Signs. Vital signs. Stay alive or die on the punt. We’re looking at some of the most vital signs this month and next. In any business, certain fundamentals cannot be ignored. We’ve all seen signs that say things like “ignore at your peril” and this applies as specifically to racing and investment in racing, as it does to any other business activity.

The first sign, probably the most obvious of all, is your bookkeeping. Ignore your financial situation and everything else is history (including you). Regular readers of Practical Punting Monthly know without being told that to fudge the books is to commit financial suicide.

And it is so easy to do! Just forget about that bet that didn’t come off last weekend. (After all, it was a silly bet and one you would not normally make, so we can’t have that hanging about embarrassing you, can we?)

A bit near the bone? Too true? There will be some readers who probably won’t go any further with this article because they don’t like the truth when it doesn’t sit well with their racing principles (or lack thereof).

I’ve been teaching and preaching my philosophy of keeping accurate records for so long now that I sound like a repeating record myself. Nevertheless, it remains the most single important thing in any punter’s artillery.

Can you imagine for one moment a bookmaker standing as they do on their little podiums, and only having a rough idea of the balances he holds on each horse in a race?  These are hardheaded businessmen and while some may be a wee bit more generous than others, they are all in it to make a profit.

Maybe you drive a taxi. Maybe you work in Coles or Woolworths. Maybe you are a housewife or a house husband. Whatever you, or I, do for a living, we wouldn’t last long if we didn’t know the state of our financial affairs. And as soon as we started playing games with these vital facts of life, we’d probably be in big trouble.

So the first vital sign of a successful punter is his racing journal (technically, his ledger, showing profits and losses, current state of affairs, long term hopes and expectations and whatever else he believes is central to making money in this very difficult business).

You might have noticed that I’ve come right out and said it up front: we are in this to make money. If you are not, you are a most unusual individual and I’m not sure that we have a lot in common.

I know they say that variety is the spice of life, but frankly I’ve yet to meet anybody in the racing game who doesn’t look to make a dollar out of it, some way or another. I have known non-punters at the track, but they have other interests in racing and make their money in other ways (breeders, for example).

Vital sign number two around your house is a computer or a decent radio (or both). If you are mucking about with a $5 radio that can’t pick up the major broadcasts, take it to your garbage and drop it in. Instead of that bottle of malt Scotch this week, go down to Dick Smith or Tandy and buy a radio that works! Ask to listen to it first and see how well it picks up the AM stations, where most of the TAB broadcasting still remains (yes, I know, it’s a relic of the dark ages, but they don’t seem in any hurry in most cases to move, and sometimes for the bush, AM actually throws a better signal).

If you do have a computer and you’re serious, you really need a decent provider. You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for that. Shop around very carefully or get somebody who knows something about this to do it for you. I understand that linking your computer in with your electricity bill or your phone bill or your mobile phone, can quite often create quite a pleasant overall cost figure. My own preference is for wireless broadband but that is because I can’t afford to be limited to a single venue.

So the second vital sign we’d look for in your home is a decent radio and preferably a computer. If we can’t have a computer then a television will have to do, but it will have to be available to you on big racing days. If you have to argue with the rest of the family when Channel 9 or 10 broadcasts a big Saturday race, it’s time to buy a small portable and slope off to your shed.

The third sign of a successful punter will be the organisation of all the material connected with his betting activities.

For example, if the last half-dozen weeks of racing papers are strewn in various parts of the house and if the results are not connected in some way to the actual formguides, then you can expect chaos.

If you can walk to your filing cabinet or computer and immediately put your hand on the past formguides indexed in order, then you are well on the way to being a successful punter. And if you can’t, then the vital sign that your racing is in a mess is right in front of your nose.

Does most of your betting take place during the actual period of racing? (Using Saturday afternoon as an example.) We can sometimes find vital sign number four in the way punters actually place their bets. I have the greatest respect for the bowlers and cricketers who duck into their TAB early on Saturday morning, before their matches start, place their doubles and trifectas and what have you and then read all about it on Sunday morning.

While I have the greatest respect for them, I frankly doubt that they make any money long term, but at least they have made their commitment and stuck to it. A vital sign of a problem is if you at home suddenly notice, already having a bet on the race, that there is something else you should lay out your money on. It might be an extra trifecta, or a horse that you backed last start and didn’t notice was in today. These last-minute adornments rarely come off.

Look, they do occasionally, I accept that. I’ve had the same thing happen and been very pleased with myself, but more often than not I might as well have given my money to the Salvos.

Going on from this, vital sign number five has the same threat associated with it, but it is far more insidious, far more dangerous, far less easy to spot and very hard to eradicate. I’m talking about listening to “late mail” and “shorteners”.

Frankly, I have no interest whatsoever in what the so-called “late mail experts” produce, because they are so often exactly what these people selected earlier in the day and most of the time they do not represent “late mail” at all. They represent merely the opinion of the person speaking.

On many occasions and I’m talking about large metropolitan meetings too, we are told nothing about any market moves at all when we are getting this “late mail”. If late mail has any relevance whatsoever, it should be to report on what is happening in the betting ring. That is what late mail should do and it ties in with shorteners which I mentioned above.

If late mail at least identifies these shorteners in the market, it probably does somebody a service. Well, I suppose so anyway, but cynically speaking all it does is tell you that you’ve missed the market and asks you if you now want to take under. And it would be a vital sign of betting mismanagement if you did.

Vital sign six, still linked in with the above, is taking the slightest notice of anybody who starts a conversation with “they”. If you even bother to listen any further to such comments as “they’ve come for this one in a big way” or “this is the one they are backing”, you’re in big trouble! If it even happened, you’ve missed the boat anyway!

It would be a vital sign of a healthy punter to have a kind of switch in his brain which immediately disconnects all that nonsense. After all my years in racing, “they” have never come within my racing ambit. “They” don’t exist. So if you find yourself taking even the slightest notice of a radio or television report which brings “they” into the conversation, do that brain switch. Zap!

The seventh vital sign and this is a positive one, is one of the healthiest signs you can come up with as a punter. It is an allocated fund or bank which is totally separate from all other finances and remains so, until some predesignated point. That point may be a holiday time and you have determined long term that your punting will be successful enough to take the burden off your other finances.

I know several punters who bet in this fashion, allocating anything from $20 to $500 and more per week, with the single view that they will withdraw a percentage of profit at the end of a set period, usually six or twelve months.

We at PPM have run many staking plans based on mild progression and withdrawal, mostly setting very conservative early expectations but with high optimism for the long term.

A former punting acquaintance of mine called Tony Watson, whom I have not seen for some years now, used to bet only on two-year-olds and only between December and July. He was very patient and he only backed top weights in handicaps, never venturing into the red. He was more than keen if his horse had won its last start and was up against a hot pot. Tony focused himself entirely on these proven two-year-olds. When he bet, he did so very confidently.

I remember one year he averaged more than 50 per cent winners from, as I recall, something in the nature of 40 bets. He made enough profit to take his wife on a round-the-world business class holiday. I’ve often wondered how many millions he’d have made, if he’d bet to a progressive plan and maybe held back 33 per cent of his profits each year, rolling them back into his betting. I suppose the bottom line is that he was running a perfectly lucrative and relaxing sideline which suited him just fine.

Vital sign number eight
is consistency and that is what reminded me so strongly of Tony’s activities. I didn’t know him that well, but in the years when our paths did cross, I never knew him to make any bet other than a win investment with the bookmaker or the tote. He was meticulous about getting the best odds.

You know, this may be what happened to Tony. I wouldn’t be surprised if he swapped his suit and tie for his lounge chair and his laptop computer. After all, it’s a simple truth that the average punter will do better from his own lounge room than he will do at the racetrack. Provided of course that he has the computer. With the computer, he can have the best of all possible worlds, price wise.

If I am at the racetrack and I want to place a bet, then within reason I’ll only have one TAB and one bookmaker price (and if you think that the bookies will vary much, then you’re living in Gagaland).

Sitting at home, I can click into any of seven or eight leading bookmakers and every one of them will show me what the various major TABs are paying, together with bookmaker fluctuations and a set price of their own. Not only that, but I can choose all sorts of opportunities to take the best odds, regardless of where they fall and there are inbuilt safeguards.

One of the biggest companies, for example, even offers insurance against an upheld protest! So vital sign number nine is the most vital of human attributes, common sense. The average punter is now able to take advantage of a whole range of safeguards. If he has commonsense, then he is not going to pass these offers up.

Imagine this scenario. I fancy Radish in the third race. In my view he should be around the $6 mark. Any time after around 10am, I can go to a bookmaker’s site, log in and place my bet. I can place it so that I will receive top fluctuation, or I can split the bet so that half of it will be on at top fluctuation and the other half, or whatever percentage I choose, will be at the better of the top TAB dividend or the starting price. That isn’t the end, that is only the start of my opportunities.

So the ninth vital sign is that I will place my bet using commonsense, knowing that I am taking advantage of what we call edges. These edges are only available through these large betting concerns and, for better or for worse, that’s the way of the world. It doesn’t mean I won’t still go to the races, but I will be placing most of my bets on my computer because I regard my racing investments as a business.

Vital sign number ten, another sign of success, is the ability to treat the formguides and the write-ups for what they are. And what they are, I am sorry to say, we must wait until next month to discover.

As a famous television identity says, “that’s your bloomin’ lot”. I thought we’d get to 13, but no way. It just shows, doesn’t it? There’s still a lot of vital learning in this business.

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 3.

By The Optimist