The most widely-asked question among racing fans must be the one that goes, 'How on earth can I beat the races? 'It's a question we try to answer in this magazine.
That we are successful, to a degree anyway, is evidenced by the number of letters we receive from readers who tell us how a bit of information here, and another bit there, has enabled them to start winning instead of losing. At the very least, considered use of what appears in P.P.M. can help you cut back your losses.
Whether you can beat the races depends very much on each individual's temperament. This is an aspect of betting which Statsman has tackled before in the magazine in some detail.
Link temperament with a degree of patience and handicapping ability and you have the elements of punting makeup. On the subject of patience ... well, what can I say except that most punters lack it. They are in a hurry and they find it next to impossible to limit their betting action to horses that actually have a good chance of winning.
If you're in this category - and don't be afraid to admit it - don't despair. You can turn things around, and in this article I will tell you how you can go some way to doing just that.
It has always seemed good advice for the racing fan to take a page from the professionals' book and AVOID EXCESSIVE RISKS. Each racing day, millions of dollars are squandered on poor horses, horses out of form and horses being raced out of their class. Avoiding such runners is the creed of the pro.
Selecting ability varies greatly between individual punters. Many people make little or no attempt to learn anything about the business in which they attempt to participate. They lack rudimentary knowledge of form and betting skills.
Others are more diligent. They have acquired some knowledge of racing but, alas, along the way have also collected a wealth of misinformation.
Some of these good handicappers still fall into the trap of betting too many races and on too many risky horses. Their overall strike rate suffers, and so they miss out on profits which could have been theirs had they possessed patience.
Too often, the urge to bet overcomes judgement, with the result that the average bettor will simply back too many horses. Ten, even 20 or more bets a day. Too many! Professionals don't even contemplate so many bets.
The men, and women, who get their livelihood from the track by betting, each have their own set of rules.
Basically, though, I believe we can sum up the five cardinal rules of professional play as follows:
1. AVOID HORSES WITH POOR WIN STRIKES, AND THOSE KNOWN TO BE INJURY-PRONE.
2. CONFINE YOUR SELECTIONS TO GOOD HORSES IN GOOD RACES.
3. NEVER ACCEPT LESS THAN VALUE FOR YOUR INVESTED DOLLAR.
4. NEVER OVERBET.
5. STOP BETTING FOR THE DAY WHEN YOU ARE 50 PER CENT OR MORE AHEAD ON YOUR PROJECTED TURNOVER FOR THE DAY.
Let's go through these five steps one by one.
Firstly, avoiding those inconsistent, injury-prone and basically useless racehorses. It is vital you steer clear of them. Too many get a second and third chance once they've failed.
A horse's career earnings, its race by race average earnings, and its win and place strike rate should tell you all you need to know about how good and how reliable it is. Why back a horse with a 9 per cent strike rate which has low earnings and has failed many times against its own class?
The most sensible course of action, viewed from the angle of the punter being in a long-term battle for survival, is to restrict yourself to good-class races. In the main, this simply means Open handicaps, Welters, Weight For Age races, and Classics for 2YO and 3YO horses. (If you refer to the article Group Grab on Pages 4/5, you will discover another way to ferret out the best races and the best horses.)
Finding the 'form' horses in any race, particularly those of quality should not be too hard a task. Simply refer to the many articles we have published in past issues of P.P.M.
Obtaining value is something all punters have to aspire to as they go about their daily battle. The crucial point is that without value, without beating the percentages, you cannot hope to win. You have to find enough winners at the right prices in order to emerge a winner.
This is why it is so essential never to accept odds that represent less than value. Try to work out a price on your selection's head - its actual 'chance' in the race in percentage terms - and don't deviate from it. Accept more, but never less.
The problem of overbetting I have already mentioned. When it all boils down, this is a problem each bettor has to confront in his or her own way. The professionals solve the problem by (a) choosing only a few bets a day and (b) getting out when they're ahead.
Many of these professionals use the 'ratio' form of betting (another factor that has been discussed before in P.P.M.). The ONE unit win and THREE units place is the accepted approach. This is worked out on the basis that a horse has three chances to place and one to win.
What you need to be careful of here is missing out on profits due to conservatism. It's all very well to keep getting place returns but, at the end of 12 months, will you be slashing the return you would have got had you stuck to putting all 4 units on for a win?
In this respect, it behoves the punter to do some rigorous checking of his performance, to see if win betting suits, or whether he is wise to play safe and shoot for the place as well.
Why do most professionals cease betting for the day when they obtain their desired profit?
Because all of us know that it's hard to improve on a 100 per cent profit. To continue beyond is to risk the wrath of the percentages!
It is right here, of course, that the professionals and the amateurs Part company. The pro nips in, gets his profit and gets out, calling it a day. The average fan, on the other hand, cannot resists further bets. Too often, he'll end the day losing.
The pro punter is price-conscious, too. Many will not accept any bet at less than 4/1. Others don't mind any price a winner. It depends very much on the modus operandi of the individual.
If you are prepared to look at the 50 per cent profit limit, it works like this: You intend to bet $200 for the day, with four win bets at $50 each (level stakes, that is). Your aim is to win at least $100 (which is 50 per cent of your total anticipated outlay).
Your first bet loses. You are down $50. But your next bet is a winner at 4/1. You collect $200 profit. Take away the $50 you lost on your first bet and you are $150 ahead. This is the time to quit.
On your actual turnover (two bets at $50 = $100) you are a handsome 150 per cent ahead.
On your anticipated $200 outlay, you are 75 per cent ahead - well up on your required 50 per cent. The writing is on the wall - stop betting. You've done well. You're miles ahead.
The temptation is to continue. Some days this tactic might pay off with perhaps another winner. Most days it won't. Even good punters will find it hard, over time, to top a 25 per cent win strike (one winner in four) so if you can find that winner early on in the day you might as well call it quits for the day.
Once you have these five rules stuck firmly in your mind you'll be surprised after a while at how easy they are to stick to. All it needs is a degree of patience, discipline and mind control. Toughness, in fact.
Betting like this is somewhat akin to going on a diet. The first few days, are usually hell, but then it gets easier to avoid cream cakes, and you start to notice a difference in your physical appearance.
You look better, you feel better. You are achieving something. It's the same with betting. At first it's hard to change the habits of a lifetime, then it gets easier - and you see results!
THE 5 GOLDEN RULES
1. Avoid horses with poor win strikes, and those known to be injury-prone. In other words, don't back no-hopers and cripples. Protect yourself from bad bets.
2. Confine your selections to good horses in good races. This isn't so hard. There are lots of good races, but even more bad races. Good horses are easily recognised.
3. Never accept less than value for your invested dollar. Look for the best price. Don't be shortchanged by the bookies flogging you a phoney price. Value, value, value!
4. Never overbet. Too many bets spoil the broth. Vow to give up chain-betting forever.
5. Stop betting for the day when you are 50 per cent or more ahead on your projected turnover for the day. This requires patience and discipline - but you won't regret it.
By Michael Kemp