Winners have the last laugh. As we have said on many occasions, they can laugh, while the losers can please themselves. The time I laugh most on the racetrack is not when I back a winner, but when I avoid backing a loser.

A special kind of loser, actually. The kind that has been shouted from the rooftops all day, the kind that has been "set for this race", I run a slashing secret trial (that everyone knows about!)", and "was dead last start".

You know that last bit is the biggest giveaway of the lot that the person telling you does not know what he is talking about. Of course some horses go out for the exercise, but they don't run "dead". They are resuming from a spell, or are stayers getting ready for longer races, or else their trainers are desperately trying to set them up for a slightly easier race in the near future, but that doesn't mean they are dead.

Always be suspicious of this kind of assertion. For one thing, ask where the information came from. A knowing wink usually means that it's a load of codswallop, invented by someone trying to tell you he knows something when he really is just getting on the bandwagon. If you are told there is "a tip around for Tailwagger" at the dogs that night, rest assured that, if Tailwagger is set to win, no-one is going to tell you! Let's face it, why would they let perfect strangers know? What's more, why would they tell loudmouths like the chap who is telling you???

No, the only way to laugh when that happens is to NOT BACK THE ANI-MAL. I can guarantee that you will be very pleasantly surprised many more times than you will be disappointed. It's very pleasurable to be able to sit back quietly after a race and say to yourself, I well, I didn't fall for that one; my money is still here in my pocket."

When you meet Johnny Tipster after the race (if you can't avoid him) he will in all likelihood not mention the race at all, unless he has a sad; sad story of just how stupid the jockey was, or how our dishlicker friend, Tailwagger, was blinded by a clod of dirt when looming up to win. Never, ever will you be told that the information (for want of a better word) was wrong.

Already we are reading reports about animals being set for the 1986 Melbourne Cup. My advice is to ignore anything pertaining to the Cup until October next year, and that way you won't throw money away on early doubles. Seriously, now, do you know anyone who has ever had a good win on the early doubles? Neither do I.

You will be able to laugh, and have the last laugh, by not indulging in early prepost doubles. If you win one, you will be the first person I have ever met who is successful, so do write and tell us if it has happened to you (I don't expect many letters)

There are several professionals who won't touch a horse that hasn't run for a certain number of days, regardless of all other considerations. I was looking at PPM's Statsman's article on page 18 of the November issue, and it set me thinking about this. We have an abundance of information these days and should be able to establish ground rules for racing. Days since last start should be one of those rules. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and one that comes to mind for this one is the team trained by master trainer Brian Mayficid-Smith, whose horses are usually super-fit at their first start after a spell.

Nevertheless, a rule is a rule, and there is an overall logic in not backing any horse that has not performed in, say, four to 14 days. You might lower that to three days or raise it to 21 (which seems to be the maximum in most people's opinion), but once you've made your decision it makes things a lot simpler. I dug out an old book by the great Clif Cary because I knew he had some statistics on this subject and the winners panned out like this:

days since last startpercentage total
within 730.6 30 ' 6
8-1436.7 67.3
15-2118.1 85.4
22-285.7 91.1

So it looks, from this survey which covered thousands of horses, as if the big gap is after a fortnight, with less than one third of winners having a break of longer than this. Naturally, this is not the end of the story, and there are numerous other factors to consider, but it is a factor that seems to hold up, whatever survey you look at. It's as consistent as the one that proves favourites win between 30 and 35 races in every 100.

If you look back at what we were saying about the Melbourne Cup, you will find that there is every good reason to wait for the last couple of weeks before even starting to make decisions about that very difficult race. There are two chances in three that the winner will have run in the previous two weeks.

Every year, Doxa, a voluntary organisation that assists underprivileged kids, puts out a racing diary. They haven't asked, but I though it would be the decent thing for a journal such as ours to tell all racing folk that you can buy this diary for $8 ' post paid, complete with nearly two hundred pages of racing information and a 1986 diary. I have one for 1985 and have, of course, bought a 1986 version. You can get it at Mitty's, or by writing to Doxa Youth Welfare Foundation, 2nd Floor, 358 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne 3000. Don't write to us, we haven't got any except our own!!!

The very best laugh, and the very last as well, is winning. Winning means not losing, and those of you who tend to read my articles as a group rather than separate will probably notice that I had a theme in mind this month: caution, with a view to not losing. It's hard enough to stay solvent during the festive months without giving away money to the opposition. I said to you last month that there is opportunity to win over the holiday period, and this month I have stressed that with so many races and meetings you must use this to your betting advantage. Remember that you can skip a whole meeting and there will be two or more the next day!

All you have to do, if you simply can't find a winner on a programme, is pretend that it's Sunday, have fun listening to the races (or go along but leave your wallet home and just take small change), and get ready for Monday's meetings. There will be so many, you can afford to skip the dangerous ones. Look for horses that repeat over the carnival. Those that win and appear again within a week are often very good bets (see my comments elsewhere on this point). Most of all, have a marvellous Christmas and a wonderful New Year. See you in 1986.

By The Optimist