We often hear of foolproof methods of winning money at the races.

You know the type of thing: I've got a system, guaranteed to make you a winner, anywhere, anytime!

Unlimited profits are usually the order of the day, too, and secret factors referred to with gay abandon.

Some method sellers will tell you there is 'no risk' and some will say that a moderately trained monkey will be able to understand the rules.

Of course, we all know it's not so simple to make your betting work successfully. You have to work at it.

But we do say that one sentence can more or less sum up the 'hype' we've mentioned above - a sentence that embodies much of the essence of being a successful punter.

The sentence is this:


Simple, but one of the most profound statements you are likely to come across in racing, be it gallopers or pacers. With greyhound punters, naturally, you change "horses" to read "dogs".

How many times have you backed a horse at the racetrack about which you knew virtually nothing? How many times have you had your coat pulled by someone offering you a 'tip' and been lured into backing - with your hard-earned cash a horse about which your knowledge was zero, because you hadn't known of its existence before the tugger came your way?

Don't feel too alarmed. We've all fallen into the same trap at one time or another And in doing so we ignored that basic, sensible rule we have mentioned - GET TO KNOW YOUR HORSES.

In reality, you have to know as much about each horse in a race as you possibly can. That means form study.

If you are prepared to work at studying racehorses you will soon notice that certain horses almost always "click" at a certain distance and in a certain class of race.

A recent example is useful Victorian sprinter Ikea. He loves the 1000m trip at Moonee Valley. Back on January 5, he won there by 11/4 lengths, coming from last place on the home turn with a whirlwind run to beat Merndarnae.

It was one of those last-to-first performances that remain etched in the memory. People who had studied Ikea's form would have been prepared, then, for when he next raced over the same trip and on the same course.

This happened on May 18 - and Ikea truly ran up to his form by staging a carbon-copy repeat of his January performance! He was 15 lengths off the lead with 500m to run, tacked on to the tail of the field turning for home, then burst home from the 200m mark to score in a photo finish.

His price? A very nice 8-1 for those people who had taken the time to study Ikea's racing habits.
(Incidentally, Practical Punting's Melboume editor Brian Blackwell was one of the few media tipsters to select Ikea).

Some horses win only once every five or six months and often they do so in very similar circumstances. Their wins become I repeats' of past efforts - maybe a 1600m race on a wet track at Caulfield, carrying much the same weight.

Many horses, usually in the lower grade races, seem to lope along for several months, doing nothing much at all, then spring to life and win races successively for a month or so.

If you pay attention to the manner in which a horse runs in a particular season it will provide you with the clues to how he will perform in the future.

Remember what they say about finding the winner of the Melbourne Cup - study the history of the race.

This will soon reveal which horses of the current Cup field have history stacked against them, and are most unlikely to win.

"When you observe horses you begin to discover the signs that indicate when they are ready to fire".

When you observe horses you begin to discover the signs that indicate when they are ready to 'fire'. A pattern develops in where the horses are placed in their races, and how their form develops.

We are not discussing here a textbook form analysis, nor are we proposing the emotional 'he won for me before' random selection, but rather an approach combining features of both.

You will soon get the knack of deciding on horses to study closely. They usually have form that sets them apart from the others.

How do you locate these formful horses, the ones down the scale from the likes of Red Anchor and Kingston Town, but still horses smart enough to register many sound wins in a season?

For a start, we suggest that you select one particular area of racing. If you live in Melbourne, then you would be wise to restrict yourself to Victorian racing. Get yourself a scrapbook and begin to paste into it all the results and stories that are published in the major newspapers.

You will soon find that you build up a tremendous research file. Soon, after a matter of months, you will become familiar with the horses that are HONEST and CONSISTENT.

You will know in detail how they win, where they win, and, which distance they excel at.

At the same time, you'll be giving yourself a knowledge of JOCKEYS and TRAINERS and RACETRACKS. These are vitally important too, in your task of compiling for yourself a list of WINNING horses.

Some jockeys are better than others. Some seem to have an affinity with certain horses - when they ride them the horses improve many lengths.

Keep track as well of the lesser-light jockeys. Often they can ride very well, but they don't get the opportunities they deserve.

Example: Brian Andrews in Victoria. He was a top jockey in the late 70's in Melbourne, and then went to Hong Kong. He returned a few years ago but has never been able to re-establish himself as a major rider in the city.

But make no mistake - Andrews is a brilliant rider. Like other jockeys, though, he can't win on hacks.

It may take you a couple of years to really find your feet in compiling your winning horses list.

It's in this second year that you begin to make all those crucial discoveries about how horses are likely to perform.

The previous winter you might have noted that Horse X won twice on heavy going in welter class at Caulfield.

A year later you see him in a similar race with conditions made to order - this is the time when your work and effort pays off.

There might be another 'click' as you see a trainer entering and scratching a horse several times before finally placing him in a race.

This will indicate that the trainer wants to WIN with the horse at his next start and that he is waiting patiently for all the needed factors to exist so his horse can achieve the victory.

'Click' again when you see that a senior rider has replaced an apprentice rider on a horse - even though it's a race in which the apprentice's allowance might have been claimed.

This 'click' will tell you that connections are confident the horse can win, and they have engaged the more experienced jockey despite the fact that he cannot claim an allowance.

Get yourself a simple ABCDEF etc book to go with your scrapbook. Take 30 minutes each night to jot down the names of the horses in which you take keen interest.

You'll find that this simple function will more than pay off in the months ahead. You will soon have a great list of horses about which you know an enormous amount.

Your scrapbook will tell you that Horse X cannot win if the track is fast, but that he I grows a leg' when the rain falls and turns the racing surface into a bog.

You will discover which horses cannot handle wet tracks, which horses cannot carry big weights, which horses excel at certain tracks and run like duffers at others.

You will also see clearly which horses are capable of winning two or three races in a row - given the right conditions and which ones can win first-up from a spell.

Horses who race well fresh can often provide you with wins at big odds. There are a host of horses all over Australia who win just one race each campaign - and that's the first one they have after being out for a spell of three or four months or longer.

There are other horses which like to race 'fresh' from a brief layoff, say four or five weeks. Which ones revel in this type of campaign will become known to you once you have started your scrapbook and your notebook jottings.

Most of us have a fair knowledge of leading trainers and we carefully watch their horses - but it's just as essential to know how the middle-level trainers operate.

They pick up their share of wins, too, and most often with far fewer runners than the stables of Colin Hayes, Tommy Smith, Bart Cummings etc.

If you're in Sydney, you will have noted the good winning percentage of trainers like Paul Sutherland, Brian Smith, and, more recently Betty Lane.

In Melbourne, there are trainers like Eddie and Rob Laing, Clive Balfour, Ernie Bloomfield, Terry Courtney, and, Ross McDonald whose horses win more than their share of city wins, plus many, many races in the country areas.

So it does pay, in the long term, to look beyond the Hanlons and the Hayes and the Cummings stables to find your winning horses.

Punting, we remind you, should be treated as BUSINESS first and FUN second. After all, it's your hard-eamed money that you are placing at risk and you deserve to give yourself every possible chance to see that your money gets a fair run.

Bookmakers don't treat racing as fun. For them it is a strictly business-only matter. Punters must react to this by meeting the bookies head-on with their own professional approach.

It's in this professional area that we hope to steer you by helping to introduce you to methods like 'get to know your horses'.

It may seem a truism to say this, but it is so important to the everyday punter that we cannot stress firmly enough how important it is.

Horses aren't machines. But they can be oddly consistent - and that's what you have to find out as you study them.

Observe a horse over a period of time, study all the inter-related factors, and you will get to know what makes him tick.

You are seeking, then, the all-revealing pattern of a horse's raceform - a combination of his natural ability and his trainer's good sense in placing him properly so he can win the greatest amount of races.

Sometimes the trainer's game plan will be a devious one, designed to obtain for him and the owners the best possible price when the horse does win.

We suggest that you will be on the path to detecting this deviousness if you follow the simple rules we have outlined.

By Jon Hudson