One of the questions that was raised in the May 2005 issue of PPM was from a Mr Terry Burns, and it proved too big for Ask the Optimist.

After some considerable discussion with Brian, we decided that it was absolutely ideal for a three-page spread.

This was principally because it opened up a whole area for discussion.  If you are a systems fan, it almost follows without argument that you are going to have an interest in multiple betting.

The question that Mr Burns raised, to get it exactly right, was: “do we know of any professional punters who make serious money using exotic plans?”

What is multiple betting?  It simply means that more than one horse is involved in your wager.  This can be by means of a daily double, a quinella, an exacta, a trifecta, a quadrella, or any other kind of all-up bet that entrepreneurs can dream up. 

So long as it is not just a single win bet or a single place bet, or a combination of those two, I think I'm right in saying that whatever else you bet is a multiple bet.  I tried to think of any other examples of single bets but I couldn’t.  The nearest possible would be where you take one horse in each race, such as in a daily double, extra double, all up or parlay.

I have had a lifelong fascination with exotic betting and I named it well ahead of Don Scott.  I didn’t do much ahead of Don, but I did that.  Don was one of the greatest professionals Australia has ever seen and he was converted to multiple betting (if my memory holds up) around 1980 or so.

Terry may be right, and it could be significantly later that Don transferred over to the multiple form of betting. I recall occasions where I ran into him travelling to Melbourne on the Saturday morning plane, and at that stage he was certainly still betting on individual horses.  I do not recall him doing that after about 1982 or 1983, and I think it was about that time that he made the switch. 

Somebody is bound to write and tell us (I wouldn’t rely entirely on his books on this matter: he was still more focused on individual betting when he appeared to start changing his tack in his writing, and you need to get to around 1990 before the definitive statement is made).

His earliest work was dedicated to focusing on individual horses, but the betting revolution soon swept his edge aside, and he focused very squarely on trifectas for the remainder of his life.  Some years were better years than others.  I sometimes have wondered whether the national service that Don did for all punters contributed significantly to the levels of his own profits dropping off.

He taught a lot of people the way to make money at the racetrack, and while his later commercial partner, Warren Block, worked with him on Eagleform for several years, Warren is a betting teetotaller.  For that reason Warren (famous for Superform and The Wizard) was always able to maintain a totally detached and impartial view, and remains so.  A problem for any professional is going to be exacerbated if he creates a racing revolution and then continues to rely on it for a living.

Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I have often offered to readers of PPM, for only purchasing material such as racing systems and selection methods from highly reputable, long established racing companies, whose principal responsibility always remains to its clientele.

If some local Joe Blow suddenly offers you a million-dollar method, you have to ask the most obvious question in the book.  Why sell it?  Whereas, when a company’s whole reason for existence is to continue research and provide material for its clients on a long-term basis, it is in an entirely different position.

I spoke to several of my contacts about this topic of exotic betting, and as you might expect I received a range of answers.  Some of them were very supportive of the exotics, and amongst the reasons given some were quite fascinating.

For example, one professional maintains that it is quite irrelevant how many computers are out there tapping away in people’s homes with a couple of minutes to go before a race: those computers are still mechanical and will be relying on previous input, so that in fact you are much better off with a solid system than with trying to make subjective entries in the last few minutes before betting.

This chap is of the view that there are too many unknowns, still at the very heart of every race, for somebody with a computer program to cope with them all.  “Give me a straightforward, rigid system every time over something which allows your average punter to fiddle around at the last minute”.  Well, it’s a point of view, and of course I was attracted to it because it’s one I share.

I believe that a good system (actually, a battery of good systems, and by that I mean several) is as good a way of going about your betting as the serious racegoer is likely to find anywhere.  These days, it is so very hard to find a longer-priced horse even for multiples.  Why?  The answer I believe, is that where there is a simple placement involved, the computers will find these horses.  A system, however, will find the horses on the days that they will quite often be dispensed with by your average computer program.

English professional Alan Potts, to whom I have often referred with great deference (I regard his books as amongst the greatest books on racing I have ever read), chose to even call one of his books Against the Crowd.  His whole philosophy was based on finding the right horse on the days when the majority of the crowd didn’t spot it.  This is a very clever way of saying that you bet against the favourite, although not entirely.

A horse which went out as a $2 favourite a fortnight ago and starts as a $4.90 favourite today, in the right race, is every bit as good a bet as a second or third favourite starting at $4.90.  There is no difference.  It’s not the favourite you are against, it’s the majority opinion, and if this horse is almost 4/1 then we must assume that it has some very serious rivals in the betting market.  If it starts at $4.90, a lot of the crowd has swung away from it and on to something else.

So you shouldn’t necessarily think that supporting a favourite is to be avoided: you just need to know, according to Alan, how to support them and when.  Naturally, they would become a very important part of any multiple betting you did on that day.  The $2 favourite would be laid in your exotics, whilst the $4.90 favourite would be well and truly covered.  The likelihood is that every computer in the land would be flashing its lights on the first occasion because it is mechanical and cannot see past the 50 per cent (even money) basis of the bet.

Further to Alan Potts’ principles, regular readers may recall my making reference to his brilliant observation about betting shops in Britain (we can carry the analogy to Australia and New Zealand).  What is really thrust at you?  Happy people, usually young inexperienced and naive people, making billions of bucks on mystery trifectas, flexi first fours, and the like.  If I said “pathetically ignorant novices”, I suppose a new reader might recoil in horror.  But let’s face it, that’s what they are.

You can, of course, treat a multiple bet rather like having your weekend splurge on Lotto.  To give you an example, you could take the bottom two TAB numbers and the top two TAB numbers in a first four bet for every race in Sydney on Saturdays.  This would cost you, if you were betting on 25-cent flexi units, about $48.  I suppose that now and again you’d get a result, but before you did (unless you were just plain lucky) you’d probably forget all about the plan.  Why?  Because it’s no good!  It’s got no previous form and it’s not going to have any future form, because there is no basis in logic. 

Nevertheless, you can get computer programs which will spit out selections for every first four race on the program.  Is their logic any better?  If it is, this will be reflected in disappointing odds.  For all those reasons, I will place a rigid selection method, based on past results, in front of anything like that.

I sidetracked there a little bit, but that’s not unusual is it?  The next professional I considered was my old pal Garry Robinson.  Garry and I wrote together for some period, and he has continued as both a writer and lecturer in the racing world.  He holds weeklong seminars at a beautiful spot just south of Newcastle where he teaches his professional principles. 

Looking at his Racing Pays More I find a dedication to single-race single or multiple (Dutch) win betting. Some of his followers, after devising their own assessments, tend to place a lot of their trust in the “best price” bookmakers.  As Garry points out, this is a principle which will always stand you well in front on the shorter priced horses.  The longer priced horses, the ones that we don’t expect to win under practically any circumstances, are usually much better on the tote. 

Because the totes in Australia tend to hold such enormous sums of money, even the effect of a group of system followers is unlikely to have an excessive impact: what it usually means, is that those whose opinions differ from the system followers become more supportive of their own horses, and so things revert to where they would have been anyway.

On the other hand, Garry is always a man with an eye for the best chance, and multiples can sometimes provide this. One example he provides in his book is of a successful four horse all up/parlay which did very well for him a year or two back.  Like me, Garry mutters obscenities under his breath directed at the inconsistency of the various TABs in their naming of bets.  The Yankee has been around overseas for many decades, yet by the time it arrived here it had been perverted with all kinds of interpretations and reassessments. 

A parlay is a combination of all bets involved.  Simple as that.  If you haven’t got a parlay, you might still have a multiple bet (for example an all-up) but some of your combinations are going to be missing.  The British have some fascinating combinations, and Garry and I have both studied them over the years.  Garry has no room at all for anything but very straight talk.

For example, you will find Garry making comments such as “the only way horse X can win is if all the others fall over”.  He is a very hard-nosed professional and his opinion can be respected.  At the same time, he points out that it is difficult to make out a case for “investment” when you are talking about exotic bets.  You are better to regard these as speculative, or else requiring a very significant bank. 

Garry would advocate betting two or three horses in a race as against outlaying a lot on multiple or exotic combinations.  However, if I read him correctly, I would think that he would be advising, on occasions when you “Dutch book” three or four horses in a race, that you throw $6 or $12, or so, the way of the trifecta and first four.  This professional would argue that if you are serious, and you keep track of your betting, and your bank can take the run of outs, sooner or later this tactic is going to pay off.

The trick here is that you don’t know when.  It could be today or next year!

The next professional I spoke with on this issue did not wish to be named, but indicated that for him, the single bet is the only bet he entertains, and it is derived from his seven principal methods of selection.  What stunned me about this man, whom I have known for a long time, is that he does not make his bets face-to-face with his bookmakers even when he is at the track. 

It would appear that he established the situation with his bookmakers some time back. This is available when he telephones, and he can have the price quoted, or the starting price, whichever ends up better.  He has been angling to get this extended to “or the final TAB price” but so far without luck.

So he attends the track, which would appear to be the only place for this Sydney-based pro to have access to all three possibilities.  On the surface, this is ridiculous, but that’s how it is.  He knows how the prices are fluctuating and keeps a close eye on them, comparing with the TAB odds and speculating as to which way the betting is likely to go with the bookmakers. 

Obviously, if the TAB odds are acceptable and enormously bigger than the bookmakers’ odds (he tells me this is very frequent in Brisbane), then he will like as not make his investment on the TAB and turn his attention to his next task, however far ahead that is likely to be.

On the other hand, if there is not much difference between the two sets of odds, and he is happy with what is being offered, he might well decide to take the bookmakers’ odds now.  If the horse blows in the betting, especially if it is interstate, the bookmakers’ final prices are in all probability going to be better than the TAB.  What he does now is what surprised me. 

He wanders off to a quiet spot and telephones his bet. As I understand it, if he goes and has the money face-to-face with the bookmaker, he won’t get that privilege of “starting price if it’s better”.  It’s a funny old world.

We discussed systems, which of course are always on my mind, and he agreed that, in its way, his is a very systematic approach.  His staking method (keeping a close watch on all options) is actually an absolutely rigid system. 

He is very close to the chest so far as his selection methods go, but I’ve known him for a long time and, like me, he is still fascinated by systems based on past form.  We both agree that there is absolutely nothing in our racing world to compare with a solid understanding of what a horse has already done.

So there we have it. Exotic or single?  I guess it’s very much up to the personality of the individual.  But one thing you must have noticed towards the end of this article is that the staking method can be just as much a “system” as the selection method.  And staking methods can be, in their way, quite as exotic and dependent on multiple factors.  More on that another time!

By The Optimist