Ask any serious punter about the virtues of place betting and you will realise it would have been a good idea to bring a chair with you. And a packed lunch as well, with a thermos of coffee.

This is because every punter who has done any serious thinking about his betting has a point of view on this contentious subject (or 11 points of view, or a 100 points of view). I have changed my mind several times over the years.

Perhaps the most significant commitment I made to place betting was when I made the conscious decision that it represented a quite separate investment from my win betting.

I also, and I’m sure that regular readers will remember this, put up a case for using place betting as insurance.

Sometimes the concept of win betting on two horses in the one race can have more going for it than betting on one horse each way. That is a separate argument in itself and I’ve written extensively about it too.

However, the idea of place betting for its own sake has a lot more going for it than many new players realise. The first thing that happens is that you dismiss from your mind the idea that the horse must finish first.

Now that you’ve digested that one, I want you to think in terms of the horse finishing in the first three. Although it looks as obvious as the nose on your face, it is in truth something that many punters never really take on board. When they argue about place betting, they really have not completely eliminated the idea of a win a bet from their minds.

So, if the horse they have backed for a place actually wins the race, I know examples of punters who would regard a place bet as a loss. They can’t get over the fact that it pays maybe \$10.00 for the win and only \$3.00 for the place.

With the new decimal figures clouding the issue, it’s not quite as simple to make the appropriate comparisons and see if the place bet is a quarter the win bet. The one I have just given here (\$10.00 and \$3.00) is 9/1 and 2/1 for the relevant win or place collect.

When you look at the \$10 and the \$3, you can very easily be taken in and assume that the \$3 is better than 1/4 of the odds, when of course it actually is lower than the quarter we require. This is because the stake is factored into the so-called “price”. Those who fought against doing that have lost the battle to the TAB and the bookmakers, both of whom had vested interests in this new so-called “simple” formula.

Let’s now pose a situation. Let’s assume that win betting does not exist.

Now that you’ve picked yourself up off the ground after reading that, I want you to imagine a racing world in which the dividend is paid on your ability to nominate the horse which will finish first, second or third. I want you to think of that as the way a standard bet is made in racing.

In this new world we’ve just created, the standard bet is what we used to call the “place” bet: you can call it a win bet if you like, because it is the only one available and it depends on your ability to pick a horse which will finish in the first three in the field. You win when you place.

I’m doing this to try to get rid of the idea that the place bet’s a poor relation of the win bet, or that it represents the other half of an each way bet. This place bet that we going to look at for the rest of this article is THE bet, the standard bet. That old bet about coming first doesn’t exist anymore.

We are giving the place bet new and sophisticated status and we have elevated it above the idea that it is really a second rate, or a cop-out bet.

One of the first things to remember about place betting, if you are serious, is that at the moment you can have the best of the various TAB dividends by using some of the national services. Far be it for me to recommend one over the other, but you really don’t have to try very hard or look very far on the Internet to figure out for yourself who will give you “best TAB dividend”.

Perhaps there is a moral argument at work here, but where money is concerned I suspect that morals will take a backseat. The powers that be have had plenty of time to try to sort all this out, but at the moment (for the serious punter), the opportunity exists to make your bet at the best final TAB odds.

This means that you can place a bet on Makybe Diva to run first, second or third in the Melbourne Cup with these operators and whichever TAB pays the best dividend, that is what you will receive as your dividend. That can be very significant, and it can represent quite a percentage improvement if you wish to make a place bet about one of the more favoured animals.

For example, if you can get \$2.30 on one TAB, \$2.40 on another, and \$2.60 on a third TAB, there is a difference of 30 cents in every dollar you invest. That is massive even if you are a small punter!

Consider the situation where you decide that place betting is now your forte, and you have \$25 on each of two selections for the afternoon.

If your selecting is reasonably efficient, you should be able to pick six or seven places out of ten bets. Things will go wrong with apparent certainties (Court’s In Session was a recent example where you’d have just about staked your left arm on this one running the place, and circumstances of the race snuffed out its chance).

But by and large, six or seven out of 10 is about right without too much hassle. Let us assume that you make those two bets. We will also make it a good day, and have both of them run in the first three. Remember that we don’t give a hoot whether they run one, two or three; that kind of betting is not an issue for us.

We will not sit down at the end of the day and bemoan the fact that we did not bet these horses for a win. They did what we wanted them to do and that’s all there is to it.

Just digressing for one moment, if you have a bit of a problem with what I just wrote, I suggest you think about the AB Trifecta betting that I sometimes talk with you about. You have to achieve the two horses which will run first and second, and you throw the third place open by including the field.

That should cost you, in a 12-horse field, \$20 for a one dollar investment. An alternative bet is to have \$20 on the quinella. It will pay 20 times as many dividends, in units, as the trifecta will pay. So the trifecta will need to be more than 20 times as large as the quinella, or you will be a bit miffed. Well, that is the chance we take with a bet like that, and we can come unstuck.

In the same way, you have to get rid of any idea as to comparisons between the win price and the place price of your various investments when you are betting place only. It is not the poor relation of the win and place (each way) investment; it is a totally viable bet in its own right.

I just thought we’d better throw that in again to ensure that everybody has it firmly in their minds. I would also remind you that if you’re dead serious about “place heaven”, it does not exist at your local TAB.

It exists in your ability to be a member of each of the TABs, and to be able to compare the offerings made by the various TABs. If this is not the case, then at least you must have the availability of betting with the bookmakers who will offer you the best TAB place dividend. We nominated a 30 per cent difference above, which translates as a 23 per cent profit difference. That is astonishing to realise, and it represents an enormous opportunity for the ordinary place bettor.

Can you even begin to imagine what it might represent over a year of betting? For a start, even if we said that the final difference in our successful bets came down to about 10 per cent average, that would be enough in many cases to make the difference between a successful year and a bomb-out.

Place betting might appear slow and comparatively unexciting to many readers. Let me put it this way. Sticking your money in a bank account is obviously safer, so if you want “unexciting” and “slow”, that’s the way to go. If this money is available for investment then the latter option is not an option at all, it’s just a waste of time.

You can make a healthy profit by place betting, getting the best dividend, over a long period. You should never forget Pittsburgh Phil in this regard. A lot of what we read about good old Phil is mythical, but I think his most famous statement is the one that his disciples swore by:

“I pick ‘em to win and I bet ‘em to place.”

Of course in the USA, the place bet was for first and second (the show bet is for the first three in most states). But the principle is the same: a bit of insurance, a bit more security, pick the right horse but acknowledge Murphy’s Law that if something can go wrong it will. There is more common-sense in this single statement than in most things that are attributed to the “all-time greats”.

Something might come along and blouse your selection, but you still collect. In fact you couldn’t care less as long as the horse runs the place. And that’s a lot more comfortable way of living. OK, so the horse wins. So what? You win too, and you will win a lot more times, far more frequently, than the win punter will win.

Will you win as much? That is a moot point and something for another article perhaps, but the additional security and peace of mind is part of “place heaven”. Patience does not play quite such a massive role, and so you are able to invest with more flexibility.

For example, we mentioned above the great mare Makybe Diva. If you were a place-only punter, a race involving her would be a very different situation from the challenge faced by a win punter.

You would probably assume that she will fill one of your three slots, but you can also assume that there could be less attention paid by your rank-and-file punters to the other runners, and that there could consequently be some anomalies in the place pool.

Things like that are not certainties, but they can certainly give the bank a kick along.

Place multiples are an additional possibility which quite serious punters use to improve their returns. For example, the English bet known as the “Patent” is a very popular one with place investors. It involves three selections, which are backed in three doubles and a treble. Additionally, you have three individual single place bets.

So in single units, the entire outlay is seven units. I like to stagger it according to the likelihood of returns. You have often heard me refer to probability, and the probability of each place bet being successful is obviously considerably higher than two of my selections placing in succession, and for me to get three of them placed in succession is less likely again.

On the other hand, the returns from a treble (even a place treble) can be quite remarkable, so that if you can strike one of these every so often, they will more than pay their way.

As an example, let’s assume that we have three place selections in the afternoon. Let us assume that we have a lucky day, and that they all place, and their best TAB returns are \$1.90, \$2.30 and \$2.10.

Using that \$50 which I identified above as our weekend outlay, we could consider having \$10 on each for the place, \$5 on each of the three doubles, and a further \$5 on the all-up treble.

The dividends don’t look particularly exciting, do they? All three are hovering around the even money mark, or slightly above or below. If you are still hankering after win bets and their odds, I am afraid I haven’t convinced you. But in these last few paragraphs, you never know!

We have an absolutely marvellous day and all three selections place. We receive \$19, \$23, and \$21 for our single place investments. For our doubles (\$5), we will receive \$21.85, \$19.95, and \$24.15.

And you will note that those place returns are up around the 3/1 and 4/1 marks. How many times do you back three winners, all paying those odds, without backing any losers? This is what you have done here! And the best is yet to come.

The all-up treble bet (\$5) returns you \$45.90. That is odds of 8/1 about picking three even-money place bets. You have chosen three horses, all obviously in the market, to run places.

Yes, of course I have picked a good day, but they happen when you are place betting. What’s more, you have just multiplied that original \$5 on your treble by nine!

And what is your grand total? \$174.85. It’s about 5/2 for your day’s activity. Another way of looking at it is that you have made 250 per cent.

\$125 profit. Not bad. And it might be the nearest to racing heaven that we’ll ever get.

By The Optimist

PRACTICAL PUNTING – APRIL 2006