Many punters rely to a great extent on the 'vital statistics' of racing to guide them into their choice of horse for any particular race. In other words, they are swayed by history into trying to make their punting days happy ones.

There is a lot to this approach. History in racing can be a most pertinent factor, especially in regards to major races (the Melbourne Cup is a classic example of a race in which history can lead you to winners).

In this series of articles, I am discussing the various aspects of statistics that are available to us which may be a help in determining our selections. In this article, I will talk about the importance, or otherwise, of tipsters' polls, or consensus choice I most favoured' columns in your newspapers.

Let's examine the most up-to-date figures I have on how the tipsters perform.

WINNER'S POSITION IN TIPSTERS' POLLS (before scratchings)

POSITION IN
PAPER POLL
% STRIKE % TOTAL
1st26.5 26.5
2nd17.1 43.6
3rd12.8 56.4
4th7.0 63.4
5th6.8 70.2
6th5.4 75.6
7th5.2 80.8
8th2.5 83.3
9th onwards or not in the poll 16.7100.0

PLACEGETTERS FROM TIPSTERS' POLL

POSITION IN
PAPER POLLS
% STRIKE % TOTAL
1st 57.0 57.0
2nd 45.0 102.0
3rd 34.0 136.0
4th 29.0 165.0
5th 26.3 191.3
6th 15.5 206.8
7th 14.5 221.3
8th 8.0 229.3
9th or longer or not in poll 70.70 300.0

What we can see from the first statistical graph is that most consensus polls, comprising the top three choices of the newspaper tipsters, will secure the winner of around 56 per cent of races. That is, a total of 300 selections in 100 races will get 56 winners.

The most recent example I can find, as I write this, is the Randwick meeting of July 24, when the Telegraph-Mirror's consensus column ('most favoured') got 4 winners on the 8-race card (50 per cent). The same newspaper's Caulfield consensus selections managed only 3 winners from 8 races. In the weekly formguide The Wizard, full reckonings are published of their own 'consensus' selections and we see that the first selection in Sydney has a strike rate of around 23.5 per cent.

This tallies fairly closely with my statistics, which have been collected over more than a decade, which show that the tipsters' poll first selection has achieved an overall strike rate of 26.5 per cent (down from 26.8 per cent for the eight years up to October, 1986).

The problem with this strike rate is that the prices at which the winners arrive are usually not big enough to provide for any profit to be made. Even on a good day you are going to be lucky to collect more than 50 per cent on your level stake investment (8 out, 12 back).

But, nevertheless, the tipsters do provide a reasonably rational guide to the best prospects in a race. After all, you can refer to a good tipsters' poll (and I have always used those with 7 or more tipsters) and by looking at the first four selections you will know about 63 per cent of the time that the race winner is in the four!

Narrowing things down even more, the first two selections listed in the most favoured consensus will, over a long period, pick the winner of some 43 to 44 per cent of all races. That's not a bad strike rate.

Now, though, we come to another problem - losing runs. What sort of losing runs can be expected from the tipsters' poll first selections? Well, in my experience the losing runs are frequent but not too lengthy. On average, they might go for anything from two to eight races.

The longest would be a couple of meetings (say 16) though in recent times I have counted only a couple of losing runs of some 13 losses. Enough to make you understand that no selection approach is without its pitfalls!

My advice, then, is to make use of the tipsters' polls in a general sort of way. Don't rely on them to produce a flow of value-priced winners - you'll be disappointed. Be prepared to accept the fact that the winners, most times, will be favourites, and a high proportion of these will be HOT favourites.

Newspaper tipsters are not known for their adventurous spirit. They will inevitably 'go with the herd' or 'lead the herd' in their tipping. Only a few dare to take risks and shoot for real value.

NEXT MONTH: We take a look at the finish position of winners at their last start - and their last two starts. How many last-start winners actually go on and repeat? How many horses win after running 2nd last start?