12/15/2005 12:00AM

Knowledge is reward, and a great gift

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - There are just a handful of shopping days left until Christmas and Hanukkah. If you don't buy into the urban myth that horseplayers can't read, and you are in need of some stocking stuffers, here is one reviewer's list of must-have horse racing books published in 2005.

HANDICAPPING

TITLES PUBLISHER (PRICE)
DRF Press ($14.95)
DRF Press ($24.95)
A Bettor Way Xlibris Corp. ($21.95)
Author ($29.95)

NON-HANDICAPPING

TITLES PUBLISHER (PRICE)
(Revised Edition) DRF Press ($50)
Horseplayers Chicago Review Press ($24.95)
Dead Heat Eclipse Press ($24.95)

A closer look:

"The Power of Early Speed" (by Steve Klein): This latest and just-published release in Daily Racing Form's Elements of Handicapping series is a 301-page softbound book that undertakes a massive study of 201,237 dirt races between 1996-2004, covering 30 tracks from Aqueduct to Woodbine.

"Study 10,000 horses, and you get a hint at an answer," writes Klein, Daily Racing Form's Kentucky handicapper, in Chapter 1. "Study 50,000 horses, and you have an educated guess as to what the big-picture result might be. But when you study 1,671,627 horses, you don't just have an answer. You have the answer, the truth."

Klein's research puts the cold stamp of statistical reality on many important aspects of early speed and will (or should) help players shift their focus in the right direction.

"Six Secrets of Successful Bettors" (by Frank R. Scatoni and Peter Thomas Fornatale): This 273-page hardcover was co-authored by Scatoni, the editor of "Finished Lines: A Collection of Memorable Writing on Thoroughbred Racing," and Fornatale, a freelance writer who spends his summers in Saratoga betting the races and writing for the Saratoga Special.

This is not a how-to book as much as it is a glimpse into the workings of some of the game's best minds. After interviewing more than two dozen professional gamblers, primarily horseplayers, the authors found six secrets (or traits) common to practically all winning players.

Among the crucial subjects discussed by such luminaries as Andy Beyer, Steve Crist, Cary Fotias, and James Quinn are information management, the concept of value, and the nuances of wagering and money management.

"A Bettor Way" (by Dean C. Arnold): Subtitled "A Winner's Guide to Wagering on Thoroughbreds," this 287-page, softbound book is an enjoyable and refreshing read from gate to wire.

Arnold offers thoughtful and sensible advice, emphasizing the importance of time management, big-picture statistics, and tactics and concepts that are combined into a strategy that can be tailored to any bettor's individual approach.

"Regardless of how you assess the runners and try to select the likely winners, you need to know how to optimally bet your selections," writes Arnold. "What to do and when - that's the real challenge."

You have to love a handicapping book that contains the following passage: "Like it or not, when you are at the track, every person you see is playing against you. There's a winner in every race, and somebody is going to cash a ticket. If it's not you, it's the schmuck next to you."

"Bruno on Workouts" (by Bruno De Julio): Most familiar to followers of the Southern California circuit, where his first workout analysis was published by The Racing Times on opening day of Santa Anita's 1991-92 winter meet, De Julio is one of the most respected private clockers in the game, and he has penned a 219-page softbound treatise on one of the sport's least-understood subjects.

In addition to shedding light on many aspects of workouts the average fan doesn't even know exist, "Bruno on Workouts" contains invaluable insights into the idiosyncrasies of the tracks at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar, and Churchill Downs, as well as tips on equine body language that horseplayers can use to expand and improve their race-watching skills.

Visit www.racingwithbruno.com for more info.

"Champions" (various authors): The second, revised edition of this weighty and comprehensive tome has been updated with a new chapter by Jay Privman that covers the period from 2000-04, and now includes the Beyer Speed Figures dating back to 1992. In addition to retaining its status as an indispensable reference source and a glorious coffee-table presence, it therefore has the capacity to settle arguments about who was truly faster than whom.

The 448 pages of "Champions" contain more than 100 rare photographs and illustrations, along with nine chapters of prose covering the 1890's to 2004, but the real treat for most handicappers are the past performances themselves.

"Horseplayers" (by Ted McClelland): Subtitled "Life at the Track," this 263-page hardcover book chronicles a year that McClelland, a staff writer for the Chicago Reader, spent at the racetrack, "as he seeks to acquire the elusive skills of a professional winning horseplayer while betting his book publisher's advance during daily visits to Chicago's Hawthorne Race Course and Arlington Park."

McClelland: "It takes a combination of arrogance and denial to believe you can beat the races. This fits perfectly with the egocentric fantasyland most of us over-30 single guys inhabit."

"Dead Heat" (by Bill Murray): Racing lost one of its most prolific and erudite writers with the recent passing of Murray, who also wrote books about opera and Italy. His racing work included accounts of summers spent at Del Mar, his favorite place on Earth, and the "Shifty Anderson" series of detective/murder mysteries.

This posthumous release is a 288-page hardcover in which aspiring jockey Jill Aspen, fleeing the demons of her past, hooks up with trainer Jake Fontana and Sal "Bones" Righetti, an ex-mob enforcer, jock's agent, and wily horseplayer, in a vintage yarn of backstretch intrigue as only Murray could spin one.