In 1969, the late Rem Plante published his fine book Australian Horse Racing and Punters' Guide, in which he recommended a simple system of grading each horse's entire career based on the number of wins and where those wins occurred.
This grading system highlighted the better-class horses but still required the punter to do the form via the traditional method of direct lines (A met C) and indirect lines (B met C but not A) to calculate any weight shifts of significance and to highlight strong formlines.
Rem Plante's book was a beacon to the serious punter who wanted more than just a mug-punter approach of following radio tips, newspaper selections or the infamous 'they told me' street corner tips.
Nine years later, Don Scott published the first of his quartet of books on how to win at betting on horse-racing. His seminal work, Winning, was a relatively thin volume compared to his later publications but it contained the nucleus of Don's successful methodology of the previous 23 years.
Bill Waterhouse, the leviathan bookmaker (and I MEAN leviathan), wrote in the foreword of his book, The Gambling Man: "He has won consistently and substantially every year. . .
For the first time, the concept of rating each race with a figure and then rating each runner's performance in relation to that race figure was presented to the racing public. The disciples of Rem Plante now had that extra bullet in their armoury against the bookies. Winning was a runaway success.
'Can the great punter's methods still produce winners?'
Don Scott's death on 2 February, 1996, caused only minor headlines in the daily newspapers but the racing world was in deep shock; the man who had helped so many fledgling punters begin serious punting was gone and there was no chance to say "thanks".
Time, however, stands still for no-one and it is worth reflecting now on the Don Scott legacy by asking, "Is the Don Scott ratings approach still as relevant in 1999 as it was in 1978 when he first published it?"
Perhaps the simplest approach to finding an answer is to take a look at what he wrote in Winning, highlighting key comments in relevant chapters.
Chapter 2 of that book, Weight Is Right, is largely a study of weights which, according to Don, "enables the professional punter to swing the betting percentages in his favour".
Don echoed the major problem of all punters when he said, "Very rarely do the same horses keep competing against one another week after week ... horses from other classes keep appearing ... I had to find a way of rating the classes of all races in all areas."
From this major problem evolved the concept of rating each race with what he called a Basic Class Figure; i.e. a Sydney Welter was 61 while a Quality Handicap was 69, and so on.
In the third chapter (Weight Is Always Right), Don told how he won a fortune, after a disastrous run of losing weeks, by adhering to his main principle, writing: "The weight horses had won again. Weight was still right. Weight is always right."
In Chapter 4 (Pricing For Profit), surely one of the truest comments Don made was: "Most of the time you make your money by getting 2/1 about a 6/4 chance, 4/1 about a 3/1 chance or 7/1 about a 9/2 chance. Such horses provide your bread and butter", which he qualified with, "One of the biggest benefits in framing your own market is to know exactly how much to wager on value horses".
Any arguments, so far?
In Chapter 5, Don made the assertion that "there are at least 12 aspects of race analysis", and this is probably one of his loosest statements, but in pointing out and discussing the key areas of TRACK, GOING, DISTANCE, CLASS, FORM, CONSISTENCY, CONDITION, WEIGHT, POST POSITION, RIDER, STABLE and PRICE he did not miss many!
However, I believe today's punter would be adding TIMES and TRACK BIAS to that list.
Key comments in this informative chapter include:
(a) Mature horses invariably follow the same form pattern preparation after preparation.
(b) One fact to remember is that as a horse gets older the less likely it is to go well fresh.
(c) Divide horses into two groups: those getting better and those getting worse.
Don also detailed his own version of Admiral Rous's Weight For Age scale but, although it has some value, I do not believe it to be as relevant as other parts of the book and Don even says that not all horses improve according to the scale.
In my opinion, this makes debatable the use of the scale, relative to deducing improvement in young horses.
Don went on to say: "The best advice I can give punters is to stay at home when it rains - the old adage still rings true ... when it's wet, don't bet."
This assertion, too, is open to much debate, and I believe Don has it wrong on this facet of horserace selection. Going further on the subject of 'which race and which horse', he gives an insight with this reflection: "These days I am more patient and selective; I know from costly losses what are the wrong races."
Boy, is that a truism many a punter has learnt the hard way! How many punters continue to bet on the lower class of races or races with major form difficulties? Lots!
In other chapters, Don highlights the mathematics behind his betting approach, horse ownership, trips to the greyhounds and harness racing and issues which are personal opinions or indisputable facts but it's in Chapter 8 (Time Is Out Of Joint And Rarely Worth Reckoning) where I feel many modern-day serious punters would be at loggerheads with the Don Scott of 1978 and, in fact, in his later years as well.
Don says, with little sensitivity: "Not only do I consider times both sectional and final unimportant, I also consider them downright misleading and false 90 per cent of the time." Wow! That's telling them!
He gives five main reasons: track layout, track conditions, inexact distances, incorrect official times and pace of the race. He softens a fraction when he says, "One possible use for times is when a race is divided" and "The only other use for times is when track records are broken." Then, "Apart from these two possible uses I see no value in times at all".
Don finally puts his boots to work in no uncertain manner by saying: "The speed merchants are easily recognisable. They stand in the betting ring with glazed eyes looking at time charts, speed and pace graphs and computer printouts ... if you meet such a character, direct him to the nearest psychiatric institution. He certainly needs help."
I would say, unequivocally, that Don Scott had a definite stance on times!! But he would be rightly chastised these days for this stance, because times DO play a major part in the racing equation, especially in relation to determining whether the pace of the race affected some runners' chances of winning.
If there's a slow early pace, and the sectional times would show this, then the back-runners would have little chance of winning. Conversely, if the pace was a cracker early, the backrunners would have a better chance of winning as the early speed runners would burn out. This is clearly an important aspect of future formwork.
Well, there it is: a brief foray into Don's first book, Winning. This was the book that turned the racing world upside down in the early 1980s. Did Don Scott leave a legacy he would be proud of? What worth to the punter was the 'value revolution', as Don called it?
Prior to Don Scott's emergence, Australia had only Rem Plante's book to be proud of in relation to providing the punter with more than just a book with systems and the like. Although Winning was an eye-opener, Don's subsequent volume, The Winning Way, took the punter on a voyage of discovery way beyond any prior publication, leaving no doubt that by studious application there WAS a chance for the punter.
Many of the vaguer areas in Winning were discussed in acute detail and left little doubt as to why Don was a winner. Don's next volume, Winning More, went, metaphorically, beyond the stars by detailing how betting on the exotics, especially the trifecta, was the way to bet for value in the 1990s and it showed the huge overlays that existed for those assiduous enough to investigate and persevere.
The publication of Winning In The '90s also showed Don wasn't just an old dinosaur stuck in the mud. When shown the way, he moved with the times and to where the best profits were.
In recent times, Roger Dedman's Commonsense Punting: A Mathematical Approach, Paul Segar's Australian Horse Racing: The Punter's Guide to Winning, Alan Aitken's Hats In The Ring and Don Begg's study of Mark Read's ratings, Walk Away A Winner: Year One have added magnificently to the Australian
Yet the real pioneer of the deeper scientific approach was undoubtedly Don Scott. Page after page in his books is devoted to explaining the intricacies of form: purely magical for the uninformed learner.
Certainly, there were areas where Don may have been wrong (wet tracks, times), and even those are arguable, but when we weigh up the plusses and minuses he is so far ahead it is much like Don receiving 1511 about an 1/1 chance for mine ... and he would have LOVED such an overlay!
Naturally, as the tone of this article implies, I say an emphatic YES to the question of whether the writings of Don Scott are still relevant in 1999. His concept of ratings, the mathematics and the deep aspects of form study he shared with the punting public will still be as relevant in the year 2099 as they are now.
To the general punting public, maybe, he was just a big punter who published a book. To those like me, who wished to learn more, he was a great teacher. Personally, it's my opinion that Don Scott should be posthumously knighted for his services to Australian horseracing. That's how highly I rate his legacy.
Do yourself the honour of reading his books (I believe a reprint is on the market at present). You will not be disappointed and along the way you will learn of the beauty of the punt, the Don Scott way.
What do you think of Don Scott and his weight-ratings approach? Is weight overrated? Can speed ratings do the job better? Write in and give us your thoughts. By Roman Koz
PRACTICAL PUNTING - MARCH 1999