This is not a hypothetical situation; it is a true story - one that undoubtedly some of you have experienced, in one way or another.
I've got a mate nicknamed 'Horizontal' who thought he was a professional when it came to picking and backing horses. In just about every sense of the word he was.
He read the Sportsman back-to-front and stubbornly persisted with the notion that he was a good judge, despite the fact he could not show a long-term profit.
He really prided himself on the fact that he could 'talk horses' with anyone, including big-name trainers and jockeys. Not even his losses shook his confidence in his own ability to assess horseflesh.
'Horizontal' was a GOOD judge. He could analyse and interpret form as well as anyone I've ever met. He knew all there was to know: he knew the weights better than his own; he could recite the betting percentage table in his sleep; he was a wizard with the form; he was an expert on paddock observations; he could spot a sore horse in pre-race warm-up a mile off; he knew what to look for during the running of a race ... AND STILL HE WAS A LOSER!
'Horizontal' was not one to overlook even the smallest detail. He checked the wind, and knew which conditions favoured front-runners and which worked against them ... AND STILL HE WAS A LOSER!
He knew jockeys better than some of them knew themselves; their individual strengths and weaknesses; which rider suited which horse; the pace jockeys, the hard finishers, the fearless groundsavers and divers into holes; the overly-cautious jockey; who had the best sense of pace; who was cool under pressure when the big money was on; who was good at hustling a fast horse away from the barrier; who cleaned their teeth twice a day or not at all ... AND STILL HE WAS A LOSER!
You start talking about equipment, he knew everything there was to know; the importance of blinkers, tongue straps, mouth bits, front bandages. He had total recall. Regardless of how trivial the information was, it was filed away in a memory bank they're still trying to perfect in computers. The fascinating thing was he could recall it in a flash.
Punters often asked him what he remembered of the running of a race a month earlier: was the favourite beaten because it was boxed in? Should it have won despite the fact it got clear and was again interfered with? Is it a donkey or a good horse? These and many other questions he answered without hesitation and no-one ever disputed the facts... AND STILL HE WAS A LOSER!
He knew everything you could possibly want to know about racing - enough to write books and make a small fortune. He just could not make money from punting. What was the solution? Easy. He was hopeless at ... MONEY MANAGEMENT.
Despite having all the things that we dream of going for him, he was hopeless at managing his money (that's why most women do the bookkeeping in the home). Believe me, he was a fool with money and he paid dearly for it.
Having virtually grown up with him, I observed what I believed to be his faults and I pinpointed his most serious fault as BACKING ODDS-ON FAVOURITES!
Like all of us he'd come across a horse which he believed didn't have a hope in hell of being beaten. It didn't matter if it was 2-5 or 1-2. He firmly believed they'd have to shoot it to stop it winning and, armed with this confidence, he'd back it with a few hundred dollars.
There was nothing wrong with that except that the $200 he bet was FOUR OR FIVE TIMES MORE THAN HE USUALLY BET!
It doesn't matter how hard you pray, some odds-on favourites are going to be beaten, regardless of what the experts say.
'Horizontal' was betting $200 on a short-priced LOSER and maybe $30 or $40 on a 4-1 winner. If you don't like your nose, cut if off. He liked his, but he was cutting it off, anyway.
'Horizontal' is no fool and he knew what he was doing, but the couldn't help it. In plain and simple English, it was a compulsion. Intellect took a back seat whilst lack of willpower took over the reins.
If 'Horizontal' had the inner integrity, the strength of character, if you will, to control this impulse, he would have shown a flatbet profit on his selections.
I later proved this to him on paper, using a representative selection of his own bets. He agreed with the results, acknowledg$200 g that the right course of action not 200 on a 1-2 loser and a mere $20 on a 4-1 winner - would have netted him a considerably healthier margin.
In fact, he heeded the advice so much that next week he was back there again, doing the same stupid thing.
I don't profess to be a psychoanalyst but I began to suspect that 'Horizontal' didn't want to win - he had a need to punish himself for some subconscious guilt.
Now I know that sounds crazy - if you'll pardon the unintended pun - but I have never doubted the legitimacy of the findings of the psychologists and psychiatrists on this bit of racetrack masochism.
Unlike 'Horizontal', I am a compulsive reader and in my optical travels I have come across a few case histories of compulsive gamblers, and the evidence certainly is convincing. We all know there are books, even movies, about compulsive gamblers.
The fascinating part, though, is that there are documented cases of people who bet on races f or the express purpose of punishing themselves!
I found it frightening because I was convinced this was the symptom of my friend his whole behaviour indicated to me that he didn't want to win at the races, despite all his knowledge.
The problem that faced me, and it would face any of you in the same situation, was what to do about it? Should I mind my own business or, at the risk of ruining our friendship, tell him I thought that he was a subconscious masochist. I also ran the risk of a smack in the teeth.
My quandary was solved when, during a discussion on the psychology of gambling - I warned you he was clever - he raised the subject himself.
'Do you think I'm one of those people who needs to lose?' he asked. He'd opened the gate, and I charged in.
'There's no doubt in my mind,' I replied, mentally honing up on the art of self-defence. The conversation went the way you would expect it to... a few heated words, a few lengthy silences, a beer or two and, gradually, a lengthy discussion.
True, it was embarrassing for both of us but, thankfully, he accepted the possibility that he was a gambling masochist.
The solution to his problem was the problem but, again thankfully, he suggested the possibility of psychiatric assistance. After a lot of prodding over the next few days he attended a clinic, and kept going back for months until the root of the problem surfaced.
It lay in something which had occurred in his youth (the details are not for publication). The emergence of this psychological problem made him a free man.
He no longer had the need to hurt himself in order to satisfy the cravings of a subconscious guilt complex.
The difference was amazing. His punting activities, befitting his knowledge, are showing profits. He manages his money like a banker and steadfastly refused to back anything at less than 3-1, even if it's got wings.
If he doesn't think the horse can be beaten at very short odds, he passes the race.
As I said, it's a true story. And truth sometimes is stranger than fiction.
By Des Green
PRACTICAL PUNTING - MAY 1985