Some of my biggest wins in racing have come from backing doubles. At one stage in my betting career I more or less bet doubles to the exclusion of other forms of betting.

For various reasons, including my suspicion that it was getting harder and harder to secure real value, I eased back on doubles in the late 90s. More recently, I’ve begun to attack them again.

My view is that doubles represent still the most likely way of making steady profits, but that they have to be bet with some care as to chances.

I’ve talked with a lot of fellow punters about doubles and, probably not surprisingly, each seemed to take a different approach. One chap bets to win equal amounts on each double (a la Don Scott style), another prefers to bet a set base amount and then supplement it.

Basically, his approach is as follows: If he assesses a double and can get it down to four in each leg he will bet 4 x 4 at $5 each for $80. Then the best in each leg will be separated and he might end up with a strong preference for a horse in one leg and two in the other leg, and bet 1 x 2 for $15 each, a total of $30.

That gives him an outlay of $110 on the double. He stands to collect the double either five or 20 times. While one in the four in each leg might be a longshot, and he could invest less on the combination, the additional few dollars will come home now and again and when it does the haul is wonderful.

I recall that some time back this chap had such a bet at one of the Sydney tracks and the double paid more than $300. He’s had quite a number of similar hits.
He told me: “If I have, say, three in one leg and four in another, costing $60 for the double at $5 each, I might fancy one a lot more than the others in one leg.

Then I go for it taking another $10 with the entire four in leg two if I can’t split them, and add a Field bet (the strong fancy with the field) for a dollar, just in case the unthinkable happens!

“This has paid off very well for me. I’d recommend it to punters who are keen on doubles, because if your opinion turns out to be correct you can gain some real windfall divvies.”

This chap’s approach is just one of many that have been passed on to me by those punters with whom I’ve discussed punting.

Another pal insists that he wins from Field doubles, but he invariably will use the Field in the first leg into a strong fancy in the second.

“The reasoning is that nobody is really concentrating on the NEXT race, or the second leg,” he says. “If my fancy for the day is the second leg of a double, I have no hesitation in taking the Field in the first leg. Most people I know tend to go the other way; the psychological aspect is they want to feel comfortable about the getting the second leg, so they take the Field in that race.”

My personal approach is one that calls for single “saver” bets. It has served me well over many years, mainly because the “savers” have done their work and helped me to get back my stake in the event of a losing double.

We assume that you have three selections in each leg. The first leg is the pivotal one, of course, because you need the winner to stay alive.

The actual double is your top selection in the first leg coupled with your top three selections in the second leg. The other two selections in the first leg act as your insurance bets against complete loss.

Let’s say you are betting $100 on the double. The first move is to insure the $100. Let’s say your three in the first leg are ATOMIC (top selection) and BURGER and SCONE, the “saver” selections.

Burger is at 7/2 and Scone is a 6/1 chance. You bet $22 on Burger and $14 on Scone. Should either win, your entire bet will be saved. You are now left with $64 to bet the double of Atomic in the first leg with your three fancies in the second leg.

Each double, then, is bet for $22. The only way you can lose on this bet is if you don’t get the winner in the first leg or you get your top fancy home in the first leg but fail to get the second leg winner.

The key to long-term success is not to get too greedy. Do not, under any circumstances, back every double you can lay your eyes on! No, this approach is all about sensible choices.

Try to avoid those doubles in which both legs have small fields (eight or fewer each leg). Also, take care when investing in doubles where both legs have large fields (15 or more each leg).

The smaller fields will restrict your chance of getting a good dividend; the larger fields make it very hard to get the double simply because in these fields are usually five or six key chances in each leg.

A friend of mine sticks to the three favourites in each leg of the double. He bets the favourite in the first leg as the banker, and takes the second and third favourites as the “saver” bets. There is, of course, a body of opinion which suggests it might be better in the long run to take the third favourite as the banker and save on the first two favourites.

My own experiences lately have given me some excellent returns. As an example: At Pakenham on February 27, I was very confident that Masai could win the Pakenham Cup. In fact, I talked over the race with PPM editor Brian Blackwell and he told me he was tipping Masai as a special for the PPD Club on the Internet.

This boosted my confidence no end, because Brian’s tipping has been close to phenomenal so far this year.

I decided on Davidoff 7/2 and It’s Picnic 5/1 as the “saver” bets and chose Middlemarch, Reign On and Kingston Scene for the second leg.

My usual bet is $50 so my “saver” investments were $11 on Davidoff and $9 on It’s Picnic. This left me with $30 for the three doubles at $10 each.

As it turned out, Masai won the first leg and Reign On took out the second leg. The double paid $40. My return on the bet was $400. But take another look at the bet. Runner-up in the first leg was It’s Picnic, so if Masai had run second then It’s Picnic would have won and my entire bet would have been saved.

The beauty of this approach is that while you are embarking on a high-return trip, you are also playing safe by having two insurance horses running for you.

After all, how many times have you seen your solo bet in the first leg of a double get run over by your second or third choice?

Yes, it happens a lot of times, doesn’t it, and if you’re like me you’d be cursing your luck and remonstrating with yourself about not having had a bet on the winner.

Putting all your eggs in one basket can be a risky approach, whether you are betting win only or for the double.

You can, if you wish, operate this idea using ONE saver bet in the first leg. It will cut costs a bit and enable you to have more money on the doubles. At the same time it also means you have to be even more accurate in your analysis.

Narrowing the first leg to two chances only can probably be done without much fuss in 20 per cent of races, but in the other 80 per cent it can prove a really tricky task, believe me. Having that third selection can save you much grief.

I know that many punters will have problems making their selections in each leg, especially where the banker, or top fancy, is concerned. I understand this. Selecting is an often cruel taskmaster!

You could, of course, consider using a mechanical approach to finding the banker. One way is to add the last three starts of a horse to its position in the betting market, pre-post.

Check out each runner. Add up the last three starts (a zero will be 10) to the LINE of betting. So, if a horse is the favourite then its figure would be one. If it is second favourite, then two and so on. So we are looking at adding the LINE of favouritism and NOT the actual quoted odds.

Let’s say Horse A has last three form figures of 771 and is third favourite. Added together that is 7+7+1+3 equalling 18. Horse B’s last three starts are 423 and it is fourth favourite. Its total is 13. Horse C’s last three starts show 057 and it is fifth favourite. Its total will be 27. Horse D’s last three runs show 223 and it is the favourite. Its total, then, will be eight. Horse E has 117 and is second favourite. Its total is 11.

The selection is the horse with the lowest total, in this example it will be Horse D with eight.

This is a useful enough approach to ensure you get a very good selection as your banker. But, I stress, it’s only for those among you who might dilly-dally and prevaricate on making a top choice selection. It saves you all the hassle.

Let’s look at some other approaches to picking your three selections in each leg. These are some ideas on how to go about looking at the form.

  1. Most recent last start winners.
  2. The three favourites in each leg.
  3. The runners with the BEST jockeys.
  4. The runners on the first five lines of favouritism with course and distance wins to their credit.
  5. The top poll selections in your newspaper guide or formguide.
  6. Horses with the best win strike rates.
  7. Runners dropping in class.
  8. Horses who ran well in the city and are now racing at provincial level.
  9. Horses that ran second, third or fourth last start.
  10. Horses with VERY GOOD trainers.
  11. Horses racing within 14 days of their last start.

Use these factors and see how they apply to the individual legs of the double. You may find they lead you to some cluey selections at good odds.

There is, though, no substitute for plain old form study. Get your head into the formguide, watch the video replays, read the newspapers, check out the trackwork…all those sorts of everyday things go to make up a good punter.

(Check out Andrew Knight’s guide on Pages 37/38/39 of this issue of PPM for more clues on how to get things in order for proper form study)

TAB doubles are not easy pickings. Some will prove easier than others, but in those cases the dividends are very likely to reflect that ease of success. The more difficult ones offer the better chance of larger returns but again, I make the point that the larger the fields the more awesome the challenge that faces the punter.

You may relish the challenge! If that’s the case, and you have faith in judgement, then by all means go ahead. One winning return on such big-field doubles can set you up for a long time.

Your aim at all times should be to achieve a high strike rate of returns. The good thing about my suggested approach is that you have a good chance of getting your money back via your “savers” and that should give you heart for the long term.

If your selections are on the ball, even if you don’t land the doubles you will many times be saving your stake because the insurance horses will win. In a way, you are betting the double for “nothing”.

I hope this idea appeals to those among you who fancy the doubles as a way to get ahead in the profit game. As always in racing, the reality comes when you actually make the selections.

A staking plan can be terrific but it will always depend on the quality and consistency of the selections. No staking approach can win if YOU don’t provide the winners. It’s as simple as that.

By Mark Merrick