The Roar
The Roar


Secrets of picking winners in the mounting yard

(Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)
19th August, 2014
1645 Reads

Star Rolling won the big race at Caulfield last Saturday at the nice price of $10. Most experts forgot to tell you he was among the chances. Were there signs?

Were you one of the few who made the effort not only to go to the racecourse but to pick him out as the likely winner before the race in the mounting yard? If so, would you like to share your secret?

He was a good-class horse, racing first up from a spell – but so were most of the other main chances.

Since we know that Star Rolling, like the rest, is a hopeful for the Caulfield Cup and the Cox Plate, we wouldn’t expect him to be at his peak in mid August.

He proved fit enough to win by a nose over 1400 metres in a fair time of 1 minute 24.37 seconds. What made you pick him out?

Was there something in the way he moved as he walked around before the race? Did his coat gleam, was he relaxed, did he place his feet the way you like horses to walk, did he refrain from dumping manure in the yard, were there no signs of sweat?

These are some of the things that experienced horse watchers watch for, but the idea that you can reliably pick the winner on looks in the mounting yard is perilous.

On this topic I want to have five bob each way. There is a lot to learn, in picking winners, from watching the horses in the mounting yard. On the other hand if you make hard-and-fast rules such as never backing defecating neddies or spurning horses in a pre-race muck sweat, you might miss out on good winners at long odds.

It’s a bit like deciding never to back a horse with four white socks, or one owned by Lloyd Williams. Decision-making is easier but it’s not a sure thing.


Let’s go back to Star Rolling, ridden by Stephen Baster. When it came to the race, he narrowly beat the imported horse Spillway who had the services of Damien Oliver in the saddle.

This time last year, Spillway was knocking on the door of some Group races in small English fields at Newbury, Goodwood and York. He was then sold to Australia.

David Hayes trained Spillway to a win on a slow track over 2000 metres at the big autumn races at Randwick. Whether Spillway will rise to Cox Plate or Caulfield Cup class remains to be proven.

Hayes has just reinvented himself as a trainer by entering an official partnership with his nephew Tom Dabernig to rebrand the historically successful Lindsay Park reputation. Hayes is a shrewd psychologist of clients as well as of horses, and this initiative will bring results.

Star Rolling’s co-trainer Peter Morgan is older than Hayes and much less famous. He hopped on the partnership training bandwagon ahead of Hayes a couple of years ago when he teamed up with young Craig Widdison.

Was there a difference in the mounting yard on Saturday that could have told you that Star Rolling would narrowly defeat Spillway?

What about Puissance de Lune? He started a shortening favourite, chiefly because he is a publicised top-class horse who won the same race last year first up, and had top jockey Brad Rawiller back in the saddle.

Press reports say Rawiller criticised himself for a bad ride. So, back to the yard. Would you have preferred the grey Puissance de Lune, on looks, over Spillway or Star Rolling?


Common sense tells us that assessing a horse on looks before the race is just one part of the essential information we should gather before deciding which horse we might want to support.

What do you look for? I’ve spent years leaning over the rails watching the horses go round. I like the race-day stalls areas too, especially when it’s time to saddle up.

For me these are among the best parts of the racecourse but I’m no horseman and I still can’t say I’ve mastered the art of picking winners on the hoof.

If you pay people who say they can, you are a mug. Why would they spend time selling tips to amateurs when they could be making a fortune backing their fancies?

I like a horse who has the right physique for the distance. I like chunky sprinters and lean stayers. I prefer a relaxed horse to a jittery one. I prefer an alert horse to a depressed one.

I do worry over the horse who’s sweating up on a mild day, but I remember hearing about a shrewd old trainer in the bush who used to apply shampoo around the hindquarters to simulate sweat and improve odds in the betting ring.

At least if you watch them before the race you get to know the horses as people, rather than as numbers or form-guide statistics.

“Magnificent creatures, aren’t they?” mused a woman looking up at the television screen at a TAB agency which I was recently researching.


“Hmmm?” said her male companion, scrutinising the form guide.

“The horses – beautiful, aren’t they – with the sun on their coats?”

He looked up, and for a moment he saw what she was saying.

Here is another observation. Success lends enchantment to how we see a horse. Phar Lap in his early wins was described as a big raking gelding, but plain.

Even after Phar Lap took the Victoria Derby on top of Sydney’s AJC Derby one of the best-informed experts of the day called him “a good average Derby winner”. The horse matured of course. The more handsome he became the more races he won.

Star Rolling is looking pretty good to me right now.