Yes, it's unquestionably the oldest question in the book, especially for those who live in countries where there seems to be some chance of making money betting each-way.

The Americans have three options: win, place and show (second). When Pittsburgh Phil said (if he ever did ... ) "I pick 'em to win and bet 'em to place," he meant he selected a near-certainty (now there's a thought!) and then backed it to win or come second.

He acknowledged that it could be beaten, but only by one other horse. The alternative viewpoint is to back your horse to win and support the 'danger' to save your skin, or stake. Of course that presupposes that you know what the danger is.

Phil's view was that his certainties might get "just beaten", but would go close. Some of my friends' experiences support this, while others tell me that their betting suggests that their horses generally either win or run nowhere. This latter group backs longer-priced horses. More later on this factor.

The three-bet option - win, place or show - does allow an extra dimension into the act, though. It means that there are four chances of anomalies. There is the chance of the win tote, or the bookie, being wrong, or the place or the show return being wrong; wrong in the sense of being over the odds you think it ought to be. Mostly these dividend types only occur where there are no bookies, so we can probably forget them for our analysis.

In Australia, we have win and place (1,2,3), and with the TAB we can bet either win or place or each way, or stagger the bet (e.g. 4 x 12, meaning 4 to win and 12 to place). We can also bet with bookmakers on the track or pre-post. I am told that we can also bet with off-course bookies here and there, and get good returns, but my info is that they are becoming harder to find (and they happen to be illegal, and can do a bunk if you win too much).

What are our real choices? As I see them, they are these:

STRAIGHT OUT
This means we bet to win only.

The horse loses, we lose. It wins, we win. If we are on track we can compare TAB with bookies, but offcourse we can only use the TAB and accept or reject its offered odds.

Once we have the bet placed with a bookmaker the big plus is that the bet stands. In most races someone can come along to the TAB ten seconds before the race and blow our overlay out of the water with one hefty bet.

A lot of big punters only bet for the win, and back up with a saver, or even a good bet, on a danger if they perceive a horse to be a genuine threat. I am aware of very few punters who 'dutch book' these days, as the odds are too tight. They seek value about the horse that the computers and their studies say will win. If they cannot get the odds about that horse, they rarely back something to beat it. So things have shifted here. A pro used to back those horses who, he thought, were over the odds. Now he merely sits the race out if the one he believes WILL WIN is under his acceptable odds.

That makes it tough for bookies and in my view is a major reason for their decline. The best punters and the biggest bookies think very much alike, and neither will take a real chance. Neither wants to commit suicide. A bookie puts up 9/4, hoping he will get some takers. The big punter (the bookie's bread and butter) knows that the price ought to be 5/2, and that therefore 3/1 is his minimum (i.e. he wants the edge, or the value).

There is a hell of a difference in percentages between 9/4 and 3/1. The price of 11/4 will probably be where the two sides agree to settle. A little over the right price, and a little under what the punter will readily accept. How times have changed!

Now, at 11/4 or 3/1, a punter betting level stakes has to be successful more than one time in four to make a go of it. He has to be able to feel he can get significantly more than 25 winners in a hundred to make a profit at 3/1. He is probably looking at one in three, which is very hard to achieve at those odds, even when you're a full-time student of the game.

So, he can insure his bet by taking each way odds at 3/1 (we'll stick to this figure, as it's easier). He therefore will get a quarter the win bet back (87.5% of the whole outlay in this case) if the horse places second or third.

This is where a major argument starts: if you bet each way, or back a second horse, are you dropping a point or significantly reducing your price? For the moment we will walk around this one and save it for another full article.

If you keep the two bets (win and place) separated in your mind, it's easier to think through. If you bet \$50 each way on a horse at 3/1 and it runs third, you get back \$87.50 for your \$100. You lose a quarter of the win stake, retrieving the other three-quarters on the place basis. If you can do that eight times in ten, or 80% of the time, you give yourself a great insurance policy, as over 100 bets you are assured of a return (for \$50 each way, i.e. a total of \$10,000) of \$7000 (i.e. 40% profit for the place bet). Let's concentrate on what this means to the win bet.

Our punter only needs to get another \$3000 from his 100 win bets to cut even. If, as we said earlier, he aims at one in three (or even less - say, he's successful with thirty winners in a hundred) at 3 / 1, he will receive \$6000 for his \$5000 outlay to win. This puts him \$1000 up here, and \$3000 up overall when you take the 'place' part of the bets into account. That's thirty per cent on turnover for the hundred bets. Very nice.

But hardly secure for the future so far as the win side only goes. A handful of losers and our punter is history. I submit, therefore, that if you have a weak nerve, or back shorter-priced animals, or both, you should always bet each way.

The odds are nearly always too tight against you to win more than thirty per cent of the time with any selection plan and, while you will find many arguing for a second~ horse win bet as a support (I have done this myself when chasing an AB Trifecta), most times you will find that short-priced horses run a place if they don't win – provided you have chosen them with great care.

The trouble is that on the TAB they won't regularly pay a quarter of the win odds, and there lies the rub we have to address when we look at off-course betting.

SO WHAT DECISION HAVE WE REACHED?
In my view, if you bet on-course, you have a chance of betting each way and making a real go of it by selectively choosing horses around the 3/1-5/1 range when they seem value. If they are shorter than you feel they should be, then stay out. Each-way is not the way to go just because the horse is short and you can get most of your money back if it places. It still has to be value.

If you back longer-priced animals, history and statistics are against you when you bet each way. This is where a 12/1 win-bet becomes an 8/1 win-bet when it scores; where a 12/1 each-way bet which places provides a return of (wait for it) even money! Where an 8/1 second placing returns the each-way bettor 1/2.

Yes, 2/1 ON. And a 10/1 placing returns you less than even money!

Think of that. A ten-to-oner runs second and you have really bet odds of 9 / 10 the entire bet. At 4/1 each-way you make nothing.

We can argue around this kind of logic in the shorter-priced bracket, where the insurance factor is really significant. But with the longpriced brigade, the effect on the occasional winner is devastating if you consistently bet each way. A long-priced selection must be a win bet only, at least when you bet with the bookmaker.

So, win betting ONLY is the go for the long-priced horse, while those punters who concentrate on the shorter commodities might be able to make a real business of each-way betting on course. Offcourse punters who can watch the odds to the death might still have a chance each way, but history is against them.

(Footnote: I am well aware of my stable recommendations in this regard and would welcome mail.)

I will conclude this analysis in next month's PPM.