Despite what you may read in handicapping books, you can't plan on 33 per cent winners at an average dividend of \$6.80 (for \$2 unit) for a 12 per cent profit on any particular day, week, month. year, or lifespan, even if that was your result for 1999 on 600 bets.

In fact, though while it's easy to keep track of daily wins and losses, trying to calculate how proficient your handicapping really is, isn't that easy.

Let's say you go to the track 40 weekends a year and bet 15 races every weekend. You're not going to be making win bets in all those races, so over the course of a year you might bet maybe 500 horses to win.

Your win percentage is a function not only of your handicapping ability, but also of the types of horses you bet. Bet mostly favourites and you'll win maybe 140 of those bets. Bet mostly longshots and you might not bit 40 winners.

It's important not to lump together the two groups or you'll get a completely misleading picture of your abilities.

Now comes the part that nobody wants to hear. Let's say this is your first year of punting. You make 500 bets at \$20 apiece and hit 40 winners at an average dividend of \$27 (for \$2 unit) for a profit of \$800 for the year.

Assuming you bet the same types of horses at the same types of odds the next year, how likely are you to repeat the result?

Sadly, there's not enough information to answer the question because you don't know if your result was typical, abnormally good or abnormally poor. You simply haven't made enough bets to know.

Standard deviation can be measured by the square root of the product of the number of trials multiplied by the product of your win percentage, times your loss percentage. In this example:

SD=SR (500x.08x.92)=6.

If you KNEW that you could continue to hit 8 per cent at the \$27 dividend, then you could use the above number to figure out how likely you'd be to do it again.

With a standard deviation of 6, your total number of wins the following year figures to range 95 per cent of the time between 28 wins (for a \$2440 loss) and 52 wins (for a \$4040 gain). That's quite a swing over a full year.

But the situation is really worse, much worse. Because, just maybe, those first 40 winners actually marked the high end of your ability, which might well on average be only 29 wins, a number that represents a 21.7 per cent loss on investment and, in fact, is much closer to the result achieved by the population as a whole.

Taking the standard deviation for 29 wins, next year your swing could be anywhere from 17 wins (a loss of \$5410) to 41 wins (a profit of \$1070).

So, if you're the average guy betting longshots and losing the track (TAB) take, you might, with luck, finish the year with a four figure profit, though, more likely, you'll wind up with a four-figure loss.

An especially good result doesn't necessarily mean you can triple your bets the following year.

This is a crucial concept to understand if you're going to bet serious money at the track. Varying results, even for a full year's play, are the norm, not the exception.

The bet simulations that you see in handicapping books, based as they are on unchanging results, are mostly exercises in wishful thinking. And the suggestion that you should monitor, say, 20 or 30 bets for an angle before using real money, are completely ridiculous.

Only a small portion of this discussion has considered tote prices. Less than 10 per cent of all races are won by horses paying \$27 or higher, and it's hard to maintain that kind of payoff average.

The \$27 prices of one year may give way to the \$21 prices the next, so if your hit rate stays the same, you turn a profit into a loss.

Betting low-odds horses gives you more stable results, but even predicting your hit rate here isn't easy.

Let's say that during one year you bet 1000 low-odds horses and hit 286 of them at an average dividend of \$7.40 (\$2 unit) for a profit on \$20 bets of \$1164. How likely is a similar result next year?

The standard deviation:

SD=SR (1000x.286x.714)=14.

The next year, assuming that 28.6 per cent wins at \$7.40 is your typical result, which we can't say for sure, you might well hit only 258 winners for a \$908 loss.

The fact is that, until you've bet thousands of races, not just hundreds, you may actually have very little idea about how likely you are to keep winning (or losing). And perhaps even that total might be misleading because maybe you're handicapping differently (better? worse? more longshots?) than you did 2000 bets ago.

And if most of your money goes into volatile bets, such as trifectas or first fours, it's virtually impossible to predict how you're going to do over time.

A single score might well turn around your season, while the lack of that big score may mean a losing year. Can you really budget for this?

Maybe you're a great handicapper and a winning bettor, or maybe you're a great handicapper and a losing bettor. So far, I've been a winning player. But maybe I've just been lucky. Hard to say for sure.

I can't say how I'm going to do in 2001, no matter what I might have done in previous years.

Neither can anyone else. Not even famous guys who write books, or guys who cashed half-a-million dollars in 1999 or 2000. It's never a good idea to think you're king of handicapping universe, no matter how you've done in the past.

The gods who run these things might just have selected you as a temporary resident at the good end of the Bell Curve. And maybe next time around, somebody else is going to be taking your spot while you are consigned to the bad end of that famous curve.

Making money at the racetrack is hard work, and never guaranteed Then again, if it was easy, where would the fun be?

Barry Meadow, regarded as one of America's greatest modern-day handicappers, has a monthly newsletter Meadow's Racing Monthly, which is available from TR Publishing, 4227 High Grove Rd, Templeton CA 93465, USA.

Check out his website at: www.trpublishing.com