As my colleagues in this magazine stated many times before, too many punters ignore the 'staking' side of their betting activity. What they do, say, is pick out a trifecta or double, and just bet on it. Not much thought goes into the bet itself.

But you should always be thinking about how much to bet, what proportion of your stake should be used, and so on. You see, there are ways of making money, and ways of losing it. Chances are that since about 90 per cent of punters are losers. you are among them, or have been among them.

"What," I can hear you say, "Last week I got a $300 trifecta!" Sure, but you bet a total of, say, $100 during the week, so that gave you only a 2/1 return on your outlay. And what about the week before that? No trifecta that week and as for the week before that - well, you can't quite recall what you bet or how, or if you won or lost.

I think I've got it more or less right, eh? I should know, because I've been there and done that. as the yuppies say. For years. I've advised my followers to keep a diary and to keep a record of every bet they make. Yes. I know it hurts and it's painful to look at the mistakes you make as you go along but surely it's better than to avoid looking at all?

To have a new start, you have to be totally honest with yourself. Look upon yourself as a private investor who expects, not hopes, to make a profit. Any little notebook will do in which to jot down your bets. Try it for three months at least; it takes so little time.

My first suggestion is that you write down the following:
(a) Bank.
(b) Expected bank at end of January.
(c) Expected profit per month (%).

My own thinking would be along the lines of a bank of $500 with an expected bank at the end of four months (Oct., Nov., Dec., Jan.) of $738. This is an average investment of around $50 over 14 weeks.

Is it possible to make 10 per cent profit per month? Well, let's be frank, it IS ambitious, but it isn't impossible. The figures would work out as follows:

EIGHT $965
NINE $1061
TEN $1167
ELEVEN $1283
TWELVE $1411

This means that an increase of 10 per cent a month could lead to an increased bank of well over 200 per cent in one year. What it boils do" to is that you have to win about $12 a week initially, stepping it up as your bank grows to an average by the end of the year of around $35 a eek Doesn't sound much, does it? But of course nothing is as simple as it sounds, especially in racing.

A friend of mine, Rod Davis, keeps a financial diary, one that runs from July to June. At first I thought this a touch strange, but then the penny dropped: He was lining up his betting with everything else in his expenses list. Why don't you try it?

If, say, you are likely to bet $200 a week, you are allocating $10,000 a year to your betting. Let's speculate that you would be pleased with any investment to get an after-tax profit of 12 per cent annually. That would be $1200 clear, giving you a second-year bank of $11,200. After two years at 12 per cent, you would have $12,544, or a profit of 25 per cent on your original $10,000.

After three years, it would stand at $14,050 and after four years at $15,735, and at the end of five years it would be up to $17,623, or a cool 76 per cent on your initial bank.

The added incentive for this approach, of course, is that your entire bank is not tied up for the year. You start Week One with $200--not $10,000-and bet at $200 a week, looking to make, say, 50 bets of $200 into a 12 per cent profit over the period-thus making 12 per cent on the whole lot.

Can it be done? If you follow any idea that can net you $224 for your $200 each week you would end up with 24 x 50 equalling $1200 profit at the end of a year.

Is it possible to make $24 on $200 per week (or $20 on $200 a week for that matter, talking 10 per cent)? It's tough, I agree, but careful and sensible selecting over a period of time could see you achieve it.

Which brings me to my next point: Actual staking. We have determined what we are seeking, but now we must devise a method of actually achieving it. This is the really challenging aspect of things, as no doubt you'll all agree.

Level stakes betting is the best way to go. Find that surprising? It shouldn't be a surprise. Level stakes offers you the chance to keep total control of your betting. Each horse carries the same amount of money.

But then we come to another contentious point-should each horse carry the same bet? If you back a 10/1 chance, should you have as much on it as you would a 2/1 chance? Professionals who back 'overlays' would say you should bet according to assessed true odds.

Many punters, I know, detest betting to odds, but there's absolutely no doubt that you should seriously consider such an approach. If you prefer something else, what about the safety-first angle of insurance betting? The question is whether or not it is better to bet two or more horses per race, or restrict yourself to the one horse.

Firstly, if you bet more than one, you are throwing part of the stake away. Only one horse can win (usually, anyway, and if there is a dead-heat you still lose half your stake). Secondly, if you bet, say, $40 on each of two horses, your outlay is then $80 and your return odds are effectively halved.

You will strike more winning races by betting two or more horses per race, though your returns will be smaller. What it comes down to. I think, is two main points:

  1. Can you cope with the longer losing sequences that are bound to occur with only one runner per race?
  2. Will the return from only backing one per race be greater than that of multiple betting over a decent period of time ( let's say 12 months)?

 A lot depends on your style of betting. My view is that it's best to back your main selection and then 'save' on the main danger horse. Then you can also couple your ‘banker' horse in quinellas, trifectas and doubles.

Here's another angle on the same tack:
Let's assume we want to have insurance with our betting. The way to do it could be to have a separate place bank, and bet separately for a place. This is how:

  1. Win Bank $200
  2. Place Bank $800
  3. Basic Bet: Win $8 (4 per cent), Place $40 (5 per cent).

The argument against this is strong, I agree, and it is that if you can hit one winner in every six bets at 5/1 you can cut even with win betting, while you need several placings to make up for that one win bet.

On the other hand, if you don't get that winner it would be nice to collect five or six times for the place! My idea with the 4/5 per cent approach in two banks is to ensure that each bank has no relationship to the other. None at all.

The only thing you can possibly find in common is that they will operate on the same horses. As the two banks grow, you will be tempted to have higher stakes but you should resist this until you are certain you have the game by the throat.

I recommend that you wait for the win bank to get to $300 and then raise the bet to $10 (3 per cent) while the place pool can go to $1200 before the bet unit is raised to $50 (4 per cent). This is a cluey way to go because while you are raising the stake itself you are actually dropping the percentage outlay.

There is plenty of safety in this approach, as long as your selections are reasonable. I always err on the side of caution.

Then we come to progressive staking. There is something to be said for and against this form of betting approach. For the safety-conscious punter, level stakes or insurance betting is recommended and not progression.

Those punters who seek action and excitement will probably prefer the progression method, but it would be wise to bear in mind Neale Yardley's recent advice that over a long list of bets you are likely to end up with the same percentage profit whether you back level stakes or progression.

In other words, you'll win MORE on progression but you will have outlaid MORE, but your actual percentage profit on turnover will be roughly the same as if you had outlaid LESS on level stakes betting for smaller returns.

Finally, should it be 'the kill' or a few bites at the cherry? Is it better to outlay $200 in three or four judicious bites or try for the one big bet? I am inclined to the approach: TREAD SOFTLY. Never extend your betting beyond a comfortable level for yourself and your economic means. If a $200 bet frightens you, take one of the noughts off and make it $20.

Whatever you can genuinely afford is what you should be betting. No more. If you decide on a little for a lot, then stick to it. And always remember that you shouldn't bet just for the sake of a bet. If you're not confident, don't bet. The one major choice you have is not to bet. That's the one weapon you hold over the TAB and the bookie.

By The Optimist