There's no point in devising detailed betting strategies unless you're a winning player. And the only way to discover the truth about your play is to keep records. You can't run a business without a set of books, yet I'm constantly amazed by the number of bettors who have no real idea how they do at the track.

Perhaps it's that most players lose, and nobody likes to have defeat rubbed in his face. Still, haphazard records lead to haphazard conclusions.

Short samples are useless and misleading. Example: In their book Racetrack Betting, authors Peter Asch and Richard E. Quandt examined the performance of a certain computer handicapping program.

In 103 plays, the program showed a 41 per cent profit. But the sample included a $134 winner; take that horse away and the program compiled a 25 per cent loss.

So what was the truth? Was the program a solid winner, a horrible loser that couldn't even match the takeout, or what? Darned if I know, the sample was too tiny.

The greater the variation in payoffs. the larger the sample size you need to draw fair conclusions.

If you're checking a place betting system whose payoffs average $1.30 (for $I), for instance, a sample of 100 bets would probably be adequate. But if you are studying a trifecta method where the payoffs vary from $16 to $16,000, even a study of 4,000 bets may not give 20 you enough information from which to draw a legitimate conclusion.

Nonetheless, you must start somewhere, and by recording every bet you make, you'll discover the truth about your racetrack betting. The most efficient way to do this is via computer, but even a handwritten ledger is far more than most players even attempt.

Let's look at what a computer can do for you. Do your repeaters repeat? Do you win your $10 bets while losing your $50 plunges? How much success have you had playing the track's leading trainer in certain races?

Most bettors don't know, which is one reason why so many do not improve their performance from one year to the next. But a computer can show you exactly how, and what, you're doing. While many of the facts you'll learn are merely interesting, some nuggets may cause you to fundamentally alter your approach, and possibly increase your profits dramatically.

While many bettors use computers for handicapping and record keeping in areas such as trainer statistics, few use them to analyse their bets. That's too bad, because HOW you bet, not merely how many winners you pick, will determine your success.

Until the advent of computers, keeping detailed bet records was difficult. Few players bothered with anything more complex than profit and loss totals.

But now it's easy to track down a dozen variables or more, and the sharp bettor will gain insights into his own betting that he never could with simple handwritten notebooks.

The key is database management software. They all work in the same way. You enter bits of data, then ask the software to do certain tasks with the information.

Summing up, about betting in general, to make money at the racetrack you must learn about horses, races and MONEY.

Learn about horses and races to become proficient enough to make ; price line, which is your assessment of the relative chances of each hors in a race. Learn about money to be,, exploit flaws in the public line.

Picking winners is over-rated. You can make money at the races even if you pick very few winners. You can lose money even if you pick plenty.

Shopping for bargains, not just picking winners, is the key to making money at racetrack betting. Seek overlays - those horses being sent away at MORE than their true odds.

How to find the true odds is the greatest challenge of handicapping. But whether you use a computer program, a system, or your own analysis of the past performances, this skill will determine whether you will be able to earn long-term profits at the track.

The one rule you must understand is this: ANALYSE CHANCES, RATHER THAN  ATTEMPT  TO  PICK  WINNERS.

Every race may have a hundred different scripts. In one scenario, a horse who usually gets away slowly suddenly jets from the gates; in another, a speed duel fails to materialise; in a third, the favourite is checked at the start.

Though you get only one chance to play a race, think long term: If this race were run 100 times how many times would each horse win? (Editor's note: For a different angle, check out Joe Takach's articles on the Upside and Downside of racing in PPM.)

Actual odds are set by crowds. And the public is not only often wrong, but its line may careen wildly depending on a thousand different factors.

Every crowd is different. Every day is different. Every race is different. And you never know when the public is going to hand you a bargain.

Some bettors want to bet their pick, no matter what. Instead, think value, which means that your decisions may not be the same as your selections.

At times, your top choice will win without you. But if he does not offer value, don't bet him. And it doesn't matter how much you like the horse.

Don't look for winners. Instead, seek the best bet for the odds. Sometimes it's a win bet on one horse. Other times it's a place bet, or seven exacta combinations.

Value is price versus worth. Every price must be compared with every worth, and vice versa. Demand that the crowd (the public) offer you a price at least 50 per cent above what you consider a fair price for a horse or a combination.

If you do not receive at least a 50 per cent bonus, do not bet.

Why 50 per cent? Why not 10 per cent or 100 per cent? From thousands of bets over many years, I've found that a 50 per cent bonus on every bet will yield somewhere between 8 per cent and 10 per cent profit on total money invested.

Any bonus lower than 50 per cent will result in a loss. A higher bonus requirement will not yield enough bets.

Why doesn't a 50 per cent bonus yield a 50 per cent edge? Several factors combine to reduce profit. Firstly, a 50 per cent bonus is not the same as a 50 per cent edge.

Your edge is the probability of win multiplied by odds minus the probability of loss.

A 3 / 1 shot that goes off at 9 / 2 offers an edge of 37.5 per cent; an even money shot that goes off at 3/2 offers an edge of just 25 per cent.

A 50 per cent bonus always offers an edge of at least 22 per cent, though the edge never reaches 50 per cent unless the horse goes off at far above a 50 per cent bonus.

The odds will often drop after we bet, even if we bet close to post time. Let's say we make a certain horse 2 / 1. For a 50 per cent bonus, he'd have to go off at 3 / 1 or better. With one minute to the start, he's 3 / 1. We bet.

But just as the race begins he drops to 5/2, only a slight edge. By demanding at least 50 per cent, we ensure that the vast majority of our bets will still be overlays of at least some amount at post time.

Thirdly, every bet we make has a certain impact on the odds. Fourthly, our own line, no matter how good we get, will never be quite as accurate as the public's.

Underlays, alas, always do better than overlays. For example, the horse we make even money may well win 50 per cent of the time, but those that wind up going off at 3 / 5 might win 56 per cent while those who wind up at 3 / 2 might win only 42 per cent. By allowing for errors, we give ourselves a safety margin.

This is an edited extract from Barry Meadow's book Money Secrets At The Racetrack, available from

Click here to read Part 1.

By Barry Meadow