They seem to come round much faster, don't they? Of course I'm talking about the years. I remember as a kid that Christmas never seemed to come, yet before you know it these days we are heading towards another one.

So it is with racing. Here we are, hurtling towards a new season, with the old season hardly given a decent burial.

To be honest, I don't think this is the most exciting season coming up. Maybe a few super horses will turn up and change all that. I certainly hope so, because apart from Dance Hero and Makybe Diva, and maybe Starcraft if the decision is made to keep him in Australia (which appears likely because he is after the Cox Plate), we don't have horses that immediately excite our imaginations.

For all that, I would not be too surprised if suddenly, by the end of October or early November, we have two or three sprinters and a couple of stayers which have stamped themselves as the new excitement machines of the Australian turf.

I believe that anybody approaching the new season without a diary is asking for disaster to strike. I have never been able to understand the situation when a punter writes to us with a problem and cannot quote chapter and verse of the bet that he made.

It seems to me that until you get over the most elemental truth in professional racing investment, you have not got a hope in hell of winning. Well, maybe you will win short term, and you might even win a lot ... but the chances are that long-term you will give it all back, with interest.

The whole idea of a diary is to keep track of what you are doing. If you are not betting logically, your diary is very quickly going to show you this. If you are making crazy bets, then you can pick this up as a trend after things have gone a certain distance. It gives you something to analyse, something to sit down with and think through.

My guess is that anybody who has been reading my work for a while does keep a diary: otherwise they would find my constant harping irritating or embarrassing, and they would probably have stopped reading me. I just cannot imagine my racing life without my diary.

One thing I learnt years ago from my diaries is that you have to balance your investments. You allocate a percentage of your bank(s) to the areas that you feel most comfortable with.

For example, quite recently in PPM we were talking about the comparison between systems and individual selection methods. The second part, individual selection methods, also includes any selection services to which you might subscribe. The beauty of systems betting is that you can't meddle in it. The best mechanical systems do not allow you to impose your own views on their selections. The point is, when they select a winner at a really good price, it starts at that really good price because most other people did not select it!

And you mightn’t have picked it either, so when your system selects it, you don't like the selection and so you mess around with it (perhaps you call it "modification" but it is still interference with what this sound system has identified as the selection).

Of course, this is always one of the difficulties with a system, unless you have faith in its ability to produce a reasonable profit long term.

If you do, then you must run with it and not get in its way. If you decide that, for some reason or other, the horse it selects for the particular event has no chance whatsoever of winning, and you ignore it, you can bet that it will win! Murphy's Law strikes again.

So the first part of your season's bank allocation must surely go to your preferred rigid methods. They are the ones that you don't interfere with, you simply accept what your system tells you to do, and you go ahead and invest accordingly. The percentage of your allocation on this kind of investment is entirely up to you, but to my mind it should be substantial.

There needs to be strong organisation in your investment, and the easiest way to have that is to place a significant amount of your bank in an area which does not require your personal interference. That might sound a bit rough because the money is yours, but that's what systems are all about, and as I pointed out above, a good system is capable of identifying good priced winners so long as its user does not interfere with its basic rules.

After establishing your basic system group, you need to be prepared to admit new members and throw out ones that are not working.

The timeframe on this is sometimes difficult to determine. For example, some systems turn up several selections each week, and while it's obvious that they will pick some long priced winners, they might present you with absolutely awful runs of outs.

For example, if a system is finding seven selections per week, and it only manages a couple of short priced winners in a month, you could be looking at a pretty hefty outlay and a pretty dismal return. So you would need to have a few parameters in place, particularly the amount of flexibility you are going to allow such a system before you close it down.

On the other hand, you might have a very good system which is highly restrictive and requires great patience. It might, for example, only find 40 selections in a year. However, 15 of these might be winners and they might produce a profit of 30 to 40 units. That is a hypothetical of course, but it is possible.

Under those circumstances you would be looking at a profit on turnover of 75 per cent to 100 per cent. This is why you need your diary and your bank allocation set out in front of you.

If you believe you have a system which can produce these kinds of figures, you could confidently allocate perhaps 25 per cent of your bank to this "small action" selection plan. Perhaps if it were your only plan, your patience would not allow you to operate it, but keeping your records and knowing what the plan can do, you may well be prepared to provide it with enough funds to cover anything up to another 25 per cent of your bank. That is precisely what it would do if it returned 100 per cent profit on turnover. So for that reason alone, an independent and relatively restrictive system can be a very secure backup.

As to your other systems, they will always be your choice. Anything up to another 25 per cent of your bank should be allocated to these systematic approaches. Some concepts will change as the year progresses and some might even be designed to take advantage of different parts of the season.

For example, you may have a Group I plan which operates only on those 60 or so races during the season. Again, patience would be required, but your observation and learning might teach you something during the 2004/2005 season which prompts you to make an alteration to a rule.

You might realise that you have been demanding too much of the prizemoney level, or possibly you really need to take on board a horse's prior performance on the particular track or at the particular distance. That's something that can always be modified with the benefit of experience and hindsight.

Your second area of investment will in all likelihood be according to your own selection processes. This will be separated into two groups: individual selections and exotic selections.

Some people, like myself, believe that there is a role still available for the simplest of all bets, the win investment. A few people still have an interest in each way betting, but I think they are becoming fewer with every passing season.

I was approached quite recently at the races by colleague Clive Allcock who put that very question to me. My position has altered: it is an absolute rarity for me to bet each way any more. Essentially this is because the bookmakers have squeezed me out (it was never really a good bet once the field got beyond 10 starters) and because only an imbecile would bet place on the TAB.

Look, you might win something sometime. We had a recent case in Practical Punting Daily where a top selection won and paid 12/1 the win and 3/1 for the place (TAB!!!), while it actually started at 6/1. My guess is that not even the PPD supporters bothered with the place. I wouldn't have. Call it a miracle.

You have probably seen all the statistics 'Over the years comparing backing the first two favourites for a win, as against backing the favourite each way. So far as I can recall, there has been no instance when the each way bet has proved a better investment over a decent period of time.

If we have now allocated 25 per cent of our bank to systems investment, another 25 per cent to the hypothetical "highly secure" systems, and a third 25 per cent to win investments, then probably the final 25 per cent should be allocated to the exotics.

They are where you probably will be trying to make a lot for a little, and provided that your other 75 per cent is based on solid principles, I can't see any argument against this final 25 per cent allocation. Much of the 50 per cent for win betting and for exotics will surely come from your membership of clubs such as PPD and Enjoy Winning.

I know you've heard it all before, but common sense must tell you that people like Brian Blackwell and colleague Martin Dowling, who spend so many hours every day of the week on racing analysis, must be in front of the average Joe. It doesn't really matter whether we want to argue about this or not, because the statistical facts are published on their websites.

Fact One: They get winners. If they don't get winners, nobody wants their service. Logic: They must get winners.

Fact Two: Their winners are often at quite delightful prices. And if you want a third fact, I can't remember how many times they have also gone close with huge priced selections.Club members use these selections as parts of their multiples or exotics. It beats anything you hope to get in a daily newspaper hands down, and although you may not have noticed this, daily membership costs less than that very newspaper.

I suppose you could say that this previous paragraph reads like a bit of a come-on, but longterm readers know that I have total independence to say what I like and that there have been occasions when I have come down quite heavily on selection schemes. But for the life of me, I can't imagine going back to a situation where I didn't have Blackwell and Dowling on my computer screen in the morning. I just checked on the back of my July issue of PPM, and I was right: PPD costs 60 cents a day. Astonishing.

As to how you allocate your exotic betting, my inclination is to suggest that you make a couple of decisions and stick to them. If you dive all around the place you won't ever know what you are going to do next. You need to have a plan of action.

If you fancy the quadrella, then make it more or less a permanent member of your artillery. If it isn't something that particularly attracts you, then throw it out altogether. There are too many different forms of exotic betting for any one punter to focus on.

When the quadrella came to NSW, I became quite involved with it. I won a couple (not very big ones, but comfortable and encouraging). But very quickly I realised that it was a lottery. If I were to concentrate on it, I would probably have to take field bets in some of the legs.

Taking this into account, I decided that I would prefer to focus my money on the races I felt I could beat, and that usually restricts me to one or two in a meeting.

We also have to remember that the TAB will invariably choose some hard races amongst the quartet which comprises the quadrella. You might feel you can beat the quadrella, but at the moment I have eliminated it.

I do like the good old trifecta. I know that technically one should stagger one's investment on an individual trifecta, so that one stands to win more money if the horse that looks to have the best chance of winning manages to do SO.

But my own experience has been that I win more money by boxing or standing out, rather than any complex individual allocating of units. I suspect that this is because I only operate on races where I am able to isolate the main chances (or at least I hope so!) and that there is quite often very little between the three or four horses that I have identified. What tends to occur is that one of these horses starts at (let's say) 3/1, another at 5/1, and the two others are significantly longer.

I would probably agree much of the time about the order of favouritism (I MAY not - and obviously I would be backing my judgement in the betting ring under these circumstances). However, so long as I have fined the field down correctly, the last little bit is frequently somewhere where I can go wrong.

When that happens and my fourth selection romps in and pays $20 for the win, my trifecta can be very substantial. So much so that it will cover all those times when I tried to balance chances against dollars.

Along with the trifecta, my own preference is for the extra and daily double. These are as old as the hills but they can still offer absolutely astounding overlays. If I really get adventurous, I like the first four (not available everywhere). With my trifectas, if I have not been able to reduce my chances below four, I usually take a small boxed first four.

And just to finish, everybody knows my preference for the AB trifecta: when I can only find two chances, and neither of them is a hot favourite, I will bet AB / AB / Field. This has probably been my most consistently successful exotic bet over the long term.

So there we have it: 50 per cent for the systems, 50 per cent for the selections, a nice balance.

By The Optimist