Here's some good advice: Don't get in too much of a pickle when you are desperately trying to find those overlay winners. Too much panic can cause you to have a bad betting day.

When it all boils down, what are we really trying to find with these value selections? Good horses at good prices. And how do we find them?

To my way of thinking there are two main approaches:

  1. You look for the races in which the public is overbetting one or two key runners, leaving another horse, or more than one, receiving too little support and thus allowed to be sent out at a price that is greater than its estimated true odds.
  2. You find hidden or non obvious information about a runner which seems to have been missed by all and sundry, leaving you looking wide-eyed at a horse priced at maybe 20/1 when, by your reasoning, it should be 5/1!

The way to find the horses that are overbet isn't too hard. Take a look at the tipsters' polls, listen to the horses spruiked on the morning radio shows, take note of the horses that have been written and talked about all week.

Invariably, these horses are going to be overbet. Very rarely, for example, does a radio's Late Mail tip end up at a decent price, even if it started out with a nice price tag. The effect of thousands upon thousands of listeners getting the same 'hot tip' inevitably will affect the horse's price, especially midweek, when the TAB holds on a race are not as large as they are on Saturdays.

So, when you dive in and bet a Late Mail selection, you have to ask yourself: Am I going to get a fair price on this bet? How many times do these Late Mail selections win over the course of a year and if I backed every one of them would I be ahead?

The fact is that Late Mail tips are lucky if they win 20 per cent of the time, that's two winners from 10 bets. Over the course of a year, at, say, 10 meetings a week, there would be a total of 520 bets for around 100 winners.

To break even, then, each winner would need to average 4/1. That's a tough task in anyone's betting language.

It would be a better proposition to bet against the Late Mail selection. If we say it's going to be overbet, then there's a very good prospect that other fancied runners are going to be underbet.

It could be that you see the favourite priced at 5/2 in the morning market, and the horse that becomes the Late Mail tip is a 4/1 chance. But, because of the radio tip, the Late Mail horse moves into 2/1 and the early favourite blows from 5/2 out to 4/1. Now you could be looking at an underbet chance.

But do some checking before you jump in. Is the horse value at 4/1? Was it poorly priced to begin with at 5/2? Should it be 6/1, or, perhaps, should it really be about 6/4?

If you can answer satisfactorily to yourself that the 4/1 chance is an overlay then you can bet it.

I think that detecting a horse in the race with potential to be overbet is an easier task than digging around trying to find a runner likely to be underbet. The runners that usually attract big public support invariably have good form and, quite frankly, they are easy to spot.

Usually, the newspaper experts have spotted them, too. So have the bookies who frame the early betting markets. They make them the favourites, or second favourites.

You really have to dig deep into past performances to find those contenders with obscure form factors that provide you with significant information. But they are there, lurking in the background like little time-bombs ready to detonate in the face of the punting army who throw their money on the hotpots.

Ravarda is a classic example. Remember how he won the Casino Stakes at Rosehill on March 23 when despised in the betting at 40/1? And yet all the clues were there for punters prepared to dig deep to find a super-overlay!

He had a 27.7 per cent win strike rate. Not bad at all! Last October 14 he ran 2nd in the Caulfield Guineas, a Group One race, behind a horse called Our Maizcay, with a horse called Octagonal in 3rd place! How about that for form?

But, wait, there's more. On October 2, he ran 3rd at Randwick behind Octagonal and Encores in the Stan Fox Stakes - again, terrific form. And his form in the current campaign wasn't bad either - a last-start 7th, beaten 4.5 lengths, in the Newmarket at Newcastle, 4th in the Apollo behind Juggler and Saintly, and 3rd to Catalan Opening on February 10 when resuming.

Boy, oh boy, a 40/1 chance on those runs! We all must have had rocks in our head. How could we let him start at those amazing odds?

Well, that's what I mean when I say we have to dig and dig deep into the formlines. We must look beyond the tipsters and the betting markets to find the plums that are so often waiting.

No need for panic. Just cool, calm appraisal.

By Alan Jacobs