In Picking Winners: a Horseplayer’s Guide, Andrew Beyer discusses his meeting with Steve Davidowitz, a young punter, while sitting on a bench near a paddock at Saratoga Racetrack.

After a discussion on the chances of the day Andrew realised Steve “was the most brilliant student of handicapping I had ever met” and he learned ?Steve’s punting journey, like his own, was also littered with a passion to win consistently at the races.

Over the years Steve had learned there were different ways to win at certain tracks because what could happen at one track could not happen at another even if only 60 miles apart.

As Andrew stated, ?“Here it was, the Secret of Beating The Races. There was no one secret! The game is diverse and is perpetually changing. Handicapping rules of a year ago are obsolete today. The winning horseplayer is the one who can observe and adapt to the ever changing conditions of the sport.”

In Australia we can liken this change to the ever increasing emphasis placed on speed races with the introduction of the Magic Millions concept as one major influence on owners to buy horses likely to provide quick returns on their initial investment.

Although in no way denigrating the performance is it realistic to say our best 2000m horse for the year was nine-year-old Fields Of Omagh who came from last to win the best race on the Australian calendar, the WS Cox Plate?

How would Fields Of Omagh have gone in the Arc De Triomphe and other world class races? Yes, he would have run well but winning it would have stretched the imagination.

However, the deeds of Choisir and Takeover Target on the world stage, as sprinters, have been a revelation and do make one wonder about our stayers. Remember we have been spoilt a fraction with the champion mare Makybe Diva winning three Melbourne Cups . . . but in her last two wins she beat On A Jeune and She’s Archie, not exactly world names. In 2006, the Japanese scored the Cup quinella – is this “one of the ever changing conditions” Andrew Beyer mentioned? Time will tell!

After serious discussions with Steve Davidowitz it dawned on Andrew that a term which we ALL now know as “Track Bias” was evident at many of the racetracks he bet at. When he coupled his speed figures with any evident track bias “I am inclined to bet all I can and then some. Such horses offer the best gambling opportunities in all of racing”.

There have been literally millions of words used on punting forums about track bias in Australia. Some punters debunk bias as mere poppycock regardless of comments made by riders and trainers whilst others are devotees and basically look for bias even before the first race!

All I will say is that I believe it exists BUT a serious perusal of sectional times needs to be made before any real conclusions can be made as what sometimes appears as bias is actually just the way the race is run.

Although Andrew slaughtered the US TAB with his combination of track bias and speed figures knowledge, Australian punters need to be aware many of the tracks he discusses were dirt tracks and not always grass as we experience. It was in another area where Andrew really cemented a further advantage and that was in the area of trainers.

According to Andrew “no trainer is perfectly good or completely bad. Many of the factors that horseplayers tend to view in absolute, dogmatic terms are actually variables that depend largely on the trainer”.

Think about that sentence – it makes a lot of sense. Although we punters might shy away from first-uppers some trainers will bring the first-up figures down whilst others are excellent and will increase the statistical side of first-uppers.

During the 1972 meeting at Saratoga, Steve and Andrew were astounded and confounded by the training involving one particular trainer of many winners whose winners both selectors seldom rated highly.

Before their 1973 excursion to the same venue (you need to remember due to weather conditions some tracks do not race all year and have what we call carnivals where they might race for only X amount of weeks ?bar special days off) Andrew analysed all of this trainer’s runners to the nth degree and found patterns which, this time, in 1973, fitted the leading trainer bar one winner.

When Andrew interviewed the trainer about the odd winner the trainer stated that the horse did fit one of the patterns required pre-race and that the workout was just simply missed and not recorded by the clockers!

Andrew summed it all up when he said, ?“Trainers may have patterns they do not even recognise themselves. A horseplayer who learns their methods will have knowledge more valuable than any inside information he could receive from a stable.”

On New Year’s Day, ?the John Hawkes trained Grandiloquent won at 7/1 just two days after winning on December 30. In a post-race interview the stable foreman mentioned this horse had once raced admirably when having three runs in days days. Surely a keen student of a trainer’s methods would have picked that up: the form guide indicated this was one tough horse and a win was on the cards.

Three years after writing Picking Winners . . . Andrew wrote My $50,000 Year at the Races. ?One of the great joys of life is to have a passion and if ever there was a punter with passion Andrew Beyer epitomises the word with a capital P.

The first sentence in the book sets the scenario for another insight into the man when he says, “When I started playing the horses I often dreamed about being a great professional gambler. A man who could live by his wits at the racetrack would have the most independent, exhilarating, satisfying existence that I could imagine. The reality was that it took years before I achieved my first breakthrough in 1970. After making more than a hundred trips to the track, after devoting practically all my mental energy to the Racing Form, after pushing nearly $20,000 through the betting windows I showed a profit of $99.60.”

Over the following years Andrew beat the game but he never realised the potential he felt he had to join the elite of the racetrack: those that could win $50,000 per year or more. Before he could undertake the serious journey of transforming limited success to realising full potential he decided to speak to the only gambler he knew who had achieved the goal he was striving for: a man named Charlie.

Charlie was respected by all in the “jealous little world of the racetrack”. Andrew asked him, “Is there anything ?that you and all the other pros have in common.” His answer was a revelation. “One thing. We are all specialists.”

Charlie, too, was a specialist who “a few times a year would find a situation where a horse impressed him in his previous races, looked good on the track and was entered under optimal conditions”.

Charlie, according to Andrew, “had become an extraordinarily successful professional gambler because he recognised his own areas of expertise and capitalised on them. I had not. I had begun my handicapping career as most people do, looking for some universal formula that would produce nine winners a day”.

After discussions with Charlie, Andrew took inventory and identified his strengths and weaknesses (some people know this as SWOT analysis). The inventory showed he had become a winning horseplayer via speed handicapping, trainer patterns and track biases.

Although he was confident of his selecting skills he was not as confident about his betting skills; he “liked to gamble too much. I cannot imagine sitting through an entire racing program (like Charlie could do for weeks) without placing a bet”.

There was also the fascination he had with winning and losing streaks and how to handle both in a controlled manner. Eventually a $10,000 losing streak had to occur before“ I had the most valuable piece of information that a horseplayer could ever want. I knew what made me win or lose”.

So what happened? Before you read on I want you to think about YOUR winning and losing streaks. In fact, I am thinking about a recent losing streak of my own that has now finally abated. Losing streaks are the most interesting because if we eliminate them we must only have winning streaks! ?Alas, if it were only that easy. OK, I assume you have had a think so read on.

I paraphrase Andrew with, “As I reviewed my streak I saw for the first time it was a pattern that was as predictable as the cycles of the seasons. I always began the pattern with my back to the wall short of money so I would concentrate intensely and bet modest sums and start to win.

“I would bet more boldly and win more heavily. Then one of two things would hit my infallibility. Sometimes a photo would go against me or a bet was missed that would throw me off stride completely and I would chase the loss aggressively and become impatient. During winning streaks I would become over confident and develop sloppy habits and when the tide turned against me I bet more aggressively yet I could not force myself to make a tactical retreat.

“Failure would beget more failures and I would be trapped in a losing streak. It would last until some disaster left me with my back to the wall ready to start the cycle again. My mental state determined my fortunes at the track. If I were to win the desired goals I would have to shrug off the disappointments.”

So there you have it. Losing streaks are often self-imposed!

By Roman Kozlovski