Never stop looking for new ideas! This has always been my credo as far as racing is concerned, and it’s something I work at day and night.

Many’s the evening I settle down with a set of results to comb through them to see if there are patterns to be detected.

Many’s the night I’m at the computer testing out a new system via the database.

Most times things don’t work out. The bright idea that you latch on to and sense could be the BIG ONE will turn out to be a dud with 50 per cent loss on turnover!

But, you have to keep grinding away. Over the years I’ve discovered many angles that paid off for a period before crashing out. But in that period when they worked I did handsomely off them. The trick is to know when the golden times are ending.

Gordon Pine, the noted US expert, has written on the brilliant Netcapper website that the trouble with researching handicapping ideas is that most things you look at don’t work.

Gordon writes:

You spend hours studying some arcane factor and you come up with zilch, a fizzled factor that has little or no impact. Why share these with you? Well, if you know what not to do, you won’t waste your time and money trying it.

Also, each research dud tends to generate ideas for new potential spot plays or significant predictors.

Already Won Today Jockeys: I heard a trainer/jockey handicapper’s speech where he mentioned that if you played all races of jockeys who had won already that day, it was a break-even proposition.

The idea was that these jocks were probably riding well and often at the start of a streak. It sounded credible to me, so I tested it. Here are my results:

Of 763 performances where the jockey hadn’t already won today, there was an 11.5% win rate with a 0.66 ROI.

Of 233 performances where the jockey had already won at least once on the card, there was a 13.7 per cent win rate with a 0.72 ROI. Both of these subsets had below-average ROIs. (I hear the question now:

Since these subsets combine to form all races within the test period, how can they both have below-average ROIs? Because, I answer, tracks can go through periods of low payoffs, which will generate below-average ROIs.)

Even if I re-ran this study in a period of higher payoffs, the already-won-today jockeys don’t look like a good prospect for an edge-generating predictor.

So, betting on a horse just because his jockey won already today is a useless endeavour.

Now, I suspect that jockey streaks are a useful predictor and I just haven’t found the right way to measure them yet.

Trainer Meet Win Percentage: I wondered, at one point, whether a trainer’s win percentage over the current meet was a useful predictor. The US Racing Form is kind enough to include that stat right in the past performances; it would be rude of us not to use it.

So I did a study of different ranges of trainer-meet win percentages: 0 per cent-4 per cent, 5 per cent-9 per cent, 10 per cent-14 per cent, 15 per cent-19 per cent, etc.

There appears to be little correlation between a trainer’s before-the-fact meet win percentage and the percentage he wins afterwards.

For instance, trainers with a 30 per cent-34 per cent meet win percentage won 18 per cent of the time in my study, while trainers with a 10 per cent-14 per cent rate won 16 per cent of the time.

There seemed to be a tendency for these trainers’ performances to regress to the mean – in other words, those who over-performed tended to do less well, and those who under-performed tended to do better.

This didn’t happen uniformly for all the groups, though with a larger sample, it might have.

These fizzled studies often point me towards further research that might be useful.

The Prancing Horse: When I was physically going to the track every day, I did a short test of my aptitude at recognising the body language of horses.

I had several preset descriptions which I would mark down as I watched the horses in the paddock, such as excellent, good, okay, dull, prancing, muscled, dappled, flat tail, etc.

I then tracked how the horses I designated in these ways did. During that time, I marked 19 horses as "prancing". Of those 19, eight won, for a 42 per cent win rate and a 2.27 ROI. Tiny sample, I know, but encouraging. It included a $13.30 horse and a $9.00 horse.

Body language is a subjective thing, and that’s part of what gives it its potential edge. If you have a knack for it, it’s possible to gain an advantage because you’re one of the few people seeing it.

Also, it’s so time-sensitive – it’s something that’s noticed a few minutes before post-time. There’s no time to disseminate it to the crowd.

Handicapping the Handicappers: I used to take a certain handicapper’s picks in the local newspaper and track them using wagering analysis software. I soon noticed that this guy was exceptional at high-class races such as stakes or claiming races of $40,000 and up. I began to bet his picks in these races.

In the time that I did it, he hit 17 of 55 races, for a 31 per cent win rate and a 1.08 ROI.

One character flaw I’ve had to battle in myself and have seen in other handicappers is the tendency to find something that works, and then abandon it for no special reason.

Some handicappers like the search for profitable methods more than the drudgery of trying to make a buck with them.

I’ve pretty much cured myself of this, but these are a couple of handicapping methods I may need to revisit.

This is the behind-the-scenes stuff that every handicapping researcher has to deal with.

For every nugget you find, there are several lumps of coal. Uh-oh, it's post-time – time to leave the things that don’t work and the things that might work, and with a little luck, get back to the things that do work.

Gordon always makes a lot of sense in his articles and I think he’s come up with a couple of handy ideas.

The body language one is not one that appeals to me because I’m simply not a judge of horse flesh as a physical thing.

I must leave that to people who know a lot more. I guess I could try and see how I’d go. I might surprise myself.

However, on the personal side of things, I really don’t want to stand around trying to assess the physical wellbeing of all the runners in a race.

I do know punters who do such a thing but it’s not for me.

Gordon’s other idea about “handicapping the tipsters” is something worth looking at. I doubt many people have bothered to break down a tipster’s performance into the various race classes, or individual tracks.

Such a probe might well throw some new light on the tipsters. Is there one of them that has a huge strike rate in weight-for-age races? Or major races? Or Maidens at the provincials?

By Jon Hudson and Gordon Pine