Our new Form Forum series kicks off with a discussion between Alan Jacobs and Jon Hudson on how to approach the task of deciding if a short-priced runner is worth a bet.

JON HUDSON (JH): Firstly, Alan, let me congratulate you on a couple of things. Firstly, your new editorship of The Moneymakers website and secondly your sensational effort in tipping 20 winning best bets from only 39 selections on the Practical Punting Daily website. That’s an amazing strike rate over more than four months of the year, and a 40per cent level stakes profit makes it even sweeter.

ALAN JACOBS (AJ): Thanks Jon. Yes, The Moneymakers venture is a most exciting one for me. I’ve always been deeply interested in systems and being able to edit a website totally devoted to systems and staking plans is an opportunity I’ve waited a long time to achieve.

And, yes, the best bets have enjoyed an excellent run on the PPD Club website and this brings me to the topic we are going to chat about, short-priced horses. Where do we start?

JH: Well, you’ve obviously found a way of deciding which ones to bet. I’ve noticed that you stick basically to well-fancied runners with your best bets. As we speak, your last one was Perlin which was a 4/5 winner for you at Sandown on April 30.

AJ: I guess Perlin fitted all the requirements needed for a bet at odds-on. He was bullet proof, really; having his eighth start, winner of four races, a powerful last start winner, good jockey, good stable, ideal distance and weak opposition. He would have needed to have fallen over to lose.

JH: You had no qualms about the odds-on?

AJ: Not a moment’s worry. Basically, this horse should have been 5/1 ON, so even though I took 4/5 it was really an overlay.

JH: I have to agree on that one. My own approach to backing favourites, which is what we are talking about here, is to look for as many positive aspects as I can.

If a horse is odds-on, I demand a good trainer, a good jockey and quite a few other factors. I want to eliminate the risks as much as I can.

AJ: This is more or less my own approach. I am sometimes too cautious. At Doomben on May 2 I was very keen on that filly from the Gai Waterhouse team, Ponte Piccolo.

She had the class on her side and I was all set to tip her, and back her, at around 4/5 but then I became concerned about the weather, and the likelihood of rain, and there was a nagging doubt creeping in. By 9 o’clock that morning I was still undecided so I erred on the side of caution and let her go.

JH: You made the wrong decision because she won very convincingly!

AJ: Yes, I more or less talked myself out of the winner, but I didn’t get angry because there have been many occasions before when I have done the same thing and been proven right. I do believe in an inner bell that rings a warning about certain situations, and one ignores such subconscious warnings at one’s own peril.

JH: Is it a courage thing? I mean for many punters it does take courage to have a substantial bet on any runner, let alone a short-priced one.

There’s that last-minute concern along the lines of “why I am putting a hundred on this horse when I can only win eighty”? I’ve done it myself many times. I think it’s a way of easing out of the challenge of the bet.

AJ: Sometimes, but I like to look upon it as more of an astute safety brake, like a red traffic light. You know when you are hitting the orange and you make that snap decision to drive a bit faster to beat the red light?

Well, in betting terms, when you decide to ease back at the last minute it’s the equivalent of not trying to beat the red light and instead braking to observe the red.

JH: What’s the uppermost thought in your mind in regards to favourites, especially when they are very short?

AJ: Mainly I am thinking to myself that seven out of every 10 favourites are going to lose, and I am asking is this going to be one of the losers! That’s why we know that we need to be choosy before we back a favourite. After all, the favourite is more likely to lose than to win, and this is a pretty sobering thought.

JH: What’s the best short-priced horse for you? Which of them has a strong appeal?

AJ: I have to say that I am a great video watcher and I make a special point of noting winners that win with ease. I am always wary of coming in on last start winners who were flogged to the line.

Just recently I was seriously considering a last start winner but then I had a look back at its win and I saw that it was hit about 25 times with the whip to get home by a half length, and that was only a couple of weeks ago. It immediately put me off the horse and I was right in that thinking because the horse didn’t run a place, and it started at around 7/4.

JH: So you are looking for a winner that went to the post untouched, a hands and heels winner?

AJ: Basically, yes. You can spot the easy winners, not by how much they win by but by the way they go to the line. This particularly applies at the midweeks in Victoria.

I’ve got on to a lot of winners simply by noting how easily they won, how full of running they were, that sort of thing. It means they won without being flogged, so theoretically they have something left in reserve for next time. Even with a rise in class they can handle it because they are fit, still strong and improving. They haven’t had the custard belted out of them.

JH: The presence of a top rider and the backing of a strong stable, are these two of the components we should look for in a short-priced conveyance?

AJ: Mostly, yes, though I have backed plenty of winners from among the lower-running trainers and with journeyman jockeys aboard, though I must confess that I like to have the high-end of the racing hierarchy behind my money! It makes sense. If you follow successful people you, too, should be successful.

We know we can never back all the runners from a top stable, or all the rides of a top jockey, but we can find some of them to back and if we use our commonsense, and our knowledge of the form, we should be able to get a high enough percentage of winners to make it all pay off.

JH: Do you have a ranking order for these high-fliers?

AJ: Not really, but many of them are very much apparent to anyone who follows racing. I’m thinking of trainers like Gai Waterhouse, Lee Freedman, Guy Walter, and jockeys like Darren Beadman, Chris Munce, Danny Beasley (very much under-rated still in my opinion) and so on. I’m not a slave to them but I do greatly respect them.

If I see, say, a Waterhouse runner with Beadman or Munce aboard then I tend to look upon it seriously and I put it right into my list of contending bets. I don’t always back the horse but many times I do, and the strike rate is high.

JH: Personally, I tend to look very closely at horses at 6/4 and under. I am NOT keen to back them at those sorts of odds so I am looking for negatives while at the same time looking for positives among the 2nd and 3rd favourites. Is this your line in any way?

AJ: To some extent, though I tend to want to give every horse its chance of passing my analysis, whether it’s an evens favourite or a 3/1 favourite. We owe it to ourselves not to make snap judgements.

JH: Are you affected by last-minute plunges on course?

AJ: I have been known to get cold feet when the horse I have backed eases in the betting and another one is heavily backed in. If I see the reasoning behind the plunge I will simply take a saver on it.

Not always, sometimes, though above all I want to just let my judgement ride. It’s too easy and too much of a trap to start second-guessing with 5 minutes to go.

With Alan Jacobs and Jon Hudson