it’s just the click of a mouse and it’s all there. Convenience-wise it is wonderful. I still find there is an edge there just because it’s the one aspect of doing the form that is always going to be more art than science. Horses don’t have to try and it’s always going to be very hard to quantify in a figure what they are doing. Times are less important in trials too – they are a factor, but less important. It comes down to knowing what you are looking for.

For anyone starting out I would suggest watching each trial closely before jotting down whatever comes to mind. Keep referring to these notes when the horses go to the races. Go back and see what works and what doesn’t. What works for certain trainers is a big thing because trainers like their horses to trial in a certain way and when they trial differently it stands out.

The sort of things you are looking for are gate speed, which is very important, tractability, the action, which again comes from experience as you’ll come to find what a good actioned horse is, and how easily they are doing it as opposed to other horses. The grip of the jockey is also significant as they have all got different grips and how they are gripping the reins can tell you a lot about how the horse is travelling and what they’ve got left. The other thing is if they do give you a chance to see any sort of acceleration, which is always a big plus.

Sedanzer was a first up winner after displaying brilliant acceleration in her Randwick trial

Daniel O’Sullivan (@TRBHorseRacing)

It’s one of those things that I’m not big on. Not because I don’t believe in it, it’s just a case of you have to prioritise where you get the biggest value for your time investment in doing form. There are a lot of people that specialise in trials and I’m sure do very well out of it but that’s not an area I specialise in.

I’ll watch a couple of trials and I get all of the times and sectionals so if I’m interested in a first up horse I will check them in isolated cases. As a rule I’m not one who follows trial sessions each week and blackbooks horses that I want to be on first up. I’m more about looking at the race as it comes up and if there is a reason to look at a trial I will.

I don’t do a lot of betting in two-year-old races where the exposed form is very limited. That said, let’s say Performer and Bondi (out of the Breeders’ Plate) both turn up next week and every other horse was a first starter I’d still potentially bet in that race because I have formed an opinion of how good Performer might be and I don’t care how well something else has trialled.

The trial of Performer - arguably the benchmark two year old so far

John Walter (@J_Walter23)

It’s hard to ignore them now as nearly every city trainer gives their horses two trials before it goes to the races. Maybe that was like their first and second up run before so it is like trying to ignore them previously. The whole game has changed where barrier trials are hugely important. You’ll get 150 horses trialling in town on a Monday now.

I don’t look at the times as much but instead look at the horses themselves. The start is really important – what they are doing at the start tends to tell me more than what they are doing at the finish. A lot of people get carried away by big margin trial winners. There are big negatives that occur in trials and big positives and there are less people looking at trials from that perspective than races so there is more advantage in trials.

If they have led, been tested and accelerated away. There are big margin winners like that and then there are those that have led by six lengths, nothing has gone near it and they’ve still won by six. They seem to be treated very similarly by the market. You just treat them like another race so if you can quantify what they’ve done and say it’s all positive, good, but if there are a few chinks there that could be undone by race conditions that’s also a huge edge.

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