12/29/2005 12:00AM

Habits every horseplayer can use

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - One of the best horseracing books ever written was "The Wrong Horse" by the late great William Murray. The first chapter describes a racetrack character known as Sour Sam and concludes as follows:

"I once asked Sam how he had managed to survive the disastrous losing streaks that periodically afflict even the smartest horseplayers. 'There's always fresh,' he said."

Horseplayers live in hope. Even the sourest Sams among us know that no matter how bad yesterday was, today brings another sunrise and a fresh Daily Racing Form that contains all the winners.

Those winners can be mighty elusive at times. But no matter how much red ink may have been spilled in the past 12 months, everyone starts out even when they wake up New Year's Day.

This is the year we are going to (take your pick) lose weight, exercise regularly, stop smoking, limit ourselves to one cocktail per evening, and catch up on our reading.

For horseplayers, the New Year is another fresh opportunity to swear off going on "tilt" and to finally develop and maintain good wagering habits.

In getting ready for 2006, I made my annual purchase of one those "At-A-Glance" daily planners the other day. It happened to be the deluxe model, with a little fold out map of the world; area codes for anywhere and everywhere; weights and measures; and a "to do" section that begins with (and I quote) "Twelve Valuable Tips. . . For Getting Things Done!"

Since I tend to relate everyday things like song lyrics and philosophical quotes to handicapping first and foremost, it was only natural that I looked at my Twelve Valuable Tips to see if they could offer any guidance toward, as Andy Beyer put it, "the way, the truth, and the light."

1. Use lists. Not a bad thought at all. In fact, compiling a list of "horses to watch" has been a tried-and-true method of catching winners since the days of Pittsburgh Phil. Nowadays you don't even have to bother - Daily Racing Form's Stable Mail will keep the list for you and notify you when the good thing hits the entries.

2. Maintain a time management system. Use your planner. Another good thought, especially in the age of simulcasting, where races come at you rapid fire. To avoid being snowed under, map out races that offer potential at the beginning of the day and make a note of their post times. Do the handicapping grunt work at home, where distractions are at a minimum.

3. Set goals and priorities. This is right on target for horseplayers. What do you expect out of this whole endeavor - some pleasant entertainment, or something more serious? Once you've established a goal, what is the best way to attain it?

4. Build strong working relationships with others. Try to surround yourself with other players who maintain a positive outlook and do their homework. Developing such a network can come in handy when there's a big pick-six carryover and different handicapping specialties are required. No one's an expert at every phase of the game.

5. Do the worst first. I originally learned this trick from Steve Fierro's "The Four Quarters of Horse Investing." Start the handicapping process with the races that give you the most trouble, because that's when you are at your sharpest mentally. Fierro: "When you follow this pattern you will find yourself catching a second wind when you get to the end of the card."

6. Identify time-wasters and eliminate them. Learn to recognize and categorize races for the hopelessly inept, races with insufficient information, and races that are ultra-competitive. Devote most of your handicapping time to the more promising spots.

7. Take control of your time. Goes hand in hand with No. 6.

8. Organize your home and office. Do you really need three year's worth of back Daily Racing Forms strewn all over the place? Pare down to what's really needed, and have your key reference materials updated and easily accessible.

9. Use the right equipment. This one could have multiple meanings. The most pertinent one probably has to do with the fact that different types of races stress different handicapping factors. For example, don't rely on pace and speed figures when trying to unscramble the mysteries of a turf marathon.

10. Learn to say no. Most horseplayers get into trouble by playing too many races. Learn to say no, and learn to recognize those situations where the honest answer is "I don't know."

11. Delegate. This does not mean to blame trainers and jockeys for a bad bet or a tough beat.

12. Just do it. This one is catchy enough that it might make for a good advertising campaign.

Good luck in 2006.