No matter which way you punt be it on your own selections, using someone else's or by a mechanical system - you have to come to terms with how the 'odds' work if you are to understand what your long-term prospects are, financially-speaking.

System followers have a variety of methods by which they can back their selections. They can bet them straight-out for win or place, or both, or link them in doubles, quinellas, trifectas etc. Of course, I hear you ask, which system do I choose for a start?!

That's simple enough: the one you, consider will make you the most profits. It doesn't matter if it's simple or infernally difficult to operate, if it's going to make you money you should use it. Always, though, choose a system that isn't going to turn you into a nervous wreck because of a high-risk approach. Racing and betting should be an enjoyable pastime.

When you are working out all the rules of a system, keep in mind that it's profits you're after, not necessarily a high strike rate of winners. If your system throws up only 15 per cent winners, but gives you a healthy profit because of high divvies, then who cares that you get only 15 winners every 100 bets?

An approach in testing for profitability is to work out the average odds of the selections that win and then multiply this by the win percentage. This will provide you with the 'expected return’ for a system. An example:

 4/1 4 2/1 2 5/2 2.5 evens 1 evens 1 2/1 2
Total equals 12.5 divided by 6 equals 2.10 (rounded off). If a system with these results won 50 of its last 100 bets, it would have, of course, a win strike of 50 per cent, and its expected return would be as follows:
2.10 x 50 = 1.05 units 1 100

The most profitable system is the one with the highest expected return. Can level stakes bets work out? Naturally, they will if the odds are right, but how do you get the odds right?

A string of losers can make level stakes betting hard work indeed. Consider the following level-stakes bets.

 (1) 2/1 Lost (2) 2/1 Lost (3) 3/1 Lost (4) 1/1 WON (5) 3/1 Lost (6) 4/1 Lost (7) 5/1 Lost (8) 5/2 WON
Your stake to date has been 8 units, for a return of 2 (on the evens winner) and 3.5 (on the 5 / 2 winner). You are losing 2.5 units. To just get square you now need a 5/2 winner. If you get that you have had 9 bets for three winners at evens, 5/2 and 5/2 and you haven't won a zack! Had the 9th bet lost you would have been 3.5 units down, and needing a 7/2 winner to get square. Another loser and a 9/2 winner would be required!

So, think carefully about level stakes betting. It is a way of keeping your betting under control, but unless you come up with the prices to top off the level stakes, it can be a slow form of financial suicide. Progressive betting has its critics, but sometimes it can provide you with a "net' that will extricate you from trouble with a low-priced winner at any point in a losing chain.

Some progressive staking plans are ingenious. I have always liked the following approach:

1-1-1-2-2-3-4-5-7-9-12.

This series of bets is strategically arranged so that a winner at 3 / 1 at any stage will get you right back into action!

For example: Five losers in a row would bring you to the 3-unit bet. A winner at 3 /1 would return you 12 units (including stake). This means your total outlay on the six bets has been 10 units and you have got back 12 units, with just the one winner at 3/1.

Consider the same bets at level stakes: Five losers in a row, and then a winner at 3/1 would mean an outlay of 6 units for a return of 4 -units, and a loss on the series of 2 units. Same bets, different results with the progressive and level stakes approach.

Granted, with the progression you have outlaid 10 units as against 6 on the level stakes, but in one' fell swoop you have recouped all losses and gone into profit. This is a very clever progression plan for those punters who are backing horses m the 3 / 1 price range, because it means you can get out of trouble with a 3/1 winner, despite a long losing run.

Look at another example: You back (heaven forbid!) 10 losers in a row. Under the progression you would have staked 35 units. The next bet calls for a stake of 12 units. Assume you strike a 3/1 winner. Your total return, including stake. is 48 units. That puts you 1 unit ahead on the entire progression. A stake of 47 units and a return of 48 units.

At level stakes you would have outlaid 1 units for a return of 4, a loss of 7 units! If we assume that you outlaid 4 unit's per level stake win bet, that means you would have outlaid a total of 44 units for a return of 16 units, a loss of 28 units! Are you beginning to get the message?

The more cautious punters among you might be backing horses at even shorter prices. These would call for a more rigid and demanding progression, but the effect would be the same. For backing 2/1 chances the progression would be:

1-1-2-3-4-6-91-14.

Let's assume you have a run of 7 losers. That's a total stake of 26 units. The next bet is 14 units. A winner at 2/1 would return you 42 units. M at would, result in an overall profit of 2 units. The total stake was 40 units, total return 42 units.

Had you bet at level Stakes at 5 units each bet, you would have staked 40 units, for a return of 15 units, a loss of 25 units! (Incidentally, you can read much more about progression betting, in our Cold Collection book, still available from Equestrian; Neale, Yardley has a fantastic article in The gold Collection called, Super Survey, in which progression and level stake betting is compared.

While you have to understand the momentum of prices with staking plans, you also have to fully understand what prices themselves actually mean. For instance, how many of you know what 10/9 means? How many know what 9/10 means? How many can work out the return from a trio of all-up bets on 10/9,5/2 and 13/8 winners?

If you are looking at a horse priced at 2/5 (that's 5/2 ON, not AGAINST) how much can you win should the horse get past the post in first place? For \$1 it means a \$1.40 return; a horse at 2/5 the place would return \$1.10. What you have to weigh up, or work out to the best of your knowledge, is whether the horse is worth backing at such a prohibitive quote.

Professional punter friends of mine will never back a horse at lower than 4/6. They reason that few horses have a 'true' chance bigger than this quote. A \$1 bet on a 4/6 chance will return you \$1.70; a place bet at the same odds \$1.20.

Mike James, who has been punting professionally for10 years, told me recently: "When I first started out I was mad about going in big on shorties, but I found that in the first 12 months I was actually losing money on long odds-on horses. When I went through my books very carefully, I realised that I was wasting my time backing: these hotshots.

"From that point, I was never tempted to chase these type of heavily-fancied horses, though I still have a go when en a horse I like is at 4 / 5 or even 4 / 6, as long as I consider he has a chance to support sue-ha prohibitive quote." My pal Mike makes his punting pay, so he must-have something right, when he talks about the dodginess of chasing winners at long odds-on.

So, as a small punter, you have to carefully consider your own options. Should you back a horse at 2/5, or wait until another race where you can be assured of a far better return on your investment? If you do back horses at long odds-on, do make sure that you maintain a careful record of how much money is won or lost.

It's wise to always have a ‘ready reckoner' with you when you are working out bets, particularly if you want to try to assess how much you'll get back on all-up bets during a day’s punting.

For instance, if you had three horses at 6/4 (A), 4/1 (B) and 8/1 (C), how much would you receive if you linked them in three doubles and a treble?

The doubles would be: A-B, A-C, B-C, and the treble A-B-C. The following is how you would work it out:

(\$1 bets) A at 6/4 with B at 4/1. Return on A is: \$2.50, all-up on B the return for the double is' \$12.50. In actual fact, the double has paid 11.5 to 1. The second double is A at 6/4 with C at 8/1. Here we have a \$2.50 return from A going on to B at 8/1, giving you a return of \$22.50. This means the double actually paid 21.5 to 1.

The third double is B at 4/1 with C at 8/1. There is a \$5 return from B which goes on to C at 8/1, providing a final return on the double of \$45. Thus, the double has returned odds of 44/ 1. The treble of A, B and C goes like this:

A at 6/4, return of \$2.50.
B at 4/1 (\$2.50 parlayed), return of 12.50.
C at 8/1 (\$12.50 parlayed), return of \$112.50.

Your treble, then, has realised odds of 111.5 to 1. Not bad at all. Punters who have trouble with working out such combinations should try to get hold of a ready reckoner publication. There are a few on the market. Perhaps the best I've seen has, been The Racing Ready Reckoner published by Pan Books some10 years ago. Whether copies are still in existence I don't know.

Contact your nearest racing bookshop and ask them about a ready reckoner publication. Mittys usually carry such books and then there's the Horseman's Bookshop in, Sydney.

As a punter dealing in large amounts of money (YOUR money!!), you must fully understand what the game is all about. It's not good enough to know vaguely what 13/8 means, or what 11/8 means. You must have such odds workouts absolutely correct in your mind. To find what the odds figures mean, use simple division. At 13/8 against, you divide 8 into 13, and the answer is 1.63 to 1. At 11/8 against, you divide 8 into 11 and the answer is 1.38 to 1.

Of course, if these horses were at ODDS ON, you would divide the other way – 13 into 8, and 11 into 8, for answers of 0.62 to 1, and 0.73 to 1. Therefore, at 8/13, you would receive back (rounded off) \$1.60 or \$1.65 depending on your bookie!

Think very clearly, then, about prices and what value they represent. When betting odds-on, understand what price it is you are taking. Ask yourself it it's worth the risk.

By Ted Davis

PRACTICAL PUNTING - JULY 1992