They say that statistics can be made to prove anything. This might be true in some walks of life, but in racing the statistics drawn up over many years and tens of thousands of races can prove a devastatingly accurate guide to the future.

Tasmanian racing expert Roger Biggs has become the "king of stats" in Australia by way of his books Handicapping For 21C (1998) and Thoroughbred Handicapping Tables (1999) and now, with his latest publication, Adventures In Handicapping.

This new book is a goldmine for those punters who like to sift through masses of statistics on racing in a bid to find the way, the truth and the light.

Biggs has drawn on a database of some 2 million performances in more than 200,000 races. But, as the author points out, no particular conclusion is reached.

He says: "If you're looking for the Holy Grail, then these books will signpost your way, but they're not really intended to deliver a system which will define that if you follow this or that key factor then squillions of dollars results."

Biggs sets out on a path that takes the reader from the statistics for metropolitan favourites right through to myriad combinations, such as breakdowns for distances, provincial and country favourites, and so on.

Let's just take a peek at the stats for metropolitan Saturday favourites. The strike rates, from 1991-92, go 30.4 per cent, then 31.9, 30.5, 33.8, 29,8, 32.0, 31.2 to 28.3 in 1998-99.

Interestingly, provincial and country favourites at Saturday meetings show a 36.3 per cent winstrike rate for favourites, and 34.1 per cent for weekday meetings.

Says Biggs: "Nobody can make much money out of following favourites blindly whether you're a city slicker or a country punter, unless you can find a way to discriminate between likely winning favourites and possible losing favourites."

This is an excellent book for the punter who wants to make some sense of statistics.

I can't say I'm quite as enthused about Dr David Edelman's The Compleat Horseplayer, described by Robbie Waterhouse (yes, he of the bookmaking family fame) as the book that will change your life as a punter.

Okay, maybe it's just me, but I thought Dr Edelman spends a great deal of the book pointing out the bleeding obvious.

By the time I got to the convoluted mathematical equations towards the end, my eyes were glazing over.

But let me strive to be fair. The good doctor, a Californian who lectures at the University of Wollongong, in NSW, lays out the case for the various factors in racing with diligence and enough maths' stuff to either send you into raptures or frighten the life out of you.

Many punters may well find this book leads them to a new age of enlightenment. If so, good luck to them. As for me? Well, I found it interesting but the earth didn't move.

Jim Lehane's Calibration Handicapping is a 118-page book that will, if nothing else, set you to thinking about applying new ways of going through the form.

His book is addressed to American racing but there are enough novel ideas in it to awaken the interest of any Aussie or Kiwi desperate for a new angle.

Basically, Lehane makes the point that, if a profit is to be made, you will only achieve, it with new, ground-breaking techniques that are unknown to your fellow punters. His "calibration" approach involves what he calls "pace shape", "moves within a race" and "internal fractions comparison".

Lehane is keen on matching up "running styles"; that is, identifying and comparing running styles for every horse entered in a race that you have deemed worthy of handicapping and possibly betting.

He contends that the main reason why 65 per cent of favourites lose is because of unfavourable running style match-ups.

Sound interesting and just a little bit wacky? Well, it is. I found it an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.

Adventures In Handicapping by Roger Biggs,
available from SHS, P.O. Box 123, Cygnet, Tasmania 7112.

The Compleat Horseplayer by Dr David Edelman,
published by De Mare Consultants, 31 Alanson Avenue, Bulli, NSW 2516.

Calibration Handicapping by Jim Lehane,
available from Pickwick Publishing, 353 Halstead Avenue, PMB 86, Harrison, NY 10528, USA.

By Richard Hartley Jnr