When it was suggested that I should come up with my five basic or fundamental rules" or "points" associated with my racing investment, the first thing I did was head for my diaries. My diaries contain my note form entries, which stretch back more years than I would like to think about.

Every racing book I have read will have some comments made in these diaries. Sometimes they will be in various colours (I tend to favour red, so that my attention will be taken whenever I am flipping back through the records).

There will be asterisks and circles, underlining and exclamation marks associated with all of my notes, and quite often there will be references backwards and forwards. To some extent it has been a labour of love, but of course it has also been a means of moneymaking.

I do know people who have enjoyed making selections from the race pages of the newspapers and never had a bet in their lives. A friend of mine from Cooma who passed away recently took great delight in making selections for every race in the Sydney Morning Herald, then going through the paper the next morning to see how he went.

To my certain knowledge he never placed a bet, he never entered a TAB, he would not have had the slightest idea how to fill in a betting form.

And yet he gained great pleasure from this daily exercise.

Frankly, I would rather do the crossword if I was unable to have a bet at some stage. Doing what he used to do would be the equivalent of the old Chinese water torture for me (at least I think so: I haven't actually experienced that exquisite pastime).

So what about the five points? I have separated them below and you can list them in your diary, then come back to them if and when you need to. So here we go.

Have you ever backed a horse that you have never heard of? Naturally, when you actually make the bet you will have heard of the horse, but I mean is this the first time you have ever heard of the animal? If it is, what on earth were you doing?

OK, I have done it, and I suspect that virtually every one of my readers has done it at some time or other.

For example, if you have a particular interest in a trainer or in a jockey, it is conceivable that this will occur.

Take the case of the Geelong Cup in 2002. Damien Oliver travelled to Geelong to take the mount on Media Puzzle, which would win the race from the outside barrier in spectacular fashion and would go on to annihilate the field in the Melbourne Cup, making Brian Blackwell and his legion of fans very happy people.

I don't know how many people follow Damien Oliver, but I would be willing to wager that several bets were placed on the Geelong Cup, on Oliver's ride, by punters who had never heard of Media Puzzle The horse had come halfway round the world and if you a serious follower of form, if you did not read Practical Punting Monthly, or if you were in some other way disadvantaged, maybe you would not have heard of Media Puzzle. There are folk, believe it or not, who fall into those categories. Even a few who don't read PPM.

Apart from the odd aberration, where you might be involved (quite reasonably) with a rider or a trainer's performances, you should have a hard and fast rule never to back a horse, which you do not know a lot about.

This means that if something turns up in the Saturday paper, looking good, well written up, etc, you should discard it if you do not know its history.

If, for example, you cannot tell me how old the horse is, whether it is male or female, who trains it, who usually rides it, what its best distances are, whether it acts on wet ground, what kind of weight it has carried to victory in the past, and a whole range of other questions about this animal ... in other words, if it does not seem as though this horse lives in your neighbourhood, and you know it well, you should keep your money in your pocket.

On Saturday, April 24, at Randwick, I had a bet on Mimzical. I supported the horse at very good odds (in my opinion) and then had the added satisfaction of seeing her supported by a great many other investors, and watching the price tumble.

I am not always this clever (sometimes I am downright stupid, but I try to learn). However, on this occasion I got things right.

Mimzical is a three-year-old filly trained by the accomplished professional Gary Portelli. Classy Dane had been the subject of an enormous amount of hype for 48 hours before the race.

Whilst Classy Dane was coming back after suffering a virus attack, I was supporting a filly which had clocked up two excellent wins at her past three starts. One of these wins had been over the course and distance, and in fact she had also won previously over the course and distance.

She was carrying significantly less weight than she had carried in her last two wins, and yet I did not regard the class of the race as significantly different.

She was to be ridden by top-class young rider J. H. Bowman. Classy Dane would have a totally unknown (in Sydney) 3kg claiming apprentice on top.

The only other significant chance in the race was to have been ridden by the leading rider, but he was forced to sacrifice the ride after an earlier mishap.

All in all, Mimzical turned out to be a pretty good bet, and she was a filly I knew a significant amount about. I was precisely aware of the factors I needed to have at my disposal.

As I say, these things can come unstuck. But awareness is a major card in any punter's hand.

I have already had something to say about riders and trainers. But to add to this, facts are facts and the leading riders win most of the races every year, especially at carnival time.

And the leading trainers win most of the races every year, especially at carnival time. I have put it this way to really rub it in.

If you look at any specialist racing paper, and you check the premierships, it will become apparent in a flash that all trainers are not equal, and nor are all jockeys.

I agree that some trainers acquire more horses, and that some trainers generally speaking acquire better horses.
When somebody pays $1 million for a horse, you will usually see the horse go to a leading trainer's stable.

That is the way of the world.

And because this is a leading trainer, he or she will only employ the very best riders. Even if an apprentice joins the stable, he or she will need to be very good or they will not last long. If you take a recent example of excellence in this regard, look at Michael Rodd and trace his career out of nowhere to a star.

I will support a less well-known trainer. Small teams do not necessarily mean less ability to train a winner. However, it is very rare for me to back a horse ridden by a genuinely unfashionable jockey. By this, I simply mean that I stick to the jockeys who win the races.

Most of my investment takes place in the three big eastern cities. I never even consider a jockey who is inexperienced in the metropolitan area, but that does not go for a trainer.

I really like a horse to have "done it". It doesn't matter what the distance, I am happier if the horse has won over the distance. Needless to say, it may have won both sides of the distance, without actually having a win at today's distance.

That is usually acceptable (although not always - there are exceptions).

This demand on my part goes back so many years that I cannot recall when I first dropped the anchor for this rule.

Apart from a few races (most notably the Melbourne Cup) where there has to be a degree of speculation, I can say (and my diaries support this) that it is rare for me to even consider a horse when I have to wonder about its ability at the distance.

This of course follows straight on. The little symbol C can save a bit of time in this regard, as it is telling you that the horse has won at this track over this distance.

The symbols TD indicate that it has won at this track and also over this distance at another track. TD is good enough for me except in unusual circumstances.

Moonee Valley can be such a circumstance. It seems to me to demand its own set of rules, and is the nearest thing we have to a specialist track at the moment.

A horse which can perform at Moonee Valley up to a mile is very often a horse which runs either at the front or near the front of the field.

In other words it is a leader or an on-pacer. These horses have provided me with many winners at good prices over the past several years.

Overall, I subscribe to the theory that you cannot get a better guide to a horse's prospects than the little C against its name.

You can work from there and make a case for or against the horse, having the confidence in knowing that you are looking at a capable animal.

Whether it is capable under today's conditions is another matter, but at least it has done it before, so far as the day's journey is concerned. There are no question marks involved.

Group races are a particular favourite of mine, as I am sure most of my readers know. This is where class comes into play. The class of the horse, the class of the jockey, the class of the trainer.

As space is getting away from me today, let's agree to meet next month and will we will talk further about group races and why they are a major factor in my decision-making processes.

Click here to read Part 2.

By The Optimist