The English writer Alan Potts, whose brilliant work has been mentioned in PPM the past year or so, makes dazzling statement about betting on single selections.

It is on page 235 of The Inside Track, his second book.

Potts says, very frankly, that the single win selection is the best way to make money. He is unsure about eachway betting, and is prepared to allow that there will be times to consider it. But he is definite about the chances of making money on singles, as against all fancy combinations.

This article is not going to make any hard and fast rules about the matter, but Alan is a fine judge, a man who makes his living on the track, a man whose work is lucid and always backed by the lines in judgement and experience.

He asks a very simple question of his English readers, one we could easily adapt to our own betting locale.

"Why is here a special ticket available for yankee betting and all such bets?"

I will return to this, so keep it in mind.

Of course, in Australia, there is a special ticket for every kind of bet (we are light years ahead of anywhere else in the off-course betting world). But in the UK, the tickets are just bits of paper on which you scribble whatever you feel like. For example, you can write "50p eachway round robin, Ripon 2nd favt R1, Towcester 2nd favt R5. Brighton 2nd favt R8, if none to come when leg 3 runs, extra 50p eachway that horse".

Your friendly local turf accountant will unravel that little Babylonic cuneiform message and revel in it, as so few of these bets win. In fact, should you win, he will be delighted for you, and if your couple of quid outlaid turns into a hundred, he will probably put the ticket in the shop window.

You have some chance. Not "no chance", mind. A fair to middling chance of getting something back, and a small chance of winning a lot for a little. Three second-favourites, spread judiciously around the country, in races where you believe the favourite is vulnerable, is a reasonable way to travel. Backing them this way may not be!

In Australia, when you bet on a first four, a quaddie, or something that difficult, You usually bet a little and hope to win a lot. I have often written about the difference between betting a lot to win a little and betting a little to win a lot.

At present there is someone visiting Sydney tracks, who is possibly intent on losing a lot, and he is attracting attention from the starved newshounds in Sydney. He had, it would appear, some $70,000 on Lonhro just before I wrote this article. The odds were around 6/1 ON.

That means he gets back $116 for every $100 he puts in the satchels. Or $11,200 profit for one and a bit Minutes' work. He regards it is mere rent. He could be right.

Who is to argue that he is not going to do better than a small-bet punter who focuses on longer-priced horses and multis? I am, for one.

I believe his method is doomed. He will inevitably strike a bad patch. A horse will be rolled at 1/5, and he will do his $70,000. He will need five more to win at those odds just to square his books.

The man who wrote the foreword to Alan Potts's book tells how Potts invested a massive amount on Labour to win the 1997 election in Britain, and at (wait for it) odds of 1/6. The same odds I have just scoffed at above.

But it was a one-off, and Labour was over the line, and everyone believed they would win by a landslide. It was, in betting people's language, a bet to nothing. But have that very bet six times and you'll get rolled it least once. You need a bankroll to withstand the inevitable loss.

Has our latest Sydney fearless hero got the back-up? If not, he will evaporate in time. It will happen, as sure as eggs. The wheel will turn.

So what is the case for the single bet? Alan Potts makes the point that while there are tickets in the UK for the yankee, the Canadian, the Heinz, and the goliath, as well is the television six and the television seven, and God knows what else, there is not one for the good old single win bet.

You could argue that this is because the single win bet is easy to write down. After all, the punter just has to put "50p win Blowfly, R2 Lindfield" and we all know what he means. No need for a fancy ticket.

But the same is true of any form of betting. Why not pick up a blank sheet and write "Yankee win 50p" on it, then write the horses' names on it?

Why have a six-colour pretty Yankee ticket, with suggestions of wealth and hints of holidays in the Bahamas instead of at Blackpool?

The answer is obvious, isn't it? The chance of the Bahamas is probably the same chance Buckley had when he went looking for Leichhardt. The chance Al Gore had of being remembered after September 11 in the USA. Not a good chance. Nobody found Leichhardt, and George W. Bush is king. But miracles happen.

When miracles do happen, about once or twice in a punter's lifetime, they can be small miracles, or, occasionally, big ones. A mate of mine has won enough to virtually pay out his mortgage on attractive home in inner-Sydney. He tends to focus on first fours and trifectas, and his luck has been in. His modest outlays have returned him a healthy five-figure profit this year already and it has gone towards his bank debt.

Smart man that. He accepted the luck when it came and then put it to maximum use. He will get that holiday in the Bahamas or wherever he pleases.

So do you want to try for that once-in-a-lifetime (okay, maybe twice) big one, or do you want to make a steady supplementary income from racing?

To return once more to the thinking of Alan Potts, this guru would tell you that you really have a very simple choice: make steady money or risk making none on a very regular basis.

Remember what he said about the betting tickets in the UK. They don't have them for singles, so the message is clear. So far, anyway.

It would be clearer, perhaps, if we now emphasised the other factor in the equation; that of value.

You MUST believe in value. I can write all the words I need to fill this entire issue of PPM and a whole lot of readers will still bet on horses that do not represent value. This is one of the things that surprises me about a handful of our readers. I know it is so because they write, and email, and they tell us so. When they manage a win, they tell us how dumb we were to try to steer them off the particular horse.

Oh, of course they don't say "I ignore value", but you can read it in what they are writing. They stick with a horse that is talked off the map on the morning of the race. They back a horse that is clearly not winning and, in all probability, will not win - it has probably won something big (like a recent derby) and is therefore trumpeted by the usual amateurs, every time it gets back to its "favourite distance".

If you check, you will find that maidens like Curata Storm, Blue Murder and Asia rarely do anything again. I can always have egg on my face when I start naming horses, but the facts are that I manage to beat this game because I am able to leave such unreliable conveyances alone.

No prizes for remembering which horse I warned you about last spring. There was never any value associated with him and, because he will be watched like a hawk upon his return, there never will be. Good luck to him and his connections. He may come back to something like his best, but I have learnt over the years that horses like Universal Prince are much easier to make money from by betting against them.

I proved this in the spring. I will not give that money back by being pigheaded and betting against him, if I believe he will win.

I accept he might be a world-beater this autumn, but, should he line up against something I really fancy, something that I don't have to ponder about, and don't have to wonder whether this might be the day ... who can say? I just might have another go against him.

This is where the value thing comes into play. For me, the horses listed above represent potential good risks.

I was very sad to see Fairway break down and leave the track forever, but realistically I would never have backed him again, because I don't follow them after they come to real grief.

They rarely come back. Had he made it as far as a 2000-metre affair, he may well have started favourite.

I'd have had money to say that he had the odds stacked against him, because they don't usually do it. And the chances are that, had this hypothetical event occurred, I would have identified a horse or two at odds above what they'd have been without the Fairway presence.

This other horse, or horses, might well have attracted my bet. I would call this a chance at taking "overs", a very real value bet. Just as with Universal Prince in a field, I will find others to beat him- They will be horses that would be at significantly shorter odds were he not in the field. I stress, as above, that I may be made to look very foolish in this specific instance. That is neither here nor there to me. It happens.

My point is that long term I will be the more successful for riding out losing stretches, perhaps even losing years, and focusing on genuine value.

So, singles or multis? I have only scratched the surface and, as I said above, I could fill this entire issue with the topic.

Maybe (as always) the easy way out is for me to say "whatever suits you" is best for you, but I would prefer to say "whatever wins you more money" is best for you.

I draw your attention to one interesting fact: our resident system genius, Chartist, has up to now almost exclusively dealt in single selections. His great mentor, Statsman, is in that same corner.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

By The Optimist