Many readers have contacted PPM following editor Brian Blackwell’s series of articles on picking midweek winners.

The series ended in the December PPM. In this article, Brian replies to some of the questions and comments posed by his articles, and expands further on his selection philosophy and his ideas on form analysis and betting approaches.

John from Melbourne refers to my successful selections of Delta Blues and Pop Rock in the Melbourne Cup, and the same issue is raised by Troy from Ballarat. Both want to know what form factors were taken into account in making the selections.

BB: Well, there was no rocket science involved, just a quite simple application of the best formlines relating to the race. It’s a matter of getting a grip on your analysis. With a race like the Melbourne Cup, it’s very easy to get waylaid by what other people are thinking and saying. Every man and his dog has his or her view on the Cup, and if you’re not careful you can be sidetracked into cul de sacs and wind up wearing someone else’s tip!

It was important for me to get it right. I have a lot of followers who are members of the PPD Club and I don’t want to let them down, so as far as the Cup was concerned my #1 priority was to take a straightforward approach. More or less, treat the race on technical form terms.

I asked myself: Where’s the key formline? Once I asked this question I knew that the answer had to come from a Group 1 race, and what in the past has proven the potent Group 1 formline for the Cup?

Yes, the Caulfield Cup.

That’s when I started to take a serious look at the horses who ran in the Caulfield Cup and who were now taking on the Melbourne Cup. I looked at the replay of the Caulfield Cup many times, and it seemed that each time I watched it I saw something significant!

However, after hours of form study, and looking at other replays, it came back to the place where I had started.

The Caulfield Cup simply had to be the measuring stick. The two big runs in the race were those of Delta Blues and Pop Rock. No matter which way I viewed the replay I kept returning to these two horses.

Delta Blues’ performance was remarkable. He was caught wide all the way, came under tremendous pressure and yet kept on powering to the finish line. Pop Rock’s final 200m, from an awkward slot on the turn, was impressive. He was beaten only 1.4 lengths and was closing fast.

Tawqeet I ruled out as soon as news broke of his hoof injury. Nothing anyone said was going to convince me he could win after the problems with his hoof, and this decision was proven the right one when he pulled up lame. Why he was ever allowed to start is a mystery to me.

I decided Activation was a risk at 3200m, as was Our Smoking Joe, and even though Dizelle ran on well in the Caulfield Cup she was a proven 3200m failure. Nothing else, apart from a nagging worry about Zipping, interested me, not even my long range bet Glistening. His wide draw more or less ended any chance he had, but I was pleased that he at least ran well and managed 10th. Perhaps he will be a better proposition next year?

So then I faced the anguish of the professional tipster. Am I right? Read the newspapers and as far as Delta Blues was concerned it seemed I was wrong. Hardly a soul seemed interested in him, and the main reason appeared to be his Japanese jockey. Now I don’t subscribe to the theory that international riders are too risky on Australian tracks. I figure that if a jockey has ridden with distinction overseas then he should be able to shoulder arms here.

I checked out the Japanese jockey and discovered he had a terrific record in his home country. He was certainly no mug. I was quite happy to put my trust in him, and it was satisfying to see him ride such a brilliant tactical race and win. Even then my fellow scribblers hardly paid tribute to him for what was one of the great Melbourne Cup rides of the last few decades. I’m sure that had it been a local jockey the plaudits would have flowed like water over Niagara Falls!

In a nutshell, then, I found the Melbourne Cup quinella not by any “magical” means but by the simple application of the best formline, backed up by judgement of the formline “key” race, the Caulfield Cup.

Now I did NOT pick the winner of the Caulfield Cup, Tawqeet, but had I been sensible enough to follow the same procedure it would have been easy enough to have done so, because the AJC Metropolitan is one of the modern day potent guides. It proved so in 2005 and again in 2006.

As far as the Caulfield Cup was concerned, I strayed from what I might term the “bleeding” obvious and in doing so I cast my eyes aside from the winner, who was basically begging to be chosen, much as Delta Blues was in the Melbourne Cup.

Reader Allan Deakin, from Geelong, asks me about the pressure of being a public tipster and does such pressure affect judgement, and does it sway me to picking well-fancied runners over lesser-fancied runners?

BB: There is a great deal of pressure in making selections when you know a lot of people are going to bet their money on your selection, so I try to be as safe as I can without being a slave to the strongly-fancied favourites.

Often this cannot be helped, because the 6/1 chance in the morning betting can end up the 6/4 favourite by post time. That’s out of my hands. I am a risk-taker by nature so in my own betting I am more likely to put $200 on a longshot and ignore a 6/4 chance. I realise this approach frightens the hell out of many punters but it’s served me well over the years.

In the Melbourne Cup, with Delta Blues at more than $20, there was a golden opportunity to win big, and I made the most of it without risking a great deal of money. I have said it before and I emphasise it again, a few big hits in one year can mean the difference between winning and losing so we have always got to search for the longshots. They do pop up, not often, but they are there for the taking.

With my selections for the PPD Club, I make a conscious effort to seek out good-priced selections. Sometimes it’s not possible. A poor day’s racing may mean the only bet worth having is on a short-priced favourite. But I do try to avoid them, as a punter as well. I’d much rather wait another day and try to find a 10/1 chance which I regard as a 2/1 chance, or something like that. Long-term, if you’re right enough times then you are going to be a winner.

Richard, from Townsville, emailed me to ask about the psychological aspects of punting, something he says worries him all the time.

BB: There is a certain negative conditioning in punting that causes a lot of bettors to miss out and to lose on a regular basis. We are overloaded with negative messages about gambling.

Barry Meadow, the great US punter-scribe, says it’s remarkable how the subconscious mind directs our will. If somebody gives us a negative message, we too often take it to heart. Barry suggests you ignore negativity and instead of berating yourself for being a poor bettor, you should try positive messages, like “Each day I am getting better at managing my money” or “I’m learning how to better handicap maiden races” and so on.

I think a lot of punters hang on to bad habits for far too long. Sometimes, as Barry has pointed out, you need to discard some comfortable habits and replace them with new ones. This can mean anything from dropping certain tracks, changing the way you read the form, or even dropping mates who continually bark negative messages at you.

I know I’ve faced many road blocks, and I’ve been as guilty as anyone in maintaining bad habits. One was to concentrate too much on Maiden races when I knew that for me they were more of a curse than a blessing. I might now occasionally pick a horse in a Maiden race but I make a conscious effort to ignore such difficult races.

Winning, of course, is not simply a matter of positive thinking. You can tell yourself each and every day that you’re a winner but you are going to have to back up this slice of good sense with action. No instant piece of magic is going to make you a winner, even though we all hope we’ll grab magic like that.

Arthur, from Victor Harbor in South Australia, asks which formguides I use, and which printed guides I buy.

BB: I use Best Bets a lot, mainly because it’s such a convenient size and I can download each day’s form 24 hours in advance. I also use the free form at the Racing Services Bureau site, and occasionally I’ll use the free form at Racenet. I get all editions of the Sportsman, though in recent years, with the Internet providing such a mass of form, I tend to only skim it and use it as a check for horses whose form I need to examine seven or eight runs back.

I subscribe to the TVN video replay service (no one hands out freebies these days, at least not to me, no matter how much publicity we give them!) and at $15 a month this is great value. Being able to call up any Victorian race, and any city racing in Sydney, to watch the replay is a fantastic help in form analysis.

I often use Expertform if I want instant access to a horse’s detailed form. This is available in the free section and I can recommend it. (There, another plug and they still want me to pay!). As far as statistics are concerned, I will use Racenet and Racing & Sports. Both are very useful, informative websites, especially where jockey and trainer statistics are concerned.

Robert, from Wyong, asks what is the greatest lesson a punter must learn, and asks me what my greatest lesson has been?

BB: I think that knowing how to lose is something we must all come to terms with, and it’s certainly been the most significant lesson I’ve learned. If you can’t lose without becoming angry, agitated and stressed, then you really shouldn’t be betting.

Betting is like a sporting contest, and those of us who follow the various codes know that we like losers who lose with grace and dignity, and we do not like people who take losing in a surly, angry way.

It’s the same with racing, You bet, you lose, you cop it on the chin. Then you move on, hopefully having learned something about what NOT to do next time. The late Jeffrey Bernard, who wrote the popular Low Life column in The Spectator, says he was often attacked verbally by punters who had lost backing one of his tips.

Jeffrey said: “A tip is an opinion. It might be a strong opinion, one stated with some conviction, but  it’s still just an opinion and if all of them were bang on target then there wouldn’t be such things as horse races.”

And he added, wryly: “Worse than tipping losers to bad losers is tipping winners to idiots and then not backing them yourself!”

Summing up, then, as punters I think we have to use a lot of commonsense, a generous dash of theory and hunch and a lot of courage in backing racehorses. They can be frustrating animals and the guys who ride them, often poorly, can be just as frustrating.

But each loss, and there will always be many losses, has to be assessed and milked for the lessons it imparts, and that information used for the future.

Lose with a smile but always plan revenge.

By Brian Blackwell