Over the years I have received hundreds of letters from P.P.M. readers and I've noticed a similar vein running through many of them-how to bet safely and yet still make a healthy profit?

The most common queries regard betting two or more horses a race. This is known as 'Dutching' in its simplest form. You back two horses 'proportionally' (Alan Jacobs talks all about proportional betting in his article Pro-Power!) so that no matter which one wins you will receive the same amount of profit.

A reader from Inglewood in Taranaki, New Zealand, Mr L.R, wrote to me recently on this very subject, and virtually pleaded with me to help him properly bet two or more horses per race. New Zealand is all-tote, as we know, and I fear this has led to a nation of poorly informed punters as far as betting techniques are concerned.

Because of last-minute tote fluctuations you have to be careful when Dutching because you might back a horse expecting a certain dividend and after you have placed your bet the price moves significantly, often for the worse! Here in Australia, on-course punters don't have that worry because they can secure firm prices from bookmakers.

What do you do, then, when you Dutch a race? What is it you are achieving? Well, you firstly increase your exposure to winning, reduce your risk of losing, and cut down the risk of long losing runs. Sounds OK so far, right? On the other hand, the concession you are making is a smaller relative payout from Dutching BUT this is offset by your higher win percentage. In other words, you have more strikes than you would betting one horse a race, so although your returns are smaller there are lots more of them!

It is a fact that a lot of successful bettors in Australia, and other parts of the world, use the Dutching method on at least some of their bets. It gives them an edge to compensate, in part anyway, for the government's 15 per cent (approx.) take from the invested dollar.

What I am suggesting to you is that you can use the Dutching method and have a lot of fun doing so. It may be easier to just pick out one horse and back it each-way, but picking out two-or even more-is so much more sensible if you want assured profitability.

You can pair any two horses. As long as the prices permit a profit you're OK. There are price pairings that won't allow you to back two horses in a race and win. Basically, they fall into the short-priced category. For instance, the pairing of, say, a 5/2 chance with a 6/4 chance wouldn't leave you with a desirable profit level-their percentages total much less (68%) than what I would recommend and that is a 50 cents return on the invested dollar.

This return ranges from around 5/4 with a 4/1 chance, or an evens chance with a 5/1 chance. Obviously, the higher the prices the higher your expected return on the invested dollar. For example, the coupling of a 10/1 chance and a 7/2 chance will return you around $2.20 for each $1.

What you have to do initially is to decide how much to invest on each race. Let's say it really is for fun and you take $50 to the races, for five bets at $10 per race. In the first race, you have chosen Horse A at 3/1 and Horse B at 6/1. You want to Dutch them so you bet them in the correct proportion. The percentages are 25% and 14% (approx.), a total of 39 per cent.

To work out how much of the $10 to bet on each horse you merely divide each horse's winning chance by the total of the winning chances and multiply the result by the amount you have decided to bet. In the above case, then, we would have:

HORSE A: 3/1 (25%) divided by 39 0.64 multiplied by 10 = 6.4.
HORSE B: 6/1 (14%) divided by 39 = 0.35 multiplied by 10 = 3.5.

Your bets, then, rounded off would be $6.50 on Horse A and $3.50 on Horse B. Should Horse A win you would have a return of $26. Should Horse B win the return would be $24.50.

See how much fun you can have with this method? You can back three horses if the prices are 'value' enough to permit a profit of reasonable proportions. Let's say the horses were 3/1, 8/1 and 12/1. Their percentages are 25, 11 and 7.5 (approx.) equalling 43.5 per cent. Apply the ex exercise I've outlined above and you will discover how much to bet on each:

HORSE A: 3/1 (25) divided by 43.5 = 0.57 multiplied by 10 = 5.7.
HORSE B: 8/1 (11) divided by 43.5 = 0.25 multiplied by 10 = 2.5.
HORSE C: 12/1 (7.5) divided by 43.5 0.17 multiplied by 10 = 1.7.

That's your $10 bet, with an extra 50c when you round off the figures and you have $6 on Horse A, $2.50 on Horse B and $2 on Horse C, a total of $10.50. Expected returns would be: Horse A (6 x 3 plus 6 stake = 24), Horse B (2.5 x 8 plus 2.5 stake = 22.5) and Horse C (2 x 12 plus 2 stake 26).

Don't try to link up really short-priced horses because the percentages just won't work out. Remember you have to try to look for a 50c plus return on the invested dollar. Linking, say, a 6/4 and a 2/1 would mean a 73 per cent pairing, leaving you only a possible 17 per cent gain. ($11.70 for $10).

Try Dutching when you're at the TAB or the track. Always remember to have your calculator along with you! With sensible selections, you can enjoy a lot of winning days with this approach. It's an oldie but it's a goodie.

After all, it is sensible betting. It's working to the percentages and the bets are proportioned to take advantage of the prices on offer. It's certainly worth a try, especially for those punters who always end up griping about how they picked two horses out and backed the wrong one.

With this method you'll never have to complain again!

By Jon Hudson