When the editor came up with this idea, he really sparked some fiery opinions around the office.

Our newest member argued that the magazine really shouldn't be telling people about all the mistakes we make. The rest of us pointed out that this is one reason why Practical Punting Monthly became established as Australia's number one racing magazine.

People needed a magazine of total integrity that didn't necessarily blow its own trumpet. I remember when I first joined PPM and was told by the Board of Directors that I had absolutely free reign over what I could write, I was quite astonished.

Actually, I even remember putting the point that I would really like the freedom to talk to my readers as though we were sitting in a couple of lounge chairs sharing a nice bottle of Chivas Regal.

We developed Practical Punting Monthly along these lines. As we approach a significant milestone in the magazine's career, we can say with absolute confidence that we look at both sides of racing. The winning and losing.

I know that Brian, just as much as I, believes that much of the magazine's success has been the very close contact we have established with investors (or punters). And so when he dished me up this challenge, he set me one of my most difficult tasks.

In effect I had to sift through the huge' number of racing mistakes I have made in my life and select the top ten. A hundred? No problem. More? Very likely. It's that kind of life. I recall speaking with Don Scott once on a plane journey to Melbourne about this very topic.

It was in the early days of computers, and Don was travelling from Sydney to Melbourne every Saturday morning to attend the races. These days, I doubt he would need to, but then it was providing him with a necessary edge, and after all he was earning his living from betting.

Don commented that he was unaware of any pursuit that could even begin to compare with horse race gambling in terms of mistakes made by investors. He himself had the previous weekend placed his maximum stake on a selection at quite short odds and he'd only covered this bet with a small investment on a 33 1 chance which he had priced at 12 1. He explained to me that after the 33 / 1 had romped home and he was looking back at his own figures, he noted a small error in his calculations that identified the horse as a 12/1 chance. Its price should have been less than half those odds,, identifying it as a very clear second favourite.

Under those conditions, and given that the horse was astronomical "overs", Don said that he quite possibly would have had one of the biggest bets of his life on it. He calculated that his error of judgement had cost him many tens of thousands of dollars. When you are a professional and you depend on your judgement and calculations to stay alive, that must have been one very big blow.

I never got that close to Don again and I have no way of knowing if he ever suffered a larger disappointment or made a bigger mistake, but the one described above is the kind every punter understands, albeit on a smaller scale. The depression you feel after making such an avoidable error is excruciating.

So the greatest can certainly do it, which means that lesser mortals like myself can do it too. Oh sure, there have been the good mistakes. Taking the wrong numbers in a trifecta, taking the trifecta in the wrong race, putting the wrong numbers in the daily double, and they all get up, and it seems as if Christmas has arrived. I have had all of those in my time and I guess you've probably read about them in one of my columns.

One trifecta of that kind won me several thousand dollars, so of course I remember it. I suppose if I mention a diary you'll scream, so I won't. No blow it, yes I will! If I didn't keep a diary I-d forget most of the stupid bets and the wrong bets, and Id happily travel along congratulating myself all the time about my good luck and my overall cleverness.

Racing gets you that way. Watch anybody as soon as a race finishes. If they have won, they are mostly looking around to tell somebody and share their good fortune. If they haven't,, they are already seeking excuses. Those excuses will always be to blame something or somebody else. The jockey rode an awful race. The horse was blocked.

Somebody else caused the horse to lose. Rarely, if ever, does the fact that the punter backed the wrong horse seem to occur to him. It has to be the gods, the jockey, or the poor horse's fault - just don't blame the guy that walked up to the TAB window and put his money over the counter. Between that moment and the finishing line ' something, probably bad luck, got in the road. Whatever it was, it was not down to him.

My own mistakes? Oh brother, where do we start? Early in my career, while I was still at school, I became quite friendly with a chap who went on to become a tipster on my local radio station. This was well before I took any professional interest in racing, although I suppose it was in my blood. He was another Don and, sad to report, he died very young.

His main interest was in trotting and pacing, and he used the pseudonym "Caduceus", taken from one of our very greatest all-time pacers. The idea of using a pseudonym meaning "magic wand" I have always thought to be very clever for our profession. Don was a good tipster and he knew his stuff. He could tell you what price Tulloch had started at in every race start. He could read a dog race brilliantly. But my mistake was listening to his theories about trotting. He never stopped believing that they could be beaten, and in my late teens I followed his rigid rules to my great detriment.

I probably learnt from this that you can only fix rules in place if you can support them statistically. Don's rules were mainly based on observation, and it took me quite a while to realise that this isn't enough (I was far less circumspect in those days and knew nothing about systems).

You can have a gut feeling about a plan and set it up without any research, and I can tell you that 99 per cent of the time it won't work. The kind of effort that the great Statsman put into any of his major systems had to be experienced to be believed.

These days a computer can save you a lot of that work, but it can also be much faster in destroying your cherished dreams about a pet plan. Caduceus cost me big money by my standards then.

I also had a schoolteacher who was big on gambling. It was only after I had left school for a few years that he came back into my life, and I could tell you some tales of the fun we had attending dog meetings throughout the Hunter Valley in his Gogomobil.

There was a lot of fun but I very rarely brought any money home. I was losing big time. My great mistake in this regard was that I thought he understood doz, racing better than I did, and I trusted his judgement. This was the last time I would ever put anybody's judgement ahead of my own.

That last sentence needs a little bit of unravelling. I do not mean that there are not better judges than I am. But I will be the judge of who they are. Get it? As an example, readers will know how much I admired the book by Stewart Simpson, Always Back Winners, which came out in about 1979 and reappeared in 1994. I don't know if it's available these days but you could try www.amazon.co.uk and they will automatically switch you to their racing book site.

Simpson was a little bit over the top as a raconteur and I didn't particularly care whether or not he was able to pull birds after the races, but his fundamental theories were as good as anything I had ever seen. What's more, they tended to fall into line with views I had held since my years of living in England. For all that, I didn't just take Simpson at face value, I judged him and his theories by working out my own systematic approaches which were based on his approaches.

Twenty-five years later, I am still refining and researching a lot of what Simpson had to say about course and distance winners, and about horses which repeat something they have already managed to achieve. I saw last season out with my most successful bet of the season, when I reasoned that Dandy Kid would win the seventh race at Moonee Valley, no matter what. The jockey, the draw, but most of all the track, and the way it was playing, made him the nearest thing to a racing certainty I have seen in a long time. I am still getting over being allowed 4/1. I seriously and honestly anticipated that I would not be able to back the horse because I do not bet below 2 /1. I expected odds-on.

But we are talking about mistakes.

Nobody said that I can't learn from mine. I had let Dandy Kid go in two previous runs when he was every bit as good a chance. After the second time, my diary reads "How many years is it going to take before I realise that on-pace course and distance specialists on a leaders' track are the world's best bets?" I had allowed this horse to run twice at fantastic odds when everything in my racing experience should have sounded alarm bells. So yes, I was lucky enough to get it right third time round, but I made two monumental mistakes by not recognising the facts surrounding the horse's previous two wins.

Before I leave the dogs completely, I wonder if anybody remembers many years ago when I told you about my visit to Spennymoor dogs? Spennymoor is in Durham where I was living for a considerable time. It's a pretty little place but its dog track should have been bombed. You paid 2/- (that's 20 cents, youngies, or otherwise known as a florin) to get in the gate. You might as well have turned around, walked across the road to the pub, and asked for a half pint of best bitter. At least you would taste something for your money.

The night was cold. I mean cold. There were little fires here and there that the hapless punters could gather around and warm their hands, so that they could extract their ten bob notes from their wallets. The track was straight, made of something that was probably a sandy loam, and rain was threatening (surprise!).

The fields for the 260 yards dashes comprised five dogs or maybe six. The first race combatants rejoiced in such names as Fido, Spot, Ginger, Baldy and Spike. Fido and Spot didn't like each other and decided to have it out halfway down the straight track. I forget who won, my interest was taken up by the brawl around the 100 yards mark.

That was because I had had five shillings riding on Spot. Things got worse but the names didn't get any better. I do recall one very nice brindle who went under the nom de plume of Lady and attracted another five bob of mine. She lost interest in her race as they were being loaded and proceeded to consummate an amorous relationship with a thing called Jackhammer as soon as the traps opened.
Again at least I had something else to watch.

Looking back at this amazing race program, which I still have, I find my record of bets listed in the back. I had six bets and they all lost. It's hard to believe that somebody didn't know what was going to win, but I didn't. I was one of the mugs. Walking in blind with no form guide and no knowledge whatsoever of the dogs, the track, or anything else to do with this meeting, I was a total and first class idiot. I was right for plucking and they didn't leave a feather.

Did I learn from it? In retrospect, I think it taught me something very valuable. Apart from everything else I might have learnt there, I have never again opened my wallet in a situation where I did not know the chances or understand the overall situation. I've been to racing all over the world for the experience but I have left my wallet at home. I probably learned that I needed everything in my favour if I was going to make a success of betting. As a matter of fact, that was the first and last time I ever attended a "non official" dog meeting. You need to know who's running the show.

I'm not sure how many mistakes I've listed so far, but here are some more that I can come up with. The first one, very clear in my mind, was following my 1996 success in the Melbourne Cup. I was in the position of a lifetime to take advantage of that race. I had selected the winner of the Caulfield Cup, Arctic Scent, at 40/1. I had then backed the winner of the Derby at 10/1 and I had coupled him into the field for the Melbourne Cup for big money.

Additionally, I had Arctic Scent into Saintly and I had backed Saintly in the Cox Plate. It was simply a dream year, once-in-a-lifetime. Because I could not lose on the Melbourne Cup, and because I was so far in front, I took the six horses that I had provided for Practical Punting Monthly five months before, and I ran them 1/2.1/2.F in the trifecta. It cost me over $600. The rest is history.

Invincible, I tried in 1997 to put it all together, making my absolute anchor Doriemus. If you know your Melbourne Cups, you know what happened. Undeterred, I tried again in 1998 and 1999 before I got the message. Somehow or other, I had done the impossible in 1996, but it did not constitute a regular system or method. It was the result of a lot of hard work and tremendous input, but ultimately I realised that also it was an isolated result. I scrapped it in favour of a far more conservative approach to the big race, which is, after all, a lottery.

Another mistake I made some years ago and never forgot was to have an alcoholic drink whilst betting. I don't care what anybody says, it dulls your judgement. I never go near alcohol when I am investing money. Have a drink by all means, but don't bet.

Yet another mistake, easily recalled, involved making late selections. These days, I would never back anything that I had not been seriously considering for at least 24 hours.

And here's another (my closet is full of them): along the lines of that warning above, I never ever consider backing horses I have never heard of. I once backed a horse that I had never heard of on the basis that everybody was backing it and I spotted this. I got really good odds as the horse's price tumbled. From memory, it was backed from Bradman figures to about 7/2. Maybe shorter, I don't know. Anyway, it won. But I didn't collect the cash. Its name?

Fine Cotton.

By The Optimist