The question most fellow punters ask me is to explain my approach to form and betting.

Quite naturally, they want to know what the secret is to making a profit at the races. Who doesn't?

By the standards of many punters in Australia I would be what you would call a prudent bettor. My top range bet would be in the $100 to $150 mark, but only if I confidently fancied a horse (or greyhound).

Like all punters, I have experienced ups and downs. Since 1980, though, there hasn't been a year when I haven't made a handy profit.

This article will provide you with an insight into my betting methods and how I set about analysing the form. I tend to concentrate on metropolitan racing in Melbourne and Sydney, although I am not averse to backing horses in Brisbane or Adelaide if I feel confident enough about their prospects.

Firstly, we'll go back to September 7 and the Caulfield meeting on that date. It was a fairly attractive programme but the first task I set myself was to eliminate the races which I felt were 'non-bettable'.

In this case, after a close study, I decided that the 4th race the W. P. Mein Handicap, was bettable, as were the Memsie Stakes, and the Heatherlie Handicap.

My main choice in the Me in was Caledonian Boy but I had doubts about him because he was resuming from a spell and had the problem of racing from a wide barrier. The doubts were enough to make me refrain from supporting him and this conservatism was rewarded when Caledonian Boy could finish only a moderate 8th. Ironically, his stablemate Green Action, which had been working well, almost won the race. It was in front until inches from the line when grabbed by Our Good Felia, which scored by a lip.

The Memsie Stakes was a more classy affair, although far more difficult to assess. I favoured King Delamere to win and examined his prospects closely. Finally, I narrowed the chances down to King Delamere, Delightful Belle, Bow Mistress, and Spirit Of Kingston.

As things turned out, this was a fair assessment, because Delightful Belle won, with Bow Mistress in 2nd place, and King Delamere in 4th place. I must admit that I backed King Delamere and only got out' on the event by taking savers on Delightful Belle and Bow Mistress.

I like 'saving' when betting for a win. The late and great pro punter Eric Connolly was also a great believer in the adage of not placing all your eggs in one basket. Over the years, 'saver' bets have picked me up off the floor more times than I care to remember.

Regarding the Heatherlie Handicap – I have a confession. I really didn't study form as closely as I should have, because my old pal Luther's Luck was in the field and I had a gut feeling that, after a string of game efforts for placings, he was ready to score against what was quite an ordinary field. My surprise came when I saw punters going for Mr. Jazz to win the 2000 m race. I thought Mr. Jazz would be underdone and that he would be well in need of the run (I was right because he finished only 6th, running on nicely, and went on to score over 2400m at his very next outing).

Luther's Luck, at the generous odds of 6-1, did not let me down, scoring a courageous half head win from Top Banner who later was to confirm the strength of the form with a fine city victory.

At Randwick on September 7, I played things close to my chest and risked having a bet only on the consistent Riverda in the Tramway Handicap. My view was that he was fit and solid enough to score but at the wire he found the task of conceding 81/2 kg to Double Dandy too much of an impost and failed by a short half head.

I thought he was a good thing beaten. I made a note to follow Riverdale when he was taken to Melbourne for the big spring races, including the Caulfield Cup.

Moving on to September 28, I concentrated my attentions at this Moonee Valley meeting on the R. V. Moon Handicap, in which Black Knight, last year's Melbourne Cup winner, was to carry 561/2kg against the likes of Toujours Mio, What A Nuisance, British, and Martian's Son. It didn't take me long to eliminate the others from from contention - I just couldn't see how Erato, British, Rocky Rullah Holsam, Soldier Schwelk, Leaby's Choice, Noble Comment, and Fantasy Knight could win or even run a place. (British proved me wrong by getting 3rd place.)

You will now be asking how I so swiftly rubbed out the chances of these horses - okay, here's why (and this will be a little lesson for some of you in sharp form analysis):

Erato: His form was okay but he had been ‘up' for quite a while, despite a break between July 20 and September 6. At his last start he ran 3rd to Mapperley Heights over 1800m at Morphettville but he received 41/2 kg from the winner and was beaten 11/2 lengths. My view was that he would be prominent but likely to weaken under pressure.

British: Out of form for a long time and only last of eight runners, beaten 18 length, at Flemington on September 14. 1 preferred to wait and see.

Rocky Ruilah: Couldn't possibly have him on his poor displays in Sydney followed by a gth to Tripsacum in the Seymour Cup. Holsam: Erratic performer and very hard to catch. Definitely preferred to let him run against me.

Soldier Schweik: Appeared a shade out of his depth. Had finished only 5th in a rather ordinary open handicap at Kyneton, previous start.

Leahy's Choice: A welter winner at Flemington on July 24 but since then 5th at Coffs Harbour and 3rd at Casino, before 4th in very moderate company at Mornington. Easy to pass him over.

Noble Comment: Grand horse at best but shown nothing in three runs after a spell and could be rated a light of other days on recent displays. Not one to inspire confidence.

Fantasy Knight: I've seen too much of this fellow to give him any real chance. His previous run was a moderate 4th at Mornington in ordinary company.

So I was left with Black Knight, What A Nuisance, Toujours Mio, and Martian’s Son.

The next to go was Toujours Mio, even though he's a favourite stayer of mine. I simply felt the 2000m was too short for him, bearing in mind he was being aimed for a crack at the Melbourne Cup. After him I wiped out Martian's Son, even though he had shown a flash of form when 4th at his last start behind the classy Ballyman's Boy in a 1600m Sandown welter.

I felt Martian's Son would find the 2000m too short, and the Valley track too turning (his only win at the Valley had been in a weakish 2600 m race in 1984).

So the issue came down to a battle between Black Knight and What A Nuisance. At the weights, I felt Black Knight had been given every chance to win. He was having his eighth start since mid-June and at his most previous start had shaped nicely by coming from 11 th at the 800 m to run 7th behind King Delamere in the class weightfor-age Feehan Stakes at the Valley.

Also, he was a Melbourne Cup winner meeting What A Nuisance at level weights, so the choice wasn't difficult to make.

One last factor influenced me to bet heavily on Black Knight - he was one of my Late Mail Specials from the October issue of Practical Punting Monthly!

The record shows that Black Knight zipped home to a most impressive four lengths win at 7-2, after touching 4-1 from an opening quote of 3-1.

You may like to follow my method of form analysis. Jot down each horse and ask yourself the following question: Can it really win this race? If I had my last $20 to risk would I put it on this horse?

Every race that is programmed can be sifted through, but you will find that unless you carefully select your races then you will find the task far too hard to tackle.

Study the fields closely and choose only one or two races that seem to be bettable. Races with 12 or less runners should be preferred and I would advise you to steer clear of the weaker races.

Open class races, and welters, are the better grade events and provide you with ample opportunity to sort out the best chances.

Although I was very confident that Black Knight would win, I did take my usual 'saver'bet on What A Nuisance. I had $75 on Black Knight at 4-1 and placed $25 on What A Nuisance at 3-1.

So if Black Knight had lost and What A Nuisance had won I would have covered my $100 outlay. The record shows that What A Nuisance ran 2nd after being backed from 3-1 into 9-4 favouritism.

The public, then agreed with me that What A Nuisance and Black Knight (and Martian's Son) were the best prospects but the SP shows they did not have enough confidence to back Black Knight with any degree of authority (he drifted from 3s to 4s then came into 7-2).

At Randwick that same day, my form study proved astray when I concentrated on the George Main Stakes (1600m) and came up with the New Zealander Kingdon Bay to win. Although I felt the winner, Roman Artist, was over-the-odds, I didn't feel he would be able to lead and hold off the late challenges of horses like Kingdom Bay, Castanillia, and Riverdale.

Well, he ran the first section of the race in such fast time that the others found it a hopeless task to pick him up.

I wasn't dismayed with Kingdom Bay's run, as I felt he was'held'for galloping room coming up over the Randwick rise.

My win bet on him and my saver on Riverdale both went bad, though. Which shows that despite intense study, horses can always fool you.

In essence, then, what I am saying is that you should never try to beat the card. Be patient and find those one or two races that give you a fighting chance to get on top.

Only then will you begin to snaffle those elusive winners.

The more you bet, the less your chance of success. Spot the solid, consistent horses who have everything - or most things - in their favour and you are well on the way to beating the losers' blues.

Saver bets are a common practise with many professional punters and, as you'll note from what I've said in the accompanying article, I like them, too!

They're a great method of betting if you're (a) a conservative punter or (b) a punter who doesn't quite believe 100 per cent in your own judgement.

How do you bet to 'save'? It's easy. Pick out the horse you want as your number one choice, then choose one or two saver bets. These are the horses that you figure will prove the most dangerous to your top selection.

Let's say your number one pick is a 3-1 chance but the horse you think is the real threat is at 2-1. I would suggest a 33 unit bet on the 'saver' horse at 2-1 and then put the rest of your money, 67 units if you have a 100 unit bank, on the top pick.

If your main selection wins, you get a return profit of 201 units, less the 33 you placed on the saver, giving you a net profit of 168 units.

If your main pick had lost and the saver had won you would have covered your entire outlay.

Sometimes, if the prices are good enough, you can take two or even three 'saver' bets to cover your main selection outlay.

So it's as easy as this. Keep an eye on the prices and the TAB monitors and you'll soon be able to work out what you need to invest.

By Brian Blackwell