Some time ago, I was chatting with a bookmaker and our conversation ranged over various aspects of betting on the three racing codes. Inevitably, I suppose, we got around to punters as individuals.

The bookie, a man of some 40 years' experience, made this telling point: "There is no excuse for making the same mistakes over and over again, but this is what happens with 90 per cent of punters. They know why they lose but they continue to make the same errors, in judgement or in the technical approach to money management."

He maintains that over-betting remains the average punter's worst trait. In short, bet too much and you will end up failing in the long term.

"Anyone who wants to bet on every race, or almost every race, is courting disaster," says the bookie. "You just can't expect to finish in front if you're betting race to race. You need to back far too many winners to overcome the constant percentage working against you." 

You might well pose the question of why, then, do bookmakers bet on every race? The answer is that bookies can  afford to field on every race because they always have a percentage working for them. 

What, then, can the average punter do to ensure he has at least a sporting chance of getting ahead of the game. The answer is that he must bet with PURPOSE and FLAIR. 

If there is no purpose behind a bet then it's not a sound bet. There must be a purpose behind every act or every step we take in life; this is plain, reasoned behaviour, and it needs to be applied equally to betting.

Why take all the rational steps in your everyday life in order to achieve success and yet become irrational and plain stupid when it comes to betting?

Let's see if we can get the essentials into place to make betting a winning business.

One: We need to make a reasonable percentage of profitable bets.
Two: We need to know how to handle our betting money.

The one sure way to play it right is to bet with purpose. Always remember this simple slice of  advice. It can provide the brake to stop you committing so many of the mistakes that have cost you money in the past.

Don't bet for the sake of having a bet. Steer clear of ordinary horses and ordinary riders. Bypass those races which are unbettable (lowclass events, poor horses, minor tracks, or even good races with too many solid chances), refrain from betting on those selections who are patently offering poor value.

You bet when there's a logical reason to make a bet, when your knowledge (and common sense) tells you there is a greater chance of winning than losing.

It is possible to avoid all the pitfalls. It is possible not to be a compulsive bettor. It's all a matter of thinking before  you bet. In other words, a matter of betting purposefully.

I think any punter would be surprised at the end of a year to discover the amount of money saved from what are really just 'throw away' bets, those made without any rhyme or reason.

Each time you refrain from wasting money on a bad bet, it's the equivalent of backing a winner at even money.

Those of you interested in streamlining your betting approach will probably know much of what I have just outlined. But how much notice have you really taken? In knowing what you must do, can you honestly say you
have done it?

I know that in many instances, the answer will be a resounding NO. 1 attended a seminar on gambling a few years ago when this subject was thrashed out at great length. A number of chaps got up and related how they were unable to contain their betting activities; they said they knew they were betting too many times but they couldn't help themselves.

These men were not problem gamblers. All were betting within their means, but they were not winning. Even knowing their faults, they were unable to summon the discipline to correct and eliminate them.

I guess it's the old, old story. If you want to improve yourself, in any area of life, then sacrifices may need to be made. 

As far as betting is concerned, those 'sacrifices' may mean cutting back on your midweek betting, or simply cutting  back on the number of races on which you bet. 

If you normally bet six races on a card, spending $50, then cut back those races to, say, two for the same amount of money outlaid. You stand a better chance of making decent profits, you'll be able to spend more time analysing two races rather than six, and you'll feel a lot more comfortable about your betting.

If you're somewhat wary of your own selecting ability, you have many choices in this day and age of widespread communications. You are not alone if you're the type of punter who likes other people to do the selecting for you.

If you decide on a two-bets-a-day approach, you might care to consider the first picks of a newspaper or formguide (or radio/TV) selector whom you know has a good strike rate.

Then proceed as follows:

  1. Selection must have had at least one start at the current track and must have performed well (a win or a runthat saw it finish within 3 lengths of the winner). 
  2. Selection must be fit, which means any first-up selection resuming from a spell is immediately discarded and therace is missed. Alternatively, you could then switch to the tipster's second selection. As regards fitness, I think  the selection should have had its last  start within the previous 21 days; ideally 14 days or fewer would be even  better.
  3. The selection must be capable of handling the prevailing track conditions. This applies particularly when the  track is rain-affected to a significant degree (slow to heavy posted). Sometimes, a wet-tracker will be useless on a  dry track, too.

If a selection passes these rules, then you can start to feel some confidence. But we then come to  the most important aspect of the bet: Is the selection at a value price? 

Your judgement now comes into play. What is value? How do we determine it? And how accurate can we be?
Well, there is no absolute 'true' price about any horse. Ten punters might examine the same race and come up
with 10 different 'true' prices!

But you still need to try to put a price on a horse. In the approach I'm outlining, the easy way is to say that you won't accept a price below, say, 2/1, or 5/2.

This will save you from betting on any selection that is at a short price. The 2/1 or 5/2 minimum will at least give you the chance to secure a good dividend should the selection win.

If you have only one bet, or no bet, on any given day, then simply carry your unbet money across to the next day's bets.

In a way, this is a system, though it is really a selection approach that uses various factors to determine a horse's worth as a bet.

If you wish to do your own selecting, and this may well be the best way to go, then the old CCDW  method is definitely worth considering. The letters stand for Class, Condition, Distance, Weight.

CLASS: Not many horses win when racing in a class of race above their ability. Sometimes a young, improving  galloper of potential will do so. My advice is to concentrate on horses which have proven themselves in the class of race now to be contested.

Sometimes a class advantage is obvious. Other times the margin is narrow. Check out the race classifications very  carefully. They will clearly show you the class of races which each horse has been contesting.

CONDITION: Occasionally, a horse lacking top condition will turn in a knockout winning performance. But the  overwhelming percentage of races are won by horses possessing the required physical fitness to turn in a top  all-out effort. 

If you're at the track, and possess an 'eye' for a fit horse, you can tell which runners are looking well. Off-course, you need to rely on your own judgement, and, of course, the formlines. Recent form is the guide. The longer a  horse has been away from raceday action the more suspect his fitness.

DISTANCE: Always be sure in your own mind that a horse is capable of handling the race distance it is now to tackle. If it hasn't, weigh up carefully whether you think it can make the grade at the new distance. This becomes more and more important as the race distances go beyond 1600m; a good miler may not be able to get 1800m or 2000m.

WEIGHT: This is the great leveller. It's the factor that attempts to 'level up' all the contenders in a race. Over the long haul, horses which come up well on weights win a far greater number of races than those with the weight figures against them.

You also have to ask yourself if a horse can carry a particular weight to victory. When the weight is 57kg or more,  the question becomes increasingly important. 

Check out past performances to determine whether a horse has won before with the weight it's now asked to  carry. You will often see that horses have a weight level above which they cannot win.

A final view on race form: A line of thought worth following is to judge a horse only on its BEST runs, not its worst  runs. 

There is much to be said in favour of this approach. A horse's best efforts are likely to provide you with a far clearer idea of its ability than to concentrate on its losing runs, when it may well have been hampered, or may have been unlucky in the run, or the victim of a bad ride.

The same thinking can apply to the track condition factor. Cross out all the runs where the horse failed and look only at the runs where the horse performed well.

It's a matter of positive versus negative. I have always preferred positive form analysis. I think you should, too.

I hope these thoughts on betting and form study go some way to helping you make some money at your betting. I  uess what I'm proposing is that you professionalise your approach. Leave out the 'amateur' that lurks within us  all, and adopt a sensible and carefully structured approach. 

It will, I'm sure, pay off in the long run. You need to be able to show a profit at the end of each year and it's really  all up to you to make it happen.

Sensible decisions are needed.

By Philip Roy