12/28/2006 1:00AM

Methodical game plan can keep you afloat

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Is my imagination running away with me, or did 2006 go by faster than a second-quarter move by Discreet Cat? It seems like just yesterday when we were attempting to get a handle on the new crop of 3-year-olds; when Barbaro was a nice grass horse but an unknown on dirt, and no one had ever heard of a colt named Bernardini.

How quickly things changed! Indeed, the sport is undergoing change at a breakneck pace on and off the racetrack these days, and it has never been more important for handicappers to pay close attention to what's going on.

As 2007 approaches, here are some suggestions to keep in mind that may help sharpen your game. If you want to make one or more of them a New Year's resolution, feel free.

Establish your goals

It's difficult to accomplish anything without first knowing what it is you're trying to accomplish. As Steve Fierro wrote in "The Four Quarters of Horse Investing," it's a good idea to formulate your own mission statement, just like the ones that serve as the foundation for just about any successful business. "Once you have established this purpose, everything you do revolves around it," said Fierro. "You must then develop a set of specific strategies that support this overall mission. You then must develop a specific set of tactics that support those strategies. The end product takes the form of an escalator, which goes up and down. All three key items support each other."

Establish a bankroll

For all too many players, the size of their first wager on any given visit to the track or simulcast facility is whatever happens to be in their wallet divided by three. The one sure thing about this game is that scared money is dead money; there's just too much pressure to look for the winning horse, when the real challenge should be in determining which contender is the right bet. The main reason small businesses fail is undercapitalization. If you have to sit out of action for a little while in order to get a meaningful working bankroll together, so be it. Spend that time on research from a totally impartial point of view, and the preparation will serve you well down the road.

Keep records

This is just common sense. Do you know of any successful business that doesn't keep meticulous records regarding costs, supplies, and customers' preferences? With so many wagering options available, there's bound to be a particular bet or two that work best for you, but it's impossible for you to know without a detailed account of your betting activity.

Keep reading

Whatever your area of interest in playing the races, there is a book out there that can help. I have been filling out multiple pick four tickets for quite a while, but I learned some fine points from Steve Crist's "Exotic Betting" when it came out last summer. And being from the era of the typewriter and the abacus, I'll admit to finding DRF's Formulator software a bit intimidating, but Dean Keppler's recently published "Trainer Angles" showed me how to ask the database the right questions.

For a non-racing-related book with the potential to move your game up many lengths, check out "Blink," by Malcolm Gladwell. "Blink" is about how we think without thinking - why some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up zigging when they should have zagged. Gladwell: "Our instinctive reactions often have to compete with all kinds of other interests and emotions and sentiments. So, when should we trust our instincts, and when should we be wary of them?"

Gladwell helps us to figure it out, and it just may change the way you approach the routine decision-making skills constantly in play at the races.

Happy New Year. Best of luck in 2007.