I could easily provide you with fifty-two ways of winning, one for each week of the year, and some of them would win on some weeks. Others would fly high on other occasions, probably on the weeks you didn't apply their rules to your betting.

Well, to simplify matters, I have decided that twenty winning ways with our favourite sport is a manageable number and in this article I will discuss the first twelve and feature the remainder in Part Two in the February issue of PPM.

What you need to do is what I have to do: you must make a commitment and stick to it. If you decide to, say, use Target, the new selection service from Michael Kemp and Martin Dowling, then use it every week, not randomly. If you have purchased one or more of the several excellent methods offered to you through Equestrian (e.g. the profitable Pathfinder system, devised by Chartist), then you might make a decision to use them as part of your regular weaponry.

Whatever you do, it is a good idea to list your attack weapons and give them a decent run. I have always believed that twelve months is the most reasonable length of time, unless there is absolute chaos. Clive Allcock's betting year runs from season to season, Martin Dowling's is based on the calendar year, and you would not believe the notes that Jon Hudson makes in his large diary. He must have been a banker in a former life.

I have two diaries, and my faithful technological/ electronic friends, the computers.

They keep me honest. If you do not record every investment you make, forget your chances of making profits regularly. Oh yes, it is true that you could make substantial profits short term, and you can deceive yourself into believing that it will all come together in the long term. Sorry, it won't.

What will happen is that you will fudge - I know, been there, done that.

. . . and Brian Blackwell advises

Put my advice into just over a hundred words? Okay, I'll give it a go.

  • Dodge the favourites. There's no future in 'em!
  • Draw up your own assessed prices on your fancies and back them when you can secure value.
  • Don't underbet, and don't go silly in betting every race.
  • Take some time to have a look at the form.
  • Believe what YOU see and act on it.
  • Steer away from no-luck stables. Stick with the strength.
  • Don't bet beyond your means. Scared money is dangerous.
  • Be wary of 'tips' from well-meaning mates.
  • Join the Practical Punting Daily Club on the Internet for just 60 cents a day! It's the best value you'll ever get.

Let's start numbering things.


Firstly, there is the record book (Point One). If you use a computer, for heaven's sake do keep a floppy back-up. And if you bank profits, then do have a special account set aside. It is not the right idea to argue that the winnings are well identified and that they may as well be in with the mortgage repayments and the food budget accounts.

Not a good idea at all. You must have a record book, a reasonably large diary in which you are able to record your thoughts, and also (Point Two) record anything you hear or read that you might be able to use later on.

As an example, I have to buy just about every paper known. On most Mondays the Age features an excellent article from The Pro. He recently identified three horses for the southern carnival, and one for a particular race. I noted it, on the date it was set to run, and it duly saluted as a very nice bonus to my betting on that day.

Point Three highlights that old, old advice: there is always another race, always another meeting. If you did the form, made your system selections, called whatever service you are with, had your bets, and lost for that day, the world does riot stop. There is always another meeting with new races.

There is always another meeting. I repeat that because it is so important. I know how hard the losing days are to take, but anyone who claims not to have them is a fake. We all have them, and sometimes they are very annoying, especially when we can see how a basic error we made has cost us a profit for the day.

Point Four is betting to a small proportion of your bank. I have argued over several years that nothing compares with betting to the highest point of your bank. It is a point of view, and it may be that others will disagree. Statsman sometimes does, and he is the best there is in this field. But many of his best staking plans are still rooted in the "percentage of the highest point" principle.

I prefer 1, or 2, per cent as my base. If that is applied to the highest point a bank has reached, there will always be a hundred, or fifty, such bets to be made before bankbust occurs. You can also do it by allocating 1 or 2 per cent of the bank per Saturday - there are fifty-two Saturdays for the year, so that should see you through either way.

Next, Point Five, is betting within your means. If your betting is any good, the bank will grow and things will increase. If it isn't, why the heck are you betting with the money that you should not risk?

Point Six is ignoring all things that do not relate to your regular approach. If you do not normally listen to the Saturday morning information provided by the radio stations, do not suddenly tune in one day and take what somebody says as gospel.

I can tell you right now that a lot of it is a long, long way from gospel. It is mostly opinion, and yours can often be every bit as good. I have the utmost respect for jockeys and trainers, but very little time for them as selectors. Their overall record as tipsters is not strong, to put it kindly.

Worst of all is the "late news" or "late mail", or late anything. The man at the track usually gives you exactly what (where relevant) he gave you that morning, or whenever. It makes absolutely no difference to a horse's chances whether or not it firms in the betting, or drifts. It is the same horse, same trainer, same rider, same weight, same track. Things are the same as they were when you made your mind up.

I don't say these things don't come off. If they didn't sometimes, there'd be no late mail, etc., at all. But I have no time for this material, particularly when four, five or even more chances are listed. The nonsense that "money talks" is just that. To tell us that "they" are backing it is one of the sillier statements in the racing game. Even more so is the claim that it is "serious" or "educated" money. Ignore all such information as useless, except as a warning that your horse might end up paying unders if it is the target of this "information".

Point Seven is to warn you away from likely odds-on horses. If you are a "normal" punter, what on earth is the point of backing a horse for $10, or $20, and risking your cash, to get back, say, $16 or $32? I take the view that if you believe this is the winner, a genuine favourite, then you either go for an exotic or you drop out of the race. See Point Ten, with reference to Mark Cramer.

This brings me to Point Eight. If you cannot drop out of, or bypass a race, you have a big, big problem. You need to rethink your reasons for being in the game at all. Think about it. I can't pick eight winners on a card. Not any card. I have a time of it picking one! In a nine-race (chosen at random) Saturday programme at the Melbourne carnival, the Sportsman "experts" selected 3, 2 or I winners each. It is a difficult thing for them, and time is their enemy as publication deadlines threaten them.

Point Nine: Know your trainers and know when they are in form. Lee Freedman is flying, as I write this. He will not win every week, nobody does that, but gee, his team has been doing well. Remember for 2002 that his horses are mostly quite young, like Moon Dragon and All Courage, and should be right at the top in autumn.

Sometimes this can all crash around your head. For example, I nominated Scenic Warrior from the Freedman team as a really good bet for 2001. He won brilliantly at big odds first-up at Flemington in 2001, and I am still waiting for him to do it again. He is, however, in my diary with a "watch" against him.

Point Ten: Try not to "go with the flow", especially on the TAB. If your selection is picked by all and sundry, you know it will be unders on the TAB. There is strong argument for letting it go. That does not mean bet against it, though. The interview with Mark Cramer in last month's PPM had some good ideas on this topic. (Part 2 is in this issue.) I have had immense respect for Cramer since I read his early book, Thoroughbred Cycles.

One of Brian Blackwell's great inspirational innovations has been to feature these interviews in PPM. They have taught our readers so much, and nothing better than ways of not losing money (as against winning it).

Americans are very focused on odds and value, and their top writers intend to remain in the black with their own betting activities. Cramer's idea of using the exacta as a buffer when there is a clear favourite is one I have never known to be exploited in Australia - it might be worth your while considering, as a way of dealing with a selection when it is shortpriced.

The next point, Point Eleven, is to do with wet tracks. The tracks can be treacherous when they are wet. And they all differ. It is very easy to just ignore this and argue that if a horse has handled a wet track it can handle another wet track on another day. If a horse has a 'W', or an 'M', against its name it can mean anything. For example: a six-year-old gelding has won a Cranbourne Maiden on slow going as a two-year-old. If you check further you could find it has had nine or ten tries since then on "wet" tracks for no wins, maybe one third, and eight or more non-placings!

Since we have been supplied with fuller statistics on wet-track performance, our selecting processes should have improved radically If they have not, we only have ourselves to blame because things are genuinely much clearer for us.

To my way of thinking, the only evidence of a horse's ability to handle a wet track is the evidence that it has won on that track under those conditions.

If it has won at, say, Sandown on slow ground, it may - or may not run well at Flemington on similarly identified ground. The biggest single problem for me has always been the horses for courses thing when it comes to wet tracks.

I stress: tracks are all different. And a slow Sandown means what? It isn't heavy, well, maybe . . . so what we get is "the track is on the better side of slow", or "the worse side of slow". This is in relation only to that track, and it will not be revealed anyway in the horse's history. No, the only real test is today's track, under today's conditions (as close as knowledge permits), preferably at least twice.

Frankly, I like to go further and actually demand that the contender has run well over a distance at least as far as today's distance on this track in similar conditions. It is as close as I can get to assessing the likelihood of the horse being successful today.

Usually wet tracks frighten me off, unless I am sure I am dealing with a course-proven, distance-proven horse - a horse that has done it on this course under the prevailing conditions. Even further, there can be problems with Melbourne weather that mean all your work can be for nothing. True, your horse has qualified for you as a slow-track chance, but the weather can turn nasty in an instant in Melbourne, and also at Rosehill, but let's stick to Melbourne where you will remember the spring carnival weather patterns that ruined the chances of many "fast to slightly slow" horses.

I am edgy and very watchful once the track is "slow", unless my horse has done it. I know I am labouring this point, but I have learnt through some awfully disappointing experiences.

Point Twelve, the last one for today, is concerned with the question of switching TAB or bookmaker/TAB bets. If you are big time you can use (say) three different States' TABs and average your returns, or even watch all three and bet the best (although this can come horribly unstuck where the pools are relatively small).

I do feel, though, that over the long haul the average investor may as well choose the one medium either the bookmaker or the tote and once the decision is made, stick to it.

I am aware of several readers who use bookmakers' early services, and thereby obtain top (or "best") odds bet. This can be quite dramatic where shorter-priced horses are successful. For example, a favourite starting at 9/4 (say $3.20) might be offered at odds anywhere up to 15/4 ($4.70) during race betting. The usual trend is odds out, then odds back in, with the well-fancied types. In this case there is a point and a half difference between the SP and the best odds. That is an enormous advantage when calculations of profit on turnover are made, being exactly the same as having a free winner at 6/4.

Overall, if you are betting on well-touted and well-fancied animals most of the time, a bookie offering "best odds" may be the way to go. We all know that, long term, the TABs are best for longer-priced horses. The ones that pay $20 or so, often have a best price of perhaps 12/1 ($13). It is unusual for the reverse to occur.

Next month we will look at the other eight points. Until then (and always!), stick to what you do best.

by The Optimist