Too many horseplayers attack each race by asking an incorrect question: Which horse is the most likely winner?

A better question: What do I know about this race that enables me to see it differently from the public?

If your opinion matches the public's, you're going to lose, probably somewhere around the track (TAB) take. You'll win some, you'll lose some, but your winners won't make up for your losses.

Frequently, I see a race the same way as the public. They like No. 3 slightly over No. 6 and No. 8, and that's just about what I have. It's doubtful I'm going to find something to bet.

Other times I don't see anything at all. Maybe there are six first-time-on-the-turf horses and even after I've looked up all the relevant pedigree information, anybody's guess is as good as mine. Or maybe there are five big class-droppers into a bottom-level race and who knows which of these veterans is sound enough to do much running today?

Too many punters force their bets. You're at the track (or worse, at an off-course facility where you can't even enjoy a walk in the infield between races) and perhaps you feel compelled to bet, particularly after everyone with you has already expressed his opinion and gotten up to make a bet.

And thus begins a losing spiral ... making bets on races where you have no advantage, and so many of them that even when you DO land on something it's never enough to make up for the losses.

The cure for this (at least, if you're serious about winning), is to change that search for the winner into that search for an insight. You should be looking for races you see DIFFERENTLY from the public.

That might mean you dislike the favourite, or you like him but you believe he's overbet. Or maybe you hate the second choice, and can structure some exactas or trifectas against him.

Or perhaps the crowd is letting a horse who should be 6/1 away at 18/1, and you have a chance for a score.

It helps to understand why the fans are making each horse the odds they are. If the favourite just ran a high-rated race but you know that the horse had an all-time perfect trip to win and is unlikely to repeat, that could be your edge.

Or maybe the horse shows a big "trouble line" but you've seen the race and know that the horse simply wasn't very good. Or the horse was a star last year but hasn't done much this season, yet the crowd bets him on the basis of past glories.

Or your longshot's last race was far better than it looks in the past performances.

Perhaps you have an information edge. Maybe you know that a horse's string of slick workouts were done "all out" and were unimpressive. Or you're a body language expert and see that the favourite shows up with new front wraps and looks much worse than usual.

Or you keep detailed track profiles and you see that today's race might give the edge to a front-runner who's been getting caught lately.

Maybe your interpretation of the match-up is more insightful. The crowd may not understand that the horse with big early speed is likely to be forced wide into the first turn and may well be eliminated. Or that the plodder who hasn't bothered anybody lately is finally in the spot he's waited for all his life; likely to sit on the rail and pick up the tiring speed runners.

Whatever it is, you'll need to figure out why your INSIGHT into the race is different, and superior, to what the crowd says. Because if it's the same, then you have no edge. And if you have no edge, why are you betting?

Sure, it's fun to be at the track, and there's always the temptation for action but action isn't going to get you long-term profits.

What do you see in this race that the public does not? That's the question you should be asking. Answer that, and you will know exactly what to do.

And now to a factor that follows on from what I've said. What do you do when you make a big hit and the money rolls in?

Most of the time we win a few dollars, or lose a few. But, occasionally, it's BIG SCORE time.

One nice thing about horse-racing, as compared with sports betting or blackjack whether you're skilful or lucky, somewhere along the way you're probably going to make a score.

The term means different things to different bettors. A $10 punter who hits a trifecta for $1800 has made a score. To a guy who bets $1200 in a Pick 6 a score is a $75,000 hit.

A score ordinarily means PRO that no matter what you do for the next few weeks or months, or maybe the rest of the year, you've got a niceĀ  profit. Assuming, of course, you don't fritter it away.

The first aspect of proper money management if you'd had a big score is this: you are not guaranteed to make another one! You don't become king of all handicappers just because the stars aligned one day.

If you normally put $50 into a race and suddenly there's an extra $12,000 sitting snugly in your pocket, this is not the time to start betting $500.

You are not necessarily "hot" just because you got it right once for major money. Your opinion, such as it is, doesn't become omnipotent just because you carted home the track one particular day. You measure success in this game over the long haul. One day, even an unforgettable Let It Ride kind of day, is just that.

Remember that a score is often accompanied by luck. You keyed a 60/1 shot and four horses were locked in a battle for the lead, another broke down and another got stopped cold in his tracks, so you won.

Or maybe you bet a speed horse who quit eight times in a row and figured to be in a speed duel, except that his two main rivals broke slowly from the barriers and lost any chance.

It's rare that a wacky winner was that handicappable. For once, luck fell your way, but that doesn't mean you're suddenly Einstein.

One potential source of trouble concerning big payouts is your friends, who may be surprisingly unthrilled by your success.

Commonly, their envy (lucky him) will spill over to jealousy (why did he get so lucky?).

Or you'll suddenly find yourself cast as the Bank of America (the guy just won $17,000 and he can't lend me a lousy two hundred?).

So my advice about big scores is to keep them to yourself. If your mates are already wealthy, good, if not, they're unlikely to take a genuine delight unless they were participants on your ticket.

Think about it: When you've just blown a $3000 photo-finish, how happy are you to learn that a mate made a $12,000 score because he had it the other way?

Tell your wife, if you must, though don't be surprised to see some new jewellery. But your friends? They don't have to learn every detail about your operations.

So what are you going to do with the money? Let me now become Suze Orman and tell you that if you made a genuine score, it's time to take care of your credit card debt and car payments. Get rid of anything that costs you monthly interest.

The average household has an $8000 debt in credit cards. If this means you, wipe it out! Do not simply say great, now your gambling bankroll is that much bigger. Take care of business.

Buy something nice. Even if eventually you lose most of the big score, every time you look at that big-screen TV or lounge or your plush new couch, you'll smile.

And give some away, too. Not to your deadbeat friends, nor to that good-for-nothing son or daughter, but to charity. Some good people really do have nothing, and if you've got something, why not share?

Maybe your score will be the first of many, your bankroll ever-growing and your handicapping light shining ever brighter. But maybe not.

Maybe it was a one-time thing, or a two-time thing, or a three-time thing?

And if you never make a grand score again, at least you've had the thrill of doing it at least one beautiful time. Just don't let it go to your head.

If you start betting as if you are the greatest handicapper of all time, that score may become just a distant memory.

Barry Meadow is regarded as America's most authoritative expert on racing and betting. His books are best-sellers, as is his monthly newsletter.

For more details, check out Barry's website at www.trpublishing.com.

By Barry Meadow

PRACTICAL PUNTING - MAY 2003