In the third article in our special series, PPM editor Brian Blackwell and senior contributor The Optimist are joined by Ian Macarthur, author of several books on racing, and a semi-professional punter.

The Optimist (TO): Good to have you aboard, Ian. Let’s talk about what you do these days in your punting life.

Ian Macarthur (IM): I’m very much into the exotics and have been for the last couple of years. I’ve found them to be an exciting challenge and, so far, a rewarding one, though betting trifectas and first fours does lead to some tricky losing runs, and I’ve had to learn how to handle those, I can tell you. But I’m over the worst of the colly-wobbles and I’ve more or less cut off long losing runs by going wide with my combinations, whereas early on I was trying to be too smart and too greedy in compiling my bets.

TO: In other words, you were restricting yourself too much to smaller combinations?

IM: Exactly. I was trying for too big a profit margin but I was never giving myself a real chance of making a profit because I was too niggly in putting the combinations together. In the end, one sacrifices a percentage of the long-term profit by investing more and including horses on the fringe of selection instead of letting them run against me.

BB: Is this an approach you’d recommend to punters who are perhaps not as serious as yourself?

IM: That’s a tough one, because each punter is different and we all approach the game from our own standpoint. Most punters will gulp at having to cast a very wide net on the combinations, be they for trifectas, first fours or quadrellas, and that’s only natural. I mean, if you are chasing a quadrella with five selections in each leg, that’s a total of 625 combinations, and few would have the cash to cover that, so the average bloke decides to nip a few horses off the whole thing and what happens, perhaps inevitably, is that the winner is not backed!

TO: In these cases, the punter is lucky enough to be able to use flexi-betting? Is that the avenue to pursue?

IM: I think it has to be. Now, I don’t recommend you casually back five horses in each leg of a quadrella unless you are pretty much certain that a dividend is going to cover your outlay. The shaping of quadrellas, and any exotics bet, is like composing music. All the notes have to be spot-on, and everything has to mesh. No wrong notes, no discordant and meaningless notes, if you please! This is why I am against field bets. By including the whole field, your bet is full of wrong notes.

You don’t need those wrong notes and by this I mean those runners who simply don’t stand a chance. You are wasting your money including them, and why do punters include them? Well, I think it’s a combination of laziness, resignation or just simple folly. I don’t care what race it is, you should never need to bet the whole field in a leg of whatever it is you are betting. Look at the race in greater detail, and even if you can knock off two or three runners, you will save yourself a great deal of money.

BB: As in your example, the five horses in each quadrella leg, if you cut back one of the legs to two selections the bet drops from 625 combinations to 250.

IM: Yes, and in just about all instances, you will not have thrown out the winner. Well, that’s the theory, anyway. I say all this only in regard to field bets, though. I cannot see the point in including the whole field. I mean, if there are 16 runners, that means a potentially huge outlay. The field has to be trimmed back to a manageable number of chances.

TO: But what about my famous bet of the AB-AB-field trifecta? I have had huge success with this over the years and it includes throwing in the field for 3rd slot. I would hate to think that you consider this a silly bet.

IM: Well, I do to a great extent. Surely you’ll admit that you could have scrapped a few horses from those field bets? And you would still have landed the bet in most instances?

TO: Maybe so but I can think of several instances where the rank outsider ran 3rd and gave me a hell of a return. I would hate to miss those.

BB: That trifecta bet is a favourite of mine, too, Ian, but I take your point that quite often we are including horses for 3rd that we really should not bother about. What it all boils down to is that landing the quinella pair we all want to feel safe that we have 3rd place fixed to a certainty by having every runner in our locker! It’s that old fatalistic punter mindset.

IM: Which is fine if you are just a recreational player, but not so suitable if you are playing seriously as I am. I’ve learned that while you need to go wide in the exotics you don’t need to go too wide! Every dollar counts, and having your dollars riding around on horses with no chance, well, it’s silly. Let’s take a typical race and you have decided you can get the first two home in two picks; it’s your famous AB-AB trifecta. ?The field is 15 runners, so you are going to have to cover 13 runners for 3rd if you take a field bet. ?My approach would be to cull at least three or four of those 13 runners. And I’m prepared to say that over the course of a season such pruning will pay off in my favour.

TO: Do you often standout bankers for the win?

IM: I do, but for the 2nd and 3rd placings in, say, a trifecta I will rarely go beyond seven selections. With seven you are looking at a bet of $42. Before placing it, you need to decide if the trifecta is likely to pay more than what you would get if you simply put that $42 on for the win. ?If your banker is, say, 3/1 then a $42 bet would offer you a profit of $126, so if you took a trifecta you would have to be convinced that you had a good chance of securing a return of $168 on the trifecta just to have the same return as a win bet.

BB: I assume you would usually be looking at a standout banker at a good price, not some skinny favourite?

IM: That’s right. The idea is to chase the value as much as possible. But let me say that there is no real sense at all in trying to bet trifectas on all races. You need to be sensibly selective. You only have to glance at some races to know that the trifecta is unlikely to offer much value. There is a maxim that the average bloke can follow and it goes ?along the lines of:

(a) never bet in a race where you cannot limit the winning chances to four, and

(b) never bet in a race where you cannot limit the place chances, including the win chances, to 10. ?This provides for a maximum 4 x 4 x 10 bet, taking the four main chances for 1st and 2nd and then the six place chances as well as the remaining win chances for 3rd. This is a $48 bet for 50c units, or $96 for $1 units. And that’s not a bad bet and even better if you can trim two or three of the place chances, and make it a 4 x 4 x 7 bet for $30 for 50c units, or $60 for $1 units.

TO: I like the way you always stress in going wide but not stupidly wide. You are right in that each field contains some no-hopers.

BB: Not that you will always be right in knocking out a roughie. This is horseracing after all and it’s a game that sets out to make us look silly, a game of regrets and hindsight.

IM: Yes, but the thing is we must look at the whole picture, and not just a corner of it. That is, think 12 months not 12 hours. I always keep this in the back of my mind, that I am after an annual profit and that one or two races do not a season make!

TO: What about when you are picking out your main chances, as in the example you have just spoken about? Are there any definitive rules that you make about the inclusions?

IM: Well, I have to concede that if my first four picks to run 1st and 2nd do not contain any of the major favourites in the race then I do start to worry. I have faith in my ability but I am not prepared to buck the crowd’s view too much. After all, the crowd, the betting public, gets it right a lot of the time, so I like at least one of, say, four main selections to be the favourite or at least on the first few lines of betting. If not, I usually look at the race again to determine if my thinking is way off beam. Now this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often. But I know that if I am out of step with everyone else’s thinking I might win occasionally but I won’t win many. Over a period of time it’s a dangerous thing.

BB: ?Ian, do you bet much on doubles?

IM: Not so much these days. I used to but I found that at best I was in a break even situation and that my money could have been spent far more productively on other exotic forms. I am a bit of a fan of parlays on the TABs. The old Yankee format used to appeal to me a lot when I was younger but I feel I have grown a little more conservative in my latter years. I know a couple of chaps who go for the Yankees (six doubles, four trebles, and an accumulator) and they seem to do all right, though it’s a long time between drinks to get the whole four winning.

TO: What about some general rules of management? Do you have a personal credo that you adhere to and what advice do you have for our readers?

IM: If it hurts, don’t do it! I think this is an important piece of advice for anyone who is betting. Do you bet within your means? Do you have a reserve bank? Are you over-committing yourself? Has betting become a fearful thing and not an enjoyable one? It’s important people ask themselves these questions.

It’s not rocket science but if you apply the approach of don’t bet if it hurts, then you will be doing yourself a favour. Always start with an aim in mind and make sure you have a solid bank of money. Build up to your goal in patient steps, and don’t bet just for the sake of it. Take a break every now and then. And maybe don’t spray your bets at tracks all over the nation. Find where you do best and concentrate on that area.

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 1.

With The Optimist and Brian Blackwell