With trials and jumpouts now easily accessible online, we see a lot of racing pundits using these when giving tips for races. Which is only right and sensible, especially for horses which are first up for a campaign and even more so when a horse is having their first lifetime start, in which case trials are the only form-line available.
However the pundits seem a bit ignorant of a few key aspects of trials and wise punters would do well to bear a few points in mind:
1 – WAS THERE EARLY PRESSURE?
There is usually no pressure early in a trial. As trials are largely educational (and also because riders are not fearing a bollocking for getting caught wide) the early furlongs are often a warm-up rather than the intense working for position that begins virtually every race. In this case the overall form of the trial is always going to be suspect. To assess just how suspect, you really want to check not only the time of the trial but also pull out your own stopwatch and see how fast or slow the early furlongs are – if they are closer to 13’s to 12’s, the trial probably has little relevance as a form guide.
2 – LEADER BIAS.
This is related to the point above, but slow sectionals early in a trial not only means that the form is suspect overall, but can also make it virtually impossible for a leader NOT to win. So the form of the leader in particular can be massively flattered by the results of a trial.
3 – FORMLINE.
The good pundits should, if they’re serious, be all over this one but the fact is the horses competing in a trial, especially when there is a smaller number of jumpouts, may not be racing in the same class come raceday. Here at Ballarat it is not unusual to have lightly-raced or unraced maidens trialling against horses rated in the 70’s or 80’s. In this case surely the maiden even finishing on the coat-tails of the better horses should constitute “a good trial”, even if they have finished 6th of 7.
4 – RIDER WEIGHTS (DON’T MISS THIS BIT!)
Even if all of the above factors are taken into account, many people seem remarkably ignorant of this, probably the most important factor in assessing a trial. There are no lead bags and no weighing procedure for trials. Generally speaking, each horse will carry a track saddle and packing of similar weight, so the difference between the weights the horses are carrying will be dictated solely by the weight of the rider.
It is not unusual for a horse to be ridden in a trial by a trackwork rider weighing possibly 65kgs or more, competing against an apprentice whose natural rate is 45kgs – that is, a 20kg spread.
Rules of thumb can vary but over a sprint trip this would equate to around a 10 length advantage for the horse ridden by the lightweight apprentice. Of course, there is a spread of weights in most trials and as such a spread of lengths, but the fact that this issue is virtually ignored by professional pundits is nothing short of staggering.
But hang on, you ask, can I really know the weights of all the riders in the trial? Well if you don’t you are missing a big piece of the puzzle!