I have been lucky over the years to make many good friends in racing. Some of them are involved professionally. One of my closest friends is a top Sydney racing journalist, whilst others bet often, frequently, sometimes, or in the case of one or two of them, not at all.

Statsman, for example, although in retirement, still does not have a bet. His protege, Chartist, like Statsman is fascinated by figures and is keen on the stock market, but he has followed in the master's footsteps.

Fortunately, none of the Equestrian team is anything other than an investor when they put their money down, be it on horses, shares, golfers or whatever. George Bellfield is the only one of us who is prepared to support the dishlickers. One day I will take him up on his offer and literally go around the traps with him.

I received a letter from one of my regular correspondents, Ian, the person formerly known as 007. Good old lan got me thinking when he mentioned Keith Miller, who just happened to be the childhood hero of both of us.

The last time I saw Keith was in 1988. Imposera had just won the Caulfield Cup at 50/1. Coincidentally, amongst the many requests for "The Best of The Optimist" was an email from Dorothy of Fairlight she referred me to the July 1988 issue of PPM, so I thought -"why not?"

You really should go back and have a look, if you've still got it. We were pioneers in racing computers and our middle spread was for a Commodore 64, usable with The Dark Horse (still, according to many, the greatest system ever produced in Australia) and a whole heap of extras.

Practical Punting Monthly was way ahead of its time. One of my best major products, The Elite, was featured, and some names that have appeared for years came back to me, faces and all. The generous and gentle John O'Sullevan, for example, whom so many will remember with affection.

Dorothy pointed me to something I said in Educating the Punter, in response to a question about The Dark Horse. A gentleman called Jack Weeks from Caboolture (that one threw my spellchecker into convulsions) wrote and asked how I felt about restricting systems to certain venues. Perhaps more precisely, Jack was asking why a system instructed users not to bet at a certain track. This of course raised the issue that has surfaced so frequently in racing: what good is anything based on past results?

I argued in that magazine that the system was based on an enormous sample. Any system based on half a dozen results, over half a dozen weeks, is a starting point for consideration, but it's not a major product. A system based on thousands of results which have been broken back to hundreds of results, and then further refined, is going to be much more likely to repeat itself so far as results are concerned.

You only have to look at any major racing carnivals to see that this is fact. Of course there will always be anomalies. Horses will win at 100/1 now and then, because that's how racing goes. But realistically, a major product, carefully defined and then refined, and based on a significant number of winners at good prices from a significant number of races, is one of the very best ways of staying solvent.

As to the specific question about omitting certain tracks, I am in favour of it, if a significant number of test results demonstrates that the track does not perform anywhere near as well as all the others. An example of this can sometimes be Moonee Valley.

I once designed a system that looked quite sound but was being very seriously held back by Moonee Valley. When I examined my figures, I discovered quite quickly that the vast majority of my winners were coming from back in the field, and that several of these had also been drawn fairly wide.

Either of those factors on its own probably would not have destroyed the system at the Valley, but together it looked as though they had done the job on my selections. As it happened, the system did not stand up to really rigorous examination that 1 like to apply before declaring a product, and it's buried somewhere in my old files. But I still remember simply taking a red pen and putting it through every Moonee Valley runner.

In the same issue of PPM, Doug Gibbons of Hadspen produced a system straight from the depths. Doug, I've actually stayed in lovely little Hadspen, just outside Launceston, since you wrote. I wonder if you are still there.

You were very angry at the time about a system purchased by a pal of yours. It still happens, Doug. The sharks are still out there. This one (how about this, readers?) advised purchasers to back the favourite for a place if it was 7/4 ($1.35) or below.

All you do is collect the dividend and bet all-up, until you reach $1 million. I'm not kidding, it's there on page 19. Let's just say that I was not very complimentary, and it appears that Doug was even less so, as I was unable to print what he suggested we should do with the seller. Let's just say it would have hurt.

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By The Optimist