The "poor old punter" faces myriad pitfalls as he goes about the business of betting on racehorses. Many of them he falls into time and again.

It's all very well for us pundits to say "don't do this" or "never do that again" but real-life makes many demands, and none of us is perfect. Sometimes, it's almost comfortable to make the same mistake. Don't the psychologists tell us that because we like to bet we therefore like to punish ourselves by losing?

That's hogwash to me, but perhaps the shrinks have a point, though I've never met a punter yet who yearned to lose. They yearn to win and they'll do just about anything to make their dreams come true.

The house of cards continues to collapse on them for many reasons other than a subconscious desire to throw their money away.

The aim of this series of articles is to talk about some of the little, and big, problems that we'll strike along the punting path. We may not have the answers exactly, but we can at least DISCUSS the problems, why they happen and what you might do to eliminate them from your profile.


Because MONEY is at the heart of betting, it goes without saying that many of the problems associated with the business come under that heading: MONEY, LACK OF, etc.

Robert Saunders Dowst addressed it many years ago, saying: "Often a novice to racing will be under extreme financial pressure as regarding each bet. He has to make money, simply cannot afford to lose, and therefore is in a state of mind that hinders judgement where judgement is called for by whatever method he is using, and usually his entire method is based on nothing more substantial than the shaky opinions of a newspaper selector, or on the multiple choices of a tip sheet."

What Dowst knew was that too many punters are prone to panic, to betting too much and too often, and many times on the flimsiest of foundations. They don't do their homework, they rely too much on the opinions of others, they risk too much for too little gain, and so on.

Pete Jarvis, an American professional, said: "Money really is gold. Protect it. Don't throw it around. If you had gold pieces would you carelessly throw them around? So why do it with paper money. Think about that money, and what it might buy if you were not to be on a silly selection."

Dowst was convinced that only a handicapper good enough to have confidence in his own selections could expect to make money at the track over the long run. This is right so far as it goes, but there are many punters who don't have the time or inclination to become expert handicappers and who must rely on the opinions of others for their bets.

Their job is to make sure they choose the right experts! And when they do find a good one, to make sure they only bet the very best of that person's selections, and don't fire away blanks each raceday.

The pitfall, then, is that you throw your money around on too many bets and without due consideration. The next time you're tempted into mad panic bets, take the time to stop and think about what you're doing.

What's the potential gain of the bet? What's the risk associated with it? Is the risk worth taking? Can you wait for another race?


This doesn't mean that if you read the form correctly that you'll back a winner. No sirree, Bob! You might well accurately pick out the ideal form horse in the race, but you may also watch it get beaten. The formbook is often made a fool of by the horses.

BUT, you must study the form. Sure, you'll be wrong sometimes (even when you're right!) but the times you'll be right will outweigh the disappointments.

If you can't study the form in great detail, then try to find a way to simplify it to make things easier and less time-consuming. The pitfall is not to understand the importance of such analysis, and to treat the formbook's many details with contempt.

The American authority Al Rogers once wrote: "The bettor's first task is to do away with worthless study by eliminating worthless races! We call them the unbettables. When the better comes to a race where he is confident he can reduce the field to a few strong chances, that's when he starts to seriously study the form."

So there's a lesson in all of this. You need the form, you must understand it, but you don't waste your valuable time on worthless races.

What are worthless races? They're the ones that offer little value, the weak events at minor tracks, the races that offer simply too many good chances, those races perhaps totally dominated by a hot favourite that deserves to be a hot favourite but which is being offered at prohibitive odds.

Don't tumble into the pitfall of trying to crack such races. You'll be wrong more times than you're right. Better, indeed, to find the races in which you feel comfortable that you have the form under control, and comfortable that things will, mostly, turn out as you expect them to.


Betting on racehorses can be enormous fun. It can be profitable. It can be a wonderful recreational pursuit. It can make you happy. But, like everything, it has a downside.

When a punter gets out of his depth, or takes on something which feels uncomfortable, then he should be aware of the danger signs.

It's easy to say that we should keep our betting under control. Often that's not easy. We may win a lot and get overconfident, or lose a lot and have no confidence. We may start betting in a manner to which we are unaccustomed.

It's in this area that a lot of punters start to flounder. I remember a friend of mine who bet happily and contentedly for years and years on win and place bets, then talked himself into switching to an all-out attack with trifectas.

His entire mode of operation was changed, virtually overnight. His decision-making processes were turned on their head. He began to make too many incorrect calls. He began to lose. Sure, he got winners, but getting enough trifectas up at the right prices proved mostly elusive.

It took my pal a year and thousands of dollars before he would admit he had made a poor tactical move. He dumped the trifectas and went back to what he did best, betting for win and place. He started winning again.

Much the same thinking applies to the amount of money you bet. If you've been happily betting in $5 and $10 amounts all your life, you will find it a different ball game if suddenly you start betting $20 and $50.

All too soon you start to worry more, you get anxious, you get scared of losing because the losses are bigger than you are used to ... and so a vicious cycle begins.

And it all happens because you put yourself out of your depth. We can liken the situation to a cricketer. He may well bat well in 5th Grade, and score lots of runs, but put him into 3rd Grade, against better bowlers, and suddenly his technique flaws are exposed, he gets out for next to nothing, he loses confidence, and so on.

It's the same with betting. There is f or each bettor what we might call a comfort zone" and each of us should know the limits of our personal zones. Not to know, is to invite disaster.

So the pitfall is to play outside your main game. If it's money, keep within the range in which you are comfortable; if it's a form of betting, then make sure you know what you're doing when you eliminate one approach to change to another.


We're all wise after the event. I can list a multitude of hindsight millionaires. I'm one of them. I've often counted up what I would have won had I known before what I know now.

On this point, it's best, if you can, to be as wise as possible before the event. And in particular I'm referring to being wise about setting realistic targets. The pitfall we are dealing with here is the punter who can't be bothered to set targets, or think long-term, but who just rolls along grabbing what he can here and there, and losing more than he wins.

With these hapless punters there is no real goal to reach. No standards are set. It's all hit-or-miss. And it's all lose, lose and lose.

Mark Coton, the canny UK expert, wrote in his book 100 Hints For Better Betting: "Set aside a betting bank. This is the first important step in betting on a disciplined and organised basis. Do not cobble your bank together with a few stray fivers and the week's drinking money.

"If necessary, take a break from betting and save up enough to allow yourself to feel you are on solid ground."

Coton goes on to push the need for the punter to keep careful note of all his betting, of paying winnings straight back into the betting bank. Most importantly, he argues against the punting philosophy that says "bet for today and let tomorrow worry about itself".

Coton writes: "Keep a sense of perspective. We will all have set ourselves realistic profit targets, to which each winner will contribute, thus rendering it part of a coherent strategy, instead of a random event.

"Aiming to achieve this profit target, or making a worthy attempt at achieving it, should imbue us with a sense of purpose about our betting."

So avoid that No. 4 pitfall ... not making plans for the future!

NEXT MONTH: More pitfalls to avoid and further advice from some of the world's most successful punters.

Click here to read Part 2.

By P.B. King