P.P.M.'s experts Brian Blackwell and Martin Dowling are flooded each week with queries from our readers. The questions they ask cover every facet of racing.

In this article, Brian and Martin have selected questions they feel many punters would like answered. This is the first in a series of question and answer' sessions that we will be publishing from time to time. Send your racing queries to Brian Blackwell at P.P.M. P.O. Box 551, Dee Why, N.S.W. 2099.

Q: Is it true that younger horses can reach full fitness more quickly than older horses?

A: Generally speaking, yes. Older horses usually need at least three runs, probably four or five, to reach peak fitness while 2yos and 3yos perform well at their second and third runs from a spell. The majority of first-up winners will be aged three or four.

Q: How can a punter truly detect a confirmed wet tracker, if it hasn't won in the wet conditions before?

A: A tough one! Breeding is a guide. We suggest you note down the sires of horses which win in slow and heavy going; you can then refer to the 'wet sires' list when analysing an untried 'wet' performer. If a horse has been placed on slow and heavy going, and finished less than three lengths from the winner, you can more or less assume it can handle the going.

Q: How important are barrier draws?

A: It depends on the track ' the starting gate position, and a horse's individual ability~ Some horses have the speed to overcome a wide draw. Some race starts give a 400m run to the first turn, thus allowing wide drawn horses to find a position before cornering. One good rule to bear in mind-the first seven inside positions are definitely an advantage in any race.

Q: Can you recommend any weekly race results guides, and also reliable weekly Ratings publications?

A: For full results of all Australian racing, subscribe to Australian Race Results from the VRC at Queen's Road, Melbourne. Each month's results are contained in one publication and mailed out. George Tafe's results and ratings service is recommended (details P.O. Box 89, Maleny, Qld).

Q: I often see races in Sydney listed as being for '4yo. and upwards' and I have been treating them as Open handicaps, but a friend tells me I'm wrong.

A: Your friend is right. Many punters are confused by these restricted type races. These races are in fact Restricted Handicaps. They are restricted to eligible horses 4yo., 4yo. and upwards, or 3yo. and upwards, or to colts, horses and geldings only, or to fillies and mares (f and m) only. Eligible horses are those whose total wins do not exceed two races in any metropolitan area of any State, and any other country. According to Don Scott's racing 'bible' Winning More, a Restricted race like this is rated 9 kgs inferior to an Open Handicap.

Q: I had a discussion with a friend recently about how much weight is equivalent to a length in racing. I said it was 1.5 kgs. My friend said this amount of weight should vary according to the distance of the race. Is he right?

A: He is . and he isn't. Many professional punters operate on the one rule of 1.5 kgs being the equivalent of a length. But there are others who argue that weight is less important over shorter distances and more important when a race is longer. Their scale is like this: 900m to 1000m, one length equals 3kgs; from 1100m to 1350m, 2.5 kgs; from 1400m to 1800m, 2 kgs; from 1850m to 2400m, 1.5 kgs; over 2400m, 1 kg. Our own opinion is that the one rule of 1.5 kgs to a length is fine.

Q: I always scan trackwork reports when making my selections, but I wonder if I am right in thinking that the fastest worker is the best? What's your view of trackwork times?

A: They can be totally misleading. The fact that a horse doesn't make fast time in a workout doesn't necessarily mean it worked badly. Fast gallops are not necessarily great gallops. Many horses that clock sparkling times are not good racehorses. A lot of horses need only a light preparation and never work fast. Some need only easy and long gallops at three-quarter pace. Many horses are what is known as 'morning glories'-they blaze away over 800m but can't go a yard further. Proven race performances are always the best guide.

Q: I like to back trifectas but I rarely have much luck. Can you recommend one easy method of backing trifectas without spending vast amounts of money?

A: We've always believed that the best way of going after trifectas is by selecting a banker to win, and then coupling it with up to seven other horses/dogs. This costs as follows: Banker to win from three others $6, from four others $12, from five others $20, from six others $30, from seven others $42. These are for $1 units. In the Melbourne Cup or Caulfield Cup, and other big-fields major races, we suggest you link your banker with 10 others for $90.

Q: What do you think are a punter's worst enemies?

A: Indecision, lack of confidence, overconfidence, lack of patience, fear of losing.

Q: If I wanted to couple up 10 horses in a quinella box how much would it cost me, using 50 cent units?

A: A boxed quinella covering this many horses would cost you $22.50, but you would need a lot of luck to cover your expenditure because you are looking for a quinella at odds of more than 44-1 to just break even.

Q: How important is a horse's form over the distance of the race it is now about to contest?

A: This is a variable. In races of 2400m and longer, a horse's ability to run the journey is vitally important. There are many keen judges who will never back a horse to win over 2400m if it hasn't won or been closely placed to a win over the trip. They will not even back 2000m winners to run 2400m the first time. They prefer to wait and see how it performs against tried and tested 2400m gallopers.

Q: I get confused with the different classes of races. Welters, Flyings, Improvers, Progressives, etc. How can I be properly informed about them?

A: Don Scott's book Winning More has a full explanation of Class for all States of Australia, and for New Zealand. Watch for an upcoming issue of P.P.M., too, when we will list all Classes with explanations. Refer, as well, to Brian Blackwell's popular Invader Ratings (P.P.M. Annual 1987).

Q: I often pick out horses but get scared off them. when no-one else selects them and they come up 33-1 or more in the betting. Is this a common complaint among punters?

A: It sure is. We're always surprised when we hear that people worked out that a certain horse could win and then never backed it because the price was too long. If you believe a horse can win you should back it despite what anyone else says. The time to think twice is when a horse is too short in the betting! It's amazing how many times all the other people are wrong in assessing a race. Only recently, we decided that a 2yo. was the top-rated horse in a Sydney race and yet everyone else ignored it. The horse, Flaming  Road, won at 40-1.

Q: I've won quite a bit of money backing horses at odds-on, yet I am always reading that I shouldn't support horses 'in the red'. What do you think?

A: We're not keen at all on odds-on chances. You tend to risk a lot to be rewarded with little. If you can pick the right horses among the 'in the reds' then that's OK. But, in the long run, you are likely to end up losing. Value is always the name of the game. Look for value with every bet you make.

Q: What's your advice to a rooky punter?

A: Don't overbet. Adopt a long-term policy in relation to your betting. Read the article in this issue of P.P.M. about running your punting activities as you would a business.

Q: I tried to make a living from punting in the 1970s and failed. I went back to work, saved up $5,000 and had another go, but lost the lot in nine months. How do these professional punters do it?

A: It's not easy. But broken down into different set goals it becomes easier. If you seek to make $600 a week from punting and you attend four meetings a week, you need to win $150 each meeting. Over a year, you need to make around $30,000. If you hope to win 10 per cent on your actual turnover of bets, you would need to be turning over $300,000 a year. This seems a lot but it isn't really. Don't forget you are turning over your money a number of times with different bets. You might take $500 to a meeting but your turnover may be around $1,000 or more. To be a successful professional punter, you need an ample bank, confidence, the ability to pick winners and the sense to back the winners properly. You'd also read P.P.M.

Q: Can you recommend an easy staking plan for me? I am pretty good with my selections but I do get runs of six and seven losers in a row.

A: One that we always recommend goes like this: $1, $1, $1, $2, $2, $3, $4, $5, $7, $9. A winner at any stage at 3-1 or more will produce a profit. Then 10 bets costs $35. If you wanted to go further, your next bet would be $12, then $16, then $21. You would need a bank of 10 times your initial run of a possible $35 - that means $350.

By Brian Blackwell and Martin Dowling