One thing learned early in my betting life was to get some pattern of approach in both the selection and the staking processes.

Racing is definitely not for the guessers of this world, or really the dreamers. It's more practical than all that.

Sure, dreams keep us going but they have to be underpinned by something set in concrete. In my view, a system, a staking plan, or simply a way of going about things in a rational manner are the essentials to financial survival in horse-race betting.

If possible, find ONE big clue that can get you an edge on the crowd. If you remain one of the crowd it is inevitable that you'll lose in the long run, because the crowd never wins in the long term.

The successful punter thinks in terms of a year, or even years, in his betting world. One single day is just a component of the big picture. In one day, you can encounter a storm of bad luck and poor judgement; the trick is to ensure these are rare happenings.

If you take the long view, and you are patient and meticulous, you can be reasonably confident that after 12 months you will be ahead of the game. By how much depends on the bag of tricks you equip yourself with for the duration!

How, then, do you set about acquiring the Key Factor that might act as the foundation for your betting  adventures? Firstly, you must decide on the factor that you consider the most vital. Is it Weight? Class?

Trainers? Jockeys? Barrier? Ability at the distance? Positive performances at the current track? Position in the betting market?

Many professionals get in the habit of favouring one particular factor that they say invariably leads them to the race standout. Of course, that's only the start of the process but it's a most important one.

My own fancy is for weight drops. I go through every runner looking for the one really significant weight drop in the race. Once I find it, I can then begin my form analysis. It's always that starting point that gets me going.

Some of my racetrack colleagues adopt different procedures. If they like speed or betting position, they are unlikely to bother with too many other factors. If they like strong recent form, they will often ignore any runner with bad formlines.

Jack Kenwright is a punter who often punts alongside me in Brisbane and at the Gold Coast. He says: "I guess I am limiting the actual scope of my selection process by what I do, but that's the way I like it. My first key move is for the favourite. I won't go any further, no matter what.

"Either the favourite measures up as a chance or it doesn't. If not, I don't bet. I can quickly sum up any favourite and determine if it has a chance. That's my betting summed up very easily: Check the favourite, if I fancy it I back it."

Jack has maybe two or three bets a day. He restricts himself to midweek and Saturday metropolitan meetings. On the offdays he plays golf. At night he immerses himself in studying video replays, checking camera charts, stewards' reports and newspaper and Internet racing news.

So far as information is concerned, he lacks little. That knowledge gained from lots of looking and reading enables him to sum up a favourite's prospects very succinctly. When he lays his money down you can be pretty sure the favourite deserves his attention.

So this is how one bettor uses a Key Clue around which to structure his entire betting approach. Any punter can do the, same. It's all a matter of which angle you prefer and how best you can use it.

You might, for instance, target certain jockeys, like Shane Dye, Larry Cassidy, Jim Cassidy or perhaps Steven King. You then use your 'key' jockey as the pivot for your betting. You simply tick off his rides for the day, examine their chances, and pick the ones you think can win.

If Dye is booked for, say, six rides, there might be two standouts. If you study an individual jockey, you will soon learn at which tracks he rides best, which stables provide him with the most winners, and whether his riding style suits a particular horse.

In short, you become this jockey's 'betting expert'. If you do your homework thoroughly, then it would be rare for one of his winners to slip through your net. Yes, you may miss some but you will strike a lot more.

The average racegoer invariably has favourite factors he considers when looking at form. But I think the punter needs to trim that thinking. I've got together a combination of steps that a bettor can take and I think you should consider them.

Firstly, identify carefully the type of race under consideration. If it's suitable for betting (and many races aren't!), use your Key Clue factor to find the horse that is the most logical choice and then go through all your reasons again to actually justify 100 per cent the choice.

What you are doing is using your Key Clue as a sort of protection against making too many wrong decisions. Too many people just look down the list of runners and, without much thought, tick off the name of the horse they will back. They will get away with this sometimes but it's true to say that most races demand study and thoughtful analysis.

My advice, then, is to find your most valuable Key Clue. It could be a really simple thing, like zeroing in on TAB No. 1 in every race. That's your key to the door. Number ONE.

You get your formguide, and seriously examine all the horses with that saddlecloth number.

Now we know that No. 1 wins about 20 per cent of all races, so your task is to improve on that one-winner-in-five ratio.

You could start by knocking out any No. 1 horse over 10/1. Then you might like to consider the links of jockey, barrier, trainer, ability at the distance and the track, and, of course, position in the betting and, finally, recent form.

You might decide that you will impose a minimum acceptable price of 2/1 and that the horse must be drawn inside barrier 8. All these aspects can be looked at. On an 8-race card you would normally come up with anything from one to three solid bets.

Class is another factor that can be used as a Key Clue. Class, however, is a grey area to work in, and, personally, I would look at it only as part of the study of a horse's form.

To me, the Key Clue has to be something you can spot immediately. Jack Kenwright tells me of a punter who uses the simple 'key' of backing any prepost favourite drawn in barriers 1, 2 or 3 which is a track and distance winner and which has a top jockey aboard. He considers only the cream of the crop riders like Dye, the Cassidys, Dittman and co. 

Click here to read Part 2.

By Martin Dowling