There are many rules to becoming a successful punter. Most punters tend to ignore many of them, and I say this after years and years of being in “the game” and having talked with hundreds of my fellow bettors.

One of the main factors that punters ignore at their peril is the following: BET ON THE RIGHT RACES.

Now, before I go into my thinking about this all-important factor, let’s take a look at what constitutes a sensible and potentially profitable betting path.

And here I am turning to my old pal, the late Ian Barns, of Punter’s Choice. Ian was one of those racehorse enthusiasts who were able to break down the art of betting into its basics.

Anyone who has read his book Designing Systems for 21C will know that it contains a wealth of good advice. I know that if Ian were still with us he would be quietly urging any punter to take the time to digest and UNDERSTAND the thinking behind his rules of punting behaviour.

“Only bet when you’re in a positive mood,” said Ian. “Losing is an impediment to be overcome. Develop a winning attitude and maintain this positive stance.

“Follow these simple principles at all times in the very testing business of winning long term on the punt. Ignore these basic tenets at your peril.”

Ian believed that the key to winning is simple: Good money management. Here are his golden rules:

  1. Look for selections which represent value.
  2. Pre-determine how much to wager on each conveyance.
  3. Don’t be greedy and expect to become wealthy overnight.
  4. Make your winnings work for you.
  5. Maintain meticulous records of all expenditure and income.
  6. Keep your betting load at a comfortable workable level.

Ian also pushed the line that no one forces you to bet. I regard this as one of the fundamental downfalls of so many punters – their insistence on betting too much.

Many will bemoan the fact that there are too many race meetings in these modern times, and they put forward this as an excuse for their own inability to rein themselves in and keep their betting under control.

Believe me, this is no excuse. Even if there are 100 race meetings a week, there is no reason why you should overbet. We get back to what Ian said in his book: NO-ONE FORCES YOU TO BET.

Betting should be a serious business. If it’s just fun for you, then you will be expecting to lose. If you are serious, which you should be if you are betting thousands of dollars every year, then it’s in your best interests to do all you can to protect your money.

You don’t buy a brand new car and drive it blindfolded, do you?

The following are some points that Ian Barns made under the heading BETTING IS A SERIOUS BUSINESS:

  1. Remain calm. Don’t panic. Use clear, simple selection procedures.
  2. Use commonsense in deciding when to bet and when to watch.
  3. Commence with a modest bank and invest moderately.
  4. Continue developing a positive mental attitude to betting.
  5. Make regular profits at frequent intervals.
  6. Put profits to good use. Increase your bank size modestly using level stakes.
  7. Learn by experience. You’ll make mistakes. Try to avoid the same ones twice.
  8. Back at least one winner in four. You should be looking for better average odds than 3/1.
  9. Some smart punters stop betting after scoring a winner.

The heading on this story, of course, is RUN WITH THE RIGHT RACES but we may well have headed it RUIN WITH THE WRONG RACES. That’s how important it is to bet on the right races.

In saying this, I am not suggesting that you ignore all the lower class races and bet only on the better class events. No, that’s not what I mean when I say you need to bet in the right races.

The “right race” might even be a lowly midweek Maiden at Colac, it could be a Class 2 at Geelong, or a Class 6 at Ipswich, and so on. What really matters is that the race presents itself as a betting opportunity that offers you VALUE and which enables you to make good sense of the formlines.

A Maiden with five runners with exposed form and another six runners going to the races for the first time is NOT a good race on which to bet. A Maiden with 12 runners, with exposed form for all of them, can be a good race on which to bet provided you can find a runner with a clear edge over its rivals.

Naturally, there will always be a tendency for serious punters to veer to the higher class races for their major betting operations. This is clearly understandable.

Weight-for-age racing at Group 1-2-3 level, Group races for 2yo and 3yo horses, and Open Handicaps in the city are the races to check out if you are determined to “play it straight” and confine your bets to the better quality end of the racing world.

Back to Ian Barns. In his book, he likens finding the right races, and betting sensibly, to sound business principles and practice. Whatever the nature of your chosen enterprises, you need to use commonsense.

And this is what I mean when I talk about finding the right races. In doing so you are doing two things at the same time: (a) you are giving yourself a better chance to win and (b) you are protecting your financial position.

A recent city meeting in Melbourne at Moonee Valley, then, and what would we make of it as punters?

Race 1: A hurdle race. Straight in the bin as far as I am concerned, though in past years I did hold a more fond attachment to the jumps. In my latter years, I’ve disposed of them having taken too many bad hits from those that fell, were pulled up or simply didn’t run to form.

Race 2: A 2yo Handicap. A no-no for me. Thirteen acceptors but several of them unraced, so who knows anything of their ability? (As it turned out, one of those unraced youngsters won the race).

Race 3: A 3yo Handicap with 16 acceptors and certainly enough exposed form to enable anyone to analyse the form and make a considered judgement. On the other hand, a big field and anything could go wrong. Chuck it out.

Race 4: Open Handicap over 1600m, and the form in this race is fully exposed. Only nine runners and looks a good race on which to operate.

Race 5: Open Handicap over 2040m. Here is another race with a field of 10, all with exposed form. Definitely a race on which to bet.

Race 6: A steeplechase. Straight out the window.

Race 7: Open Handicap, 1200m. Yet another good-class Open Handicap. There are 13 runners, the form is well exposed. No reason not to have a crack at it.

Race 8: A Mares Handicap. I’ve been avoiding these races for some years now and I guess it’s a matter of choice as to whether you bet on them. For me, they are binned unless I can find compelling reasons to bet on them (not very often!).

So, there you are. Eight races on the card and only three worthwhile as betting mediums. Doesn’t that make your day a lot easier?

You can work your way through all the meetings for any day and make these same sorts of decisions. Not only are you lightening your workload, you are putting the word “SERIOUS” right into the forefront of your punting.
Ian Barns knew the good sense of restricting betting to the right races. This is what he had to say on the subject of punters losing control of their betting:

“…When it comes to placing a bet, punters are apt to run amok. A saying coined by the late racecaller Ken Howard ‘off comes his head and on goes a pumpkin’, whenever a punter steps onto a racetrack or enters a TAB, still rings true!

“That’s why the TAB is such a marvellous moneyspinner for State Treasuries, and there are still a number of wealthy bookmakers around. The vast majority of punters lose regularly.

“The stupid fact is that there’s no need for such a high failure rate. There’s still many a dollar to be earned from betting on the neddies. Punters should tumble to the fact that they are not pitching their wits against the astute bagmen, or the soulless tote. They are betting against each other.”

Finding the right race on which to bet is only half the story. We then need to find the winner. Ah, tough call.

What qualification do you think that a horse needs to come into contention? A friend of mine uses only “what he sees” as his guiding force. He is a committed video watcher and chooses all his bets from what he sees when reviewing the action on the video replays.

It’s an approach that has served him well. He has only a handful of bets every week and has a high strike rate with winners at excellent prices.

But how many punters are like this chap? How many will spend hours and hours looking at race replays to try to spot a horse that can win next time out?

Most punters simply haven’t got the time. Work and domestic requirements determine that such a thing as video watching is not in their capacity to undertake.

You must spare the time to study the form. This is made easier if you eliminate most of the races on a card. Three races are easy enough to analyse in depth. Trying to look at eight races is a form of madness.

Is there a set of rules to follow in your bid to seek out a winner? Ian Barns had a summary of qualifi­cations and they included the following:

  1. At least four career starts.
  2. A 25 per cent win strike rate, 66 per cent place strike rate.
  3. Won, or 2nd/3rd/4th last start at Saturday metropolitan meeting, within the last 21 days. (The three minor placings must have been within three lengths of the winner.
  4. Won, or 2nd/3rd/4th at second last start at any track within the last 35 days, and the minor placings must have been within four lengths of the winner).
  5. Must have a minimum of two runs back after a spell.
  6. Racing conditions no worse than Dead rating.
  7. Carrying the same weight or plus 2kg or minus 3kg from last start.
  8. Racing at same distance as last start, plus or minus 200m.
  9. To be ridden by regular jockey, or the rider has won on the horse, or rider is in top half dozen jockeys in any State.

Ian’s rules are just a few of the pertinent characteristics that might aid you in the quest for a winner. They are not the be-all and end-all (nothing is!) but they are a helpful guide and maybe a starting point.

If you are a systems buff and you want to build yourself a system, then the above ideas will certainly be of use in determining what to ask of system contenders.

Summing up, then, as a punter dedicated to winning you need to make your task SIMPLER AND EASIER. It’s a “must” to bet only on those races which offer you the chance to UNDERSTAND THE FORM and which leave no room for gaps.

Beware of the things you don’t know. Always err on the side of caution. Shave the risks. The formful races, in time, will make your betting worthwhile.

Finally, once you’ve chosen your horses to back…how do you back them? Well, you back them in the same way as you picked them, with care and discipline.

Level stakes is recommended by most, though I am rather a creature of what my editor Brian Blackwell likes to call “creative” betting. This is where you spot an opportunity with a sound selection and then go all out to make as much money as you can in a variety of ways by using this horse as the banker.

The creative approach extends to trifectas, exactas, first 4s, doubles, and so on. Do what you can to cash in on the big one.

You’ll only need to crack a few of these big ones every year and you’ll be in front.

By Richard Hartley Jnr