Paul Simon found fifty ways, at least, to lose his lover. I suppose that there must be at least 500 ways to lose your money and, so far as the racetrack is concerned, we can probably double that without drawing breath.

I should tell you right at the start in case you begin to get worried, that next month I am going to start talking about 20 ways to win you money.

Twenty ways. I'm not going to get through all of them today, and what started off as a twopart article is going to be three parts. Somewhere towards the middle of next month's piece, I'll get started on the good side, about winning money. I can tell you this because I know what happens further down the page. I got quite worked up about it all and I realised I was going to need a lot more time with you, and that we could probably have filled the magazine on this one subject.

Let's begin with the most obvious way of losing money. Back a loser. Of course, you say, that's obvious... but if you put your mind to it, it is very easy to do.

There will be races all through this spring where certain horses have absolutely no chance of winning. Well, next to no chance. Miracles do happen. But they will not happen to you, and they will not happen to me, and when they do occur we'll shake our heads and just move on. In weight for age races, there will be animals which are hopelessly outclassed.

And so my first way of losing belongs to the weight for age world. This is a world which is usually inhabited by the best top-class animals. Taking multiple trifectas and first fours is often very risky, because the dividends are unlikely to be high in terms of the outlay. People tend sometimes to forget, when they receive a $100 return on a four-horse box trifecta or first four, that they are getting 3/1.

If you want to lose money, go to a weight for age event and back anything outside the first three or four favourites. That should do it most of the time.

Our second way of losing money is to follow the crowd. The crowd is usually influenced by either the pre-post market, the TAB market, or the Saturday morning spruikers.

It is difficult to overestimate the amount of wasted money that occurs directly as a result of blindly following these opinions. If you must have a guide of this kind, the bookmakers are the ones that get it right most of the time. I don't necessarily mean that their favourites will be any more successful than pre-post or TAB favourites, but their betting order, and the four of five horses that they separate from the rest, can usually be relied on as a solid guide. This holds up even in the big races. After all, their survival depends on their being more accurate.

This "survival dependency" thing does not hold for your Saturday morning spruiker, who turns up, large as life and bright as a button, on the following Saturday, and is as confident as he was the previous Saturday. Win, lose or draw, there he is again, just like one of those appalling pop-ups that you get stuck with on your computer. He has an opinion on every race, knows everybody personally, understands all the vagaries of the ' tracks, and can still go weeks without picking a decent winner for you. But his job is not on the line, and he can afford to have opinions based on emotion and just as frequently, his pocket. And somehow he remains an "expert"!

So if you want to lose your money, follow the crowd or follow the Saturday morning crowd.

The next way is to bet more than you can afford. This will immediately throw you off balance and your betting will become irrational and desperate.

I sometimes think that ATMs are a disaster for the average punter: he or she is now able to withdraw money at the press of a few buttons any day, anytime, and even at the club or the racetrack. 1 am not a wowser, but if you allocate a certain amount of money to your betting and it runs out, you are only an ATM away from replenishing it.

In the good old days, your mate shouted you your bus fare home, or a couple of drinks after the last, and you waited till the banks opened on Monday before you ate again.

All right, maybe not that bad, but 1 do suggest that using the ATM, when you run out of money during a race meeting, is a pretty sure way of losing. You are already on the skids for the day and clearly your plans for that day have gone wrong.

Next (I'm losing count) relates to something I mentioned above. Sure, have a drink after the last race, but if you want to be pretty certain of osing, then start your drinking halfway through the program. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of club and pub betting, in my view, and you can compare it to the laws about driving when you've had a drink.

The situation is similar, in that you lose your fine edge of judgement. You can argue, if you like that a few beers or a scotch won't affect you at all, and I will reply that you are only fooling yourself. I don't know any financial profession that can act totally rationally after imbibing alcohol, and if you fancy yourself as a serious or even semi-professional punter, then sooner or later you have to acknowledge this fact of life.

A pretty easy way of losing your money in racing is to bet on more than one horse in a race, unless you know exactly what you are doing, down to the finest point.

Dutch betting is all very well, but you have to be absolutely certain of the accuracy of your bets.

Also, if you are betting small-scale, as most of us do, you cannot match it with a bookmaker and his spread. Even if you think you can cover the field in four of five horses, I'm here to tell you to look in the car park and see who's driving the BMWs and the Mercs. Betting to a fine margin is all very well for the big boys: it's not a good thing for the average punter.

Furthermore, the question of "value" comes into play very strongly here. This is my next way of losing money. Back a horse that does not represent value. That'll do it. That'll lose money. Even if the horse wins, I would argue that you have just lost money. Crazy? You try this long-term, and see how long you last before your bank takes an awful battering.

Your judgement as to value, and my judgement as to value, may well be different, but because they are both based on logical opinion they may both be sound.

So long as we both only support animals that we believe offer us value, then in the long term we both stand a pretty fair chance of making money.

However, if - we persist in putting money on animals that we do not regard as value, whether we are betting in Dutch books or box multiples of one kind or another, or we're simply following the crowd, we can expect to end up on the scrap heap.

So many ways! It's so easy to lose that you'd wonder why anybody bothered to fight it. Well, they bother, because of what we are going to find out next month about making money as against losing it. But isn't it easy to lose it? Easy as falling off a log!

The next way is to listen to the person standing next to you. Of course, there will be times when the person standing next to you might just know something about the race. And I don't mean that he is privy to the secrets of the trainer's brother-inlaw's second cousin's great aunt. No, I mean that you may be fortunate enough to attend the races or your TAB with a knowledgeable form student, one. who can lay on the line for you the various chances as he sees them.

These people exist and are invaluable to people such as myself. They don't tip, they merely observe. I retain their friendship and we exchange opinions but we very rarely attempt to convince each other that a horse should be backed. It may be apparent that we believe it is a strong winning chance, but we leave it at that. These people probably should be in my next month's issue, but we might as well mention them here and compare them with the absolute punter's nemesis.

The absolute punter's nemesis is the loudmouth, the opinionated know all, the person who's just backed one of two winners and is "hot". He is dangerous in more than one way and will cost you money. Desperate to be right, he will be trying to put people on to the obvious favourite so that he can crow at the end of the race.

If this is the horse you already fancy, you have to remember that these people are in operation all over our racing community, and are keeping the bookmakers happy. They help maintain favourites' prices below what they really should be.

If you can avoid all those pitfalls above, you are on your way. Believe it or not, I've got a whole lot more ways of losing money to list.

But I promise you that next month we will also get started on ways of winning.

What you have this month is a whole list of what my old pal John O'Sullevan used to call no-no's. Be afraid of them!

Click here to read Part 2.

By The Optimist