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P is for . . .

Pace: A vital consideration when deciding whether or not the form of a race is likely to work out. If the runners are strung out like clothes on a line within a few moments of the start, it is a fair assumption that the pace is a good one, and quite simply, the better the pace, the firmer the form. A horse which emerges an easy winner in a fast-run race has almost certainly put up a performance of real merit, while at the other end of the scale, form recorded in a slowly-run race must always be treated with caution. The apparently impressive winners of such events have probably gone on to pay for more tacky extensions to bookmakers' homes than any other type of horse.

Paddock: Unlike the chancers who hang out at the sales rings (see Pedigree, below), punters who study horses in the paddock do at least know that their judgement will be put to the ultimate test within the next 20 minutes, a thought which can concentrate the mind admirably. A horse's physical appearance or manner should only add to close scrutiny of the form, and never replace it altogether, but once you feel that you have narrowed the field down to a handful of possibles, it never hurts to give them the once-over before placing a bet. Ideally, they should be relaxed but not dopey, shiny of coat, eye and shoe (meaning that they are wearing light racing plates rather than heavy training shoes), and with well-defined musculature, particularly around the backside. What paddock study will never tell you, however, is exactly what is going on in a horse's mind. The first punter to crack that particular puzzle will find themselves banned from every betting shop in Britain within the hour.

Paget, Dorothy: One of the most eccentric and reckless gamblers ever to enter a betting ring and the owner of Golden Miller, five times the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Nocturnal unless she had a major meeting to attend, Paget would breakfast in the evening and retire at daybreak, often phoning her long-suffering trainers to discuss running plans at 3.00 in the morning. She would call bookmakers to back her runners hours after the race in question had taken place, and such was her honesty - or perhaps the amount of red ink on her balance sheet - that the bets were honoured, win or lose. Paget was, in a word, bonkers, but she must have been doing something right, since she remains the only woman to have owned a winner of both the Derby and Grand National.

Pari-mutuel: French for the Tote, and the only way you can bet on the nags (legally at least) not just in France, but in many other countries as well. This is a source of much irritation to British bookmakers, who would love nothing more than to break into the French PMU monopoly on betting and start milking the system in much the same way that they do over here. EC competition law might be expected to offer them some hope, but so far at least, the clever people who run the Societe d'Encouragement (French BHB) have managed to stop them in their tracks on the British side of La Manche. The only time most Brits will encounter the PMU is on their annual trip to Longchamp for the Arc in October, when it best described as a very long queue with frustrated punters at one end and a charmless bandit with a badge behind the scruffy window at the other. In the unlikely event that you ever actually manage to place a bet, remember to check both your ticket and your change.

Pedigree: About as much use in judging a horse as it is in judging a person - ie. almost none at all - but fortunately for the people who run bloodstock auctions, this information has yet to filter through to the ranks of obscenely wealthy owners who keep them in business. Nor, for that matter, has any serious appreciation of genetics impressed itself on the well-paid "pedigree experts" who advise them - or if it has, they are keeping very quiet about it. The problem for anyone trying to breed a winner is that a horse's genetic "program" includes tens of thousands of different genes, many of which will exert at least some effect on its racing ability. No one, though, knows precisely which ones, how closely they are linked to others, or their relative importance, and while a champion racehorse has clearly done pretty well in the genetic lottery, there is no way of knowing the extent to which its ability will be passed on to any particular foal. In other words, the entire business of selling untried racehorses runs on little more than guesswork and blagging, and a good thing too, otherwise we might not have enjoyed the marvellous spectacle of Sheikh Mohammed spending $10.2m on Snaafi Dancer, who was too slow to race and, better still, impotent when he arrived at stud.