When I asked a friend of mine which blunder he considered the worst a punter could make, he answered, tongue-in-cheek: "Backing a loser, that's the worst blunder I know!"

In a way, his flippant remark sums up a punter's life. None of us wants to back losers; in fact, our every fibre of being struggles manfully not to back them - and yet, day after day, week after week, we back losers, for one reason or another.

But backing losers is just part of the racing game. Finding winners is another part. Betting sensibly is a third. Combine these three aspects and you have the world of betting pretty well summed up.

The blunders of the average punter are many and varied. They range from mistakes in form analysis, mistakes in money management, and what can also be termed 'mistakes in the head' or a poor psychological approach to the business (a subject which has been widely discussed, and continues to be discussed, in P.P.M.).

In this article, I'll traverse those 10 blunders I consider to be the worst perhaps the silliest - any punter can make. You may or may not agree with them (though I'm confident, you will), and I'd be happy to hear from any reader with further views on the matter.

Without exception, in my belief, this is the worst blunder of them all, and 99 out of 100 punters are guilty of it. You only have to watch punters in a TAB agency, or at the track, to note that most of them are intent on betting on just about every race.

When you have a surfeit of meetings, the problem is greatly accentuated. As soon as one race finishes, another is almost due to start! The urge to either recoup losses or cash in on profits is great. Most punters cannot resist the thrill and the urge of the chase, whether it be to fight out of a losing run or capitalise on a hot streak. Suggestion: Do not bet on too many races.

The failure of the majority of bettors to approach their punting without a well thought out staking plan remains much of a mystery. It's been the same throughout the history of racing. Alas, most punters do not adhere to a sensible staking plan.

They are erratic in their approach, and usually end up having too much on the losers and not enough on the whiners - a certain recipe for financial disaster. The disease is not confined to battling small-bet punters. Many professionals, or ex-professionals, fail, or failed, to bet in a rational manner.

However you bet - be it win, place or the exotics - get yourself into the correct money-management mode. Or else.

With the percentage edge loaded against the punter, it is essential that, somehow, he gets the very best price he can obtain. By taking consistently under-value odds, you are writing out a ticket to financial despair.

All the great professionals preach 'value, value, value' and you should heed their words. I can only add my voice to the chorus. Try, if you can, to properly assess a price for each horse you wish to back. Do not back it unless you can obtain the value price.

By setting a price of, say, 2/1 about a horse and then accepting 6/4, you are letting yourself get the wrong end of the percentages stick. Over a long period, you will just chip away, point by point, at your potential profitability.

There isn't much value left now that punters are more aware of what they must do - but a significant proportion of all bettors fail to realise the fundamental importance of obtaining value about their bets.

It's a fact, a sad one really, that punters tend to lose sight of reason when they set foot on a racetrack, or ensconce themselves in the comfort of a TAB agency, or a PubTab. And when they are losing they tend to forget that there's always going to be another day's racing tomorrow!

Betting to 'get out' on the last race is a symptom of punter madness and desperation. The temptation to recoup losses on the final race of the meeting is irresistible to many bettors, who often simply end up worsening their financial situation instead of improving it!

As Don Scott wrote in Winning More: "The winner of the last is no easier to find than the winner of the first. It may be much harder. A punter who is losing his money also loses reason and judgement. Even if your get-square bet is a winner of the last you may still end up losing."

In Australia, there will never be a last race. The punter who can resist silly last-minute desperation bets can return the following day with renewed confidence in himself.

Do you go to the races with a hundred dollars and hope to come out with a couple of thousand? Most small-bet punters think exactly like this. They believe they can achieve instant dreams of wealth with the minimum of money.

Very rarely, such a dream will eventuate. Mostly, it's a financial nightmare. It's a mistake of the worst kind to chase gold when you should be settling for silver.

Set yourself realistic 12-month goals. If you achieve 20 per cent profit on turnover you'll be doing well. Bet within your means, and when in doubt, stay out.

Punters who are serious about making a lot of money with their betting MUST attend race meetings, where they can compare the odds offered by the bookmakers with those available on the tote. It is a blunder of enormous proportions for those punters able to attend a track not to do so.

The on-course punter is in with a chance of obtaining the best prices about his bets - something the off-course TAB punter does not. The off-course punter has to settle for what he gets when the tote betting closes as the field jumps away.

The punter who takes the time to attend the races will invariably get the better of his off-course compatriots. Isn't  it worth attending the track if you can obtain 3/1 about a horse which eventually starts at 6/4? (A classic recent example was Candy Rock at Eagle Farm - opened 2/1 and was backed into 5/4. On-course punters snaffled up that 2/1, and got $3 for their $1. Off-course punters got $2.30 for their $1).

How many times have you turned your back on a winner because you decided to bet another horse 'for the better price'? Forgetting the horse and playing the odds is a dangerous business. It often happens with those punters who are in dire straits, caught in the middle of a losing streak.

They like Horse A at 2/1 and reckon it has a good winning chance - but at 2/1 they can't get out of trouble. So they turn to Horse B at 6/1, even though they know it is not such a good prospect as Horse A. What Horse B offers is the answer to their worries - at 6/1 they can recoup losses. So they back Horse B. It loses. Horse A wins. Suddenly, the 2/1 doesn't seem so bad after all.

Never bet a horse simply because of the price. Sure, seek value, but not a big price just because it happens to fit in with your financial loss situation!

Any punter who bets a system has to believe in it. It's no use starting off backing a system's selections - and then giving it away because it hits a few losers. Make a point of never backing a system unless you are completely satisfied it has long-term potential, and that you have the nerve and discipline to see it through. A lot of punters
complain about systems not working, but usually it's the player at fault not the method.

Punters who like to cash a lot of tickets will, almost without exception, be those who chase short-priced winners. Some punters are happy enough backing every favourite. They reason that there's a chance they can end up ahead, and at worst they'll lose only 5 to 10 per cent of their money.

Backing all the favourites, though, is yet another recipe for financial woe. Around three out of every 10 favourites will win. That means that seven of every 10 will fail. At the prices which favourites are sent to the post, trying to make a profit from a 30 per cent strike rate is hopeless.

Pick and choose carefully when betting favourites. If you can eliminate three 'false' favourites in every 10, you are well on the way to making a successful enterprise out of backing the hotpots.

The final no-no for punters is this one - never bet money you cannot afford. For a start, betting with 'scared' money puts you in an invidious psychological situation, that of knowing you MUST win or you're in real trouble!

This sort of mental blackmail of yourself can only lead to a loss of sound judgement - and thus bad betting. Ensure that all the bets you make are within your comfortable 'budget' range. Departing from the financial area in which you feel secure will place enormous pressure on you.

Too often, bettors get deeper and deeper into the mire because they bet beyond their means, or bet with borrowed money, or bet the rent money. This sort of punting can become a sickness. Don't do it.

By Richard Hartley Jnr