A punters I think we spend an awful lot of time dreaming up new ways to win, or perhaps just new ways to lose! Punters are, in the main, optimists and dreamers and receptive to new ideas, advice and re-programming.

Trouble is, much of what they seek and find they then proceed to ignore. Going back to old habits, even bad ones, often seems easier than trying to meet the challenge of something new and unknown.

For those of you seeking some revolutionary breakthrough, I am afraid this will not be what you want. However, I fervently believe that you will be able to learn something to your advantage.

Basically, I'll be passing on some commonsense ideas and a few thoughts about getting your betting life into shipshape order. You can take as much on board as you like.

Let me start with idea No. 1 and it's SIMPLICITY. I recall a conversation with my colleague The Optimist some time ago and what he said struck me as being so sensible.

'Horses do what they have done before, exactly,' he said. And it's true. A simple approach, then, is to ask whether a horse has done before what you are now asking it to do. There are worse ways to go about your betting. It's methodical.

The logic is simple, isn't it? Back the horse to do what it has shown it can do. Used in conjunction with a minimum standard of consistency, this approach can prove very useful.

What is a minimum standard of consistency? I would suggest a minimum of 20 per cent for the win and 40 per cent for the place, though some of you might like the bar to be lifted higher (say 25 per cent and 50 per cent).

This means getting an advantage. If your horse starts at 4/1 and you secured 5/1, then you have an edge on the price. Over the course of a year, should you continue to take advantage of such an edge, you are more than likely to end up winning.

There are various ways of getting an edge. One is to look for a sure thing at a short price and back it in an all-up with your selection BUT back the hotpot to PLACE and your selection to WIN.

Let's say you feel that Lonhro is a good thing. He pays $1.20 the place. You put $10 on and get back $12. This goes on your selection at, say, 5 / 1. If he wins, you get back $72 for an all-round profit of $60. That means you got 6.2 to 1 for the 5/1 chance, an increase or edge of around 24 per cent.

If you have good information about a horse, you have an edge over all those punters not in possession of such information. If you really do know something, whether from a tip from an inside source, or just some key statistical detail, keep it to yourself.

Hey, simple advice but how many punters ignore it at their peril? Your basic philosophy should once again be SIMPLICITY. That is, if you can't win more than you can lose, then don't bet.

If your minimum loss can be 1 unit, then your minimum win must also be 1 unit. Even-money, that is. just make that rule, never bet odds-on, regardless of the circumstances.

This doesn't apply to place betting, of course, because with that you have three chances to collect.

Sometimes we get so carried away by a horse that we can't see the wood for the trees. We continue to blindly back a losing horse in the HOPE it will win.

Hope is not enough. Logic says you must EXPECT a bet to win, not just hope it will. So, always be honest with yourself when you are assessing a horse's form.

Don't cut corners. Assess each horse fairly and rationally. Good old commonsense comes into play every time. If you have a nagging doubt, and you know you are casting for fish in a stagnant pool, then opt out.

There will always be another day. Another horse. A better horse.

If you don't discover why a horse lost, or why YOU lost, you have little hope of ever learning anything.

It goes without saying that we should re-analyse a horse that has failed for us. We look not just at its performance on the day but where we went wrong in selecting it.

if you choose and then bet a horse, fancying it very strongly, and it runs poorly, then something is wrong. It could be the horse simply failed, maybe it had bad luck.

But it behoves you to look again at why you selected it, especially if it simply ran badly after getting every chance. Why were you so wrong? What deceived you in the form? Did you put the emphasis on all the wrong aspects?

And, most importantly, what made you miss the winner?

Dizziness due to success. A famous chess player once warned about this, and it's something I feel punters should be aware of when the winners come rolling in, as they do from time to time.

The lesson is to be extra-vigilant when you think you are getting well ahead of the game. I know a lot of punters who have blown big banks, sometimes when they changed their methods in the middle of a winning streak!

Without being overcautious, don't let enthusiasm get the better of you and warp your judgement.

As in all forms of life, racing has its greats, its journeymen and its ordinary participants. It's your job, as someone wanting to make money from the game, to choose the right people for the job.

If you're risking your hard-earned money, do you want an inexperienced boy to carry the torch? Do you want a jockey whose record shows a small percentage of wins? Do you want the horse to come from a stable that rarely gets a winner?

I wouldn't think so. My personal aim is to always try to stick with the strength. I reason that there are only a handful of powerful figures in racing, and they are destined to win more than a fair share of the races.

I like my bets to carry that sort of 'superstar' weight. When Damien Oliver, Glen Boss, Darren Beadman, Noel Callow, etc. are aboard, I feel better and if there are good trainers as well, that gives me an even rosier glow.

You, too, should think carefully on this score. It's one way of cutting back on your bets. Forget those in 'minor' hands and wait for the horses from the power players.

The racing media being what it is, we are assailed daily with the views and thoughts of various jockeys and trainers. My advice is listen to them ... but don't take it as gospel.

A friend of mine says we should always ignore what the jockey says. He doesn't care who it is or what they say.

His argument is this: They ride, that's their job. Sometimes they study the opposition but who knows how carefully? Often they have never even been on the horse that they are talking about.

So when you see Jockey X giving his mount the 'rev up' on Sky, or predicting that it will win a major race, treat it all with caution. Weigh it up. Use your own judgement in deciding if the jockey has it right.

If your betting stresses you out, then you are probably betting too much. That is, too much money and too often.

It can mean you are betting more than you can afford. It means you are afraid of losing. It can mean your confidence is shot to pieces.

If you're at this stage, and racing has become less enjoyable than it was, then stop and smell the roses for a while. Have a break, build up your cash reserves again, re-examine what you've been doing, and when you feel refreshed then enter the fray again.

But don't return unless you've ironed out the problems that saw you under stress in the first place. Otherwise, you will end up on the same old merry-go-round.

If you're serious about this business, then give yourself time to do what needs to be done.

You know you have to study form but you can't do it properly at work during a tea break, or even at lunchtime. Form study needs time and space. You need to think, to make important decisions.

So do yourself a favour and set aside some time each night to examine what's going to happen the next day. Even an hour can be enough to look at two or three races in detail.

You'll be happier with the results than if you had simply rushed through the fields without proper analysis of every starter.

NEXT MONTH: More ideas to help you hit top gear with your betting!

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 3.

By Richard Hartley Jnr