In the United States, they say no-one writes with more authority and verve on horse-racing than Andy Beyer. We've had a look ourselves at some of Beyer's thoughts on and advice about racing and betting in P.P.M. in the last few years.)

There's little doubt that in America, the name Andy Beyer signals artistry with the dollar bill at the track, and with pen on paper (he's the racing columnist for the Washington Post and has written a number of fine books on racehorse handicapping and speed figures).

But though Beyer may be a titanic force in his homeland he has recently confessed that Australian racing beat him. He came over here for a three-and-a-half month visit with his wife Susan in 1990-1991, literally dribbling at the mouth with the prospect of using his speed ratings (dynamically successful in the USA) to exploit Aussie racing and clean up a fortune.

His thinking was that because we, as a nation of punters, place little emphasis on 'times' and 'speed ratings', he could come in and exploit that apparent hole in the market, cashing in on overlays.

In his brilliant new book, 'Beyer On Speed', he writes: " Maybe it would be possible to make the equivalent of a trip back in time by going to Australia, where I could be the only person on a great continent armed with a set of speed figures?"

The concept was fine and Beyer admits he became so obsessed that he carefully planned that long visit, persuaded the Washington Post to allow him to write his column from Down Under, and five months before departure began to immerse himself in Australian racing form (via the Sportsman). He gradually drew up his own Aussie speed ratings.

He learned to understand the strengths and weaknesses of horses at different class levels and at different tracks. He became even more excited when, during one day's work in the library of the Australian Embassy in Washington, he saw that a horse he had rated with a 10-point edge in the figures had won at Rosehill at 20/1.

"I told Susan seriously over dinner that night that our trip might turn into a permanent stay; we might win so much money in Australia that we couldn't afford to leave," writes Beyer.

He and Susan moved into an apartment in Kirribilli in Sydney, studied computerised form and watched videos and prepared to let loose. But, ah, like so many wild dreams in the world of gambling, this one was not as perfect as it appeared.

Beyer writes: "If I was slightly unprepared for some of the difficulties involved in handicapping, I was utterly stunned by the sophistication of the Australian racing industry - and of the local punters who would be my rivals.

"When I arrived in Sydney, I thought of myself as a wise guy coming to a backward country. But after my first Saturday at Rosehill racecourse, I realised that the backward racing industry was the United States'."

He soon discovered how Sydney's bookies could be uncannily accurate in their pricing. Many times Beyer's speed figures chose horses at 50/1 and longer. He tells how he would "walk up to the bookies with the swaggering confidence that I knew something they didn't. And yet, in every single case, my horses performed like a true 50/1 shot, running miserably."

His speed figures did pick winners, but they were usually short-priced and everyone else picked them as well! Beyer was soon paying a high financial price for his Oz racing education.

His first two-and-a-half months betting here produced a net loss, but in the final six weeks he made something of a comeback, cashing a $6,000 superfecta and then collaring a $10,000 trifecta when Glenhaven Boy scored at Rosehill.

The final kick in the teeth was to back Moville Peter at 55/1 on the tote with a $400 bet and see him beaten a half length at Tamworth! At the end of his visit, he had netted a profit of $500, before expenses.

Summing up, he says: "Given the competitive nature of the gambling game in Australia, I suppose I could have rationalised that this was a respectable performance but I felt both disappointed and confused." He thinks the blame for his lack of success can be placed on the critical difference between turf and dirt racing, with which, of course, he is more familiar.

Whatever it was, Andy Beyer left Australia with the betting blues. He reckoned he could donkey-lick the game here but, like so many others before him, racing beat him.

Beyer, of course, took on a most difficult task. It is hazardous to come in on another country's racing setup and hope to beat it. There are far too many nuances to the formlines that can only be understood by people who have grown up with their own racing.

An Australian going to America would find it extremely difficult to come to terms with racing over there, no matter how many Daily Racing Form guides they studied before making the trip. There is nothing like hands on experience.

Read Andy Beyer's book, 'Beyer On Speed', because it's thoroughly entertaining and has many pertinent points to make about handicapping and betting strategies.

* BEYER ON SPEED, by Andrew Beyer (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, Mass, USA) available in Australia through the Horseman's Bookshop, Kensington, Sydney.

By Brian Blackwell