How much stress do you bring upon yourself by taking your racehorse betting seriously?

Lots, says one US psychiatrist, and it doesn't even matter if you're only betting in small-dollar peanuts!

Theodore Millken, based in Chicago, says: "Stress differs according to the individual punter, but even those who bet only in small amounts are susceptible to stress if they are zealous achiever types. The trick is to try to be relaxed, no matter what amount of money you invest."

Dr Millken's studies show that it's more the 'thinking man' who studies racing intensely who is subject to the highest levels of stress. But, he adds, the stress is often related to a lack of a truly professional approach.

A punter, he says, can be intense and devoted and yet never satisfy his craving to achieve the right approach. The frustration of coping with losing runs translates into stress at a dangerous level.

So, what does the thinking man do to get it right? How does he frame the workaday approach that will ensure he gives himself every chance to back winners and make profits?

In my opinion, he should turn to those professionals who have already got it right. Men like Mark Cramer, author of best-sellers like Fast Tracks To Thoroughbred Profits, The Odds On Your Side, Kinky Handicapping, Kinkier Handicapping and many others.

Cramer has written about the 'attitudinal' relationship between lifestyle and handicapping and he maintains that attitude toward 'routine' may have a vital impact on handicapping methodology. Cramer says the need for routine has something to do with a positive effort to create a safe micro-world within a hostile external world.

"We are condemned to live and die in a setting of transportation accidents, viruses, natural disasters, burglars and bombs," he writes in his book Thoroughbred Cycles. "So we create routines to protect us from these abrupt changes."

He believes that most punters, or handicappers as the Americans call them, fit into two broad categories: those who look for and expect repetition and those who search for change. The ones who are guided by continuity try to impose a safe routine on the handicapping process.

It's uncomfortable, Cramer says, for them to imagine that a horse that just ran 1m 12s may tomorrow run 1m 13s or a 1m 11s. A radical form reversal would prompt them to complain that the game was unfair, which in reality means that it didn't conform to their routine.

Routine-oriented punters, claims Cramer, often determine the odds. This is because horse-race bettors invariably seek comfort in the expectation of repetition, as the traveller will feel at ease with his hamburger ritual.

Cramer, though, is a firm believer in pursuing the opposite path to everyone else. He is a true thinking man when it comes to the business of betting and profit-making. His theories are, on their own, revolutionary and they rage against the light (so to speak).

"As a bureaucracy," he says, "the betting public attempts to turn the other way in the face of change. Yet ups and downs, not steady lines, are the feature of the brittle careers of most thoroughbred horses.

"In this context, attitude is a vital component of handicapping and is inherently related to the type of horses we choose."

He goes on in Thoroughbred Cycles to explain that at the racetrack it's 'the norm' to expect the past to repeat in  current performance. Cramer warns, however, that it is 'pari-mutuelly' necessary to go against the norm, to avoid the illusory comfort that comes with following an accepted routine.

The best way to lose at the races, he opines, is to be normal, to follow the racetrack routine ... to fervently attempt to standardise visits to the track as if they were visits to McDonalds.

Cramer's approach, then, is one adopted by some members of the PPM staff, especially editor Brian Blackwell and fellow contributor Martin Dowling.

Like Cramer, they probe the positives of the horses most others discard, seeking the clues that others miss, searching to see if a projection of change can be anticipated.

Says Brian: "My daily form analysis for Practical Punting Daily's Net site means that I am looking at lots and lots of races every week, even though I make selections for only two or three races per day.

"I am looking for what I think others will miss, or not even think about. I am constantly trying to project change, improvement, regression. If I can see beyond the favourites, I'm happy.

"The questions I ask myself are these: What can I discover that few others will discover? What do I know about a horse that others are unlikely to spot? Can I get a value price?"

Brian, I might add, is becoming something of a legend among PPD Club members for his uncanny ability to find longshot winners (two of his recent ones were Caveside Cannibal at $22, followed the very next day by Voodoo Syntax, backed from 12/1 into 7/1).

The only reason he found these winners was by hunting down the little pieces of information others missed. In other words, it was the thinking man's approach that worked the magic.

One of the great thinkers among today's leading professionals is the American James Quinn, who writes of 'simple routines' in his book Recreational Handicapping. He particularly makes reference to trainers and jockeys (a topic touched on in Power Pairs in this issue of PPM).

Trainers and jockey, he writes, can be awarded plusses in the form analysis procedure if they can meet certain standards.


  1. Ranks among the leaders at the meeting, as indicated by a win percentage of 20 per cent or better.
  2. Has been especially effective in situations like today's.
  3. Has been 'hot' as indicated by a recent win percentage roughly twice as high as normal.


  1. Ranks among the leaders at the meeting, with a win strike of 20 per cent or better.
  2. Represents a favourable jockey switch, particularly in combination with a drop in class.
  3. Has been 'hot' lately, as indicated by a win percentage roughly twice as high as normal.
  4. Is the leading apprentice, especially if employed by a trainer who wins consistently with apprentices.
  5. Has a specialty well suited to today's race, such as winning major races, getting 2yo's out of the barrier, or riding for a specific stable when its horses are 'well intended'.

Factors like these can easily be adapted for Australian race handicapping. All you need do is think about them, analyse, check stats, and use them as part and parcel of your thinking-man's armoury.

They are factors Quinn regards as essentials for all punters when handicapping. There are many more, as he explains succinctly in his fine book.

• Thoroughbred Cycles, by Mark Cramer, published by Wm Morrow & Company, New York.

• Recreational Handicapping, by James Quinn, published by Wm Morrow & Company, New

Both books are available through the Gambler's Book Club, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

By Peter Travers