It's a fact that many punters go through their entire lives without once taking a long, careful look at their betting approach. I suppose we can accept this if we are also to accept the fact that these punters are happy in what they are doing.

And yet you only have to look at the glum faces in TAB agencies and in track betting rings to realise that they are mostly not happy at all. Such places are full of scowling losers.

It's my guess that each week these racegoers make the same betting mistakes. Few will ever make what can be called 'the great leap' forward to correct their betting errors. You see, a punter has to look upon himself just as an athlete might do when preparing for a major race.

There are always problems of technique to be corrected. The athlete will spend much time getting the right technique because he knows that without it he will not be a winner. Running, or jumping, in the right and best way is a big step along the path to success.

So it is with betting. You must refine your skills. Firstly, always do your homework. Don't go to the track unprepared. If you haven't fully studied the form then you are going into a race under-prepared. You do not know enough about each competitor; you are not ready for a surprise.

But, I can hear you say, I haven't got the time to study the form for all the races. Okay, I reply, don't do all the races. There are too many for anyone but the most dedicated and computer-assisted punter to attempt to analyse.

Be choosy. Take your time. Pick the eyes out of the program. Concentrate on two or three races. If you do this, then suddenly you do have the time required for form analysis. You can check out a race thoroughly.

You can consider the price and the amount you want to bet. By adopting this approach you are taking into account the three vital processes of betting:

  • The evaluation of form.
  • The consideration of price.
  • Staking.

In a nutshell, this is what it's all about. Once you have got your head around this simple fact, then you are in a far better position to enable yourself to make money.

Now, the two words you have to keep in mind are (a) discipline and (b) organisation.

Establish a betting bank. I know for a fact that 99 out of 100 punters will NEVER establish a true betting bank. An American researcher carried out a survey some 15 years ago into betting habits and after talking with, or receiving completed questionnaires from, more than 2000 punters, he concluded that all but a handful had ever worked with a proper financial betting bank.

I would say the same situation applies in Australia. Few punters even manage to record all their bets. This is a mistake. To get a clear picture of your betting's success or failure, you MUST keep an itemised record. It's a lesson that has to be learned.

I have already mentioned discipline and organisation as elements of the great leap forward. Others are simplicity, logic, consistency. Think about them. Simplicity means just that - don't bedevil your betting with complex bets. Look for the simple approach. Not too many races, not too many bets. A strategic approach intent on success.

Logic is just that: If you get the nagging feeling you are entering into illogical territory, then stop! I've been there and done that. You start making excuses for horses, you invent scenarios to fit a particular theory, and so on. But at the back of your mind is the thought that you are being silly, that what you are thinking goes against all that you know is logical and rational about racing.

Consistency: You should demand it of the horses you bet, and you should demand it of yourself. Bet in a consistent manner. Don't bet doubles one day, trifectas the next, place one day, win the next.

If you do, it is inevitable that you will soon be cursing yourself for missed opportunities.

You'll back a quinella one day and it'll miss, the next day you back a trifecta and it fails but had you done yesterday's bet you'd have landed a big quinella. Know what I mean?

So there simply has to be a streamlined efficiency in what you do. A systematic approach. A consistent approach based on logic, discipline, organisation and simplicity.

Summing up, how can we apply this to each individual punter's approach to form and betting? I'll try to explain:

Try to imagine how a race will be run. Keep it simple. For each horse, circle its best points in the form in one colour, and use a different colour for its negatives. In this way, you get a colour-coded overview of a race and horses with too many negative colour marks must be viewed with suspicion.

Use logic, or plain old commonsense, when you feel unsure of a race. If you see too many possible outcomes, make the logical move and ignore the race. Over a period of time, this approach will enable you to avoid many losing bets, and at the same time miss only a few winning ones. The losers will outweigh the winners.

Don't bet erratic horses, unless you are supremely confident about their prospects. If a horse has been inconsistent it is very likely to continue to be just that. And vice versa. Consistent horses keep on being consistent. Look for a win strike that is healthy. Anything under 20 per cent for a horse with 20 or more starts should be looked upon suspiciously. And don't forget consistency where your betting is concerned.

Always give every horse in the race a decent shake. Don't skip a horse just because it has a few O's next to its name. Somewhere in there you may find the real hot clue to the race. Be disciplined, of course, in your approach to betting as well. Keep those records. Tot up your wins and losses, and your expenses, so you know exactly how you are going.

Get yourself organised. Put time aside for form study. Buy good form guides, like the Sportsman, or, if you are truly serious, get computerised and invest in a service like that provided by The Rating Bureau.

If you take all these tips into account I am confident you can make the great leap forward that's required to make you a better, more successful punter.

Ignore them and ... well, you'll be that scowling face in the TAB, tearing up yet another useless ticket.

By Mark Merrick