Last month, we were talking about "a little for a lot" and "a lot for a little". To jog your memory, I told you about Peter, someone I met again after a long absence, and someone who is now making money. Continuing with this story, the specific thrust of Peter's betting practice concerns numbers.

So far as Peter is concerned, numbers, and not animals or their human riders. or trainers, control winning and losing in the racing world. He maintains that racing is mathematical, and based on probability~ and that there are enough statistics available now to anybody who cares to look, so that they can draw their own conclusions about likely winners.

My expectation was that Peter would very quickly home in on things such as lowest TAB numbers, lowest barriers and possibly highest weights. Peter didn't come from these angles at all. His fundamental argument was, and remains, that you have to do basically what other people are not doing, or do it on days when they are not doing it. To unravel that, he means that you might do exactly what other people do, but you will do it on the days when they are not doing it. Alternatively, don't do what they do anyway.

After I had deciphered this, I figured that it was not dissimilar from what the great English writer Alan Potts argues in his brilliant books: by all means, have the same opinions about a horse that other people have, but have the opinions on the right day. Potts argues that most people lose their money because they get the day wrong. Where Peter would differ from Alan Potts is that (although he does know the names of the horses) those names have no influence whatsoever on his selection patterns. He leaves the name stuff to the handicapper, the trainer, the rider, and various experts.

His first job on a raceday is to assess the opinions of the people whose selections he respects, and to identify two groups of horses. The first group, he regards as his high statistics. These are the ones that produce those 60 to 70 per cent win results as referred to last month. They must qualify under his numbers rules. The second group is what he calls the high-class hopefuls: these are horses (well, numbers actually) that his statistics tell him can produce the goods in the kind of race he is interested in. And this is where things get a little bit complex, but as you recall from last month, we're talking about somebody who has done a lot of homework and looks to have a good thing going.

Peter invests. on Saturdays, and he's only interested in Sydney and Melbourne. As a matter of' interest, he told me that he has dropped Caulfield from his list (it won't matter much after October, at least for about a year). The statistics were not holding up. But the other Sydney and Melbourne tracks were OK.

I asked him about Kensington and he said it hadn't produced any problems for him, in fact quite the reverse. This really stunned me, until he confided that he had scored two really good results which had put him so far ahead in the early days of this track. Since then he said it has just cruised along, but he has no reason to complain. He is making his small. profit on his two "chances" at the track, and the two big trifectas were apparently very nice.

But it's all about numbers. While I respected Peter's confidence, and he knew I would not release anything that he asked me to keep to myself, he has allowed me to make three suggestions to anybody wanting to follow his path.

The first is that you never consider any sprinting horse drawing barrier one. His statistics apparently suggest that dollar for dollar, most of the better-priced winners come from other barriers. It's a question of value.

The second number theory that he subscribes to (and you may well be ahead of me here) is that he is rarely interested in TAB number one because, although it wins more races than any other number, it does so as a short priced favourite or when not even he could have predicted.

His third and final hint that he provided for all of us was to do with horses' win strike rates. So far as Peter is concerned, if a horse he is considering is not near the very top in the win strike percentages for the particular race, there had better be a rock solid reason that he can come up with. His lower limit is 25 per cent (he won't budge from it, he says you have to have some hard and fast rules, and this is one). He argues that his statistics show that any horse lining up for a city race without having been able to win one race in four during its career is a bad bet.

When they win, Peter says, it's out of turn, and generally speaking after three years of age, their win strike rate gets worse rather than better. Which means of course that they can't be winning very often!

There we have it. Numbers. Not names.

Next month I'll tell you about "the right day", as Peter sees it.

By The Optimist

PRACTICAL PUNTING – OCTOBER 2005