I think it's about time we faced this one square on. We haven't talked much about it for a long time, except when we were printing things that overseas writers had originally penned.

And it does have to be faced. just how much of your race betting is gambling? How much is investment? Yes, there is a difference, and it can be slight, or massive. You could be gambling 100 per cent of your bank every weekend. Now that is the ultimate sin and you might as well take Lotto tickets or go down to the club and put it through the pokies.

In fact, I am told reliably that most places in Australia offer better returns on the pokies than on the races. The usual take from the race pools is somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent, while the pokies return in the high 80s.

Sure, they are dead boring, and they will beat you long term. But then so will the track if you play it as a gamble.

I have also been doing some reading about single bets as against multiples. The sort of thing Brian Blackwood raised in the R W Wood articles over the past two months. I am not of the opinion that the single bet alone can satisfy most readers. That makes me seek out other avenues. And I am also not in agreement that it is the best way, regardless of reader preference.

I sincerely believe that some of your outlay has to be on the less likely, even on the unlikely. And that means that it will be on longer shots. Longshots might be 25/1 singles, or trebles at 2/1 each of three. They are, to a varying extent, gambles.

Three of those 2/1 winners, all-up, return a startling 27. So three quite short favourites, if you can find them, might be a far less risky bet than a single at 25/1 (or 26/1 if you want to be exact).

It is unlikely that you can pick three winners at 2/1 without a lot of careful work. Try it. Come on, you don't believe me, so here's the challenge. Any three races you like. Anywhere. Any day.

All I ask is that you identify three winners at 2/1 in one pick.  Of course anyone can do it with enough bets, but to get that 26/1, you need to get them in one hit. Not easy.

0n the other hand, to put the one unit on one horse at 25/1 will probably come off once or twice a year, betting every Saturday. If it comes off twice, guess what? You cut exactly even - 52 weeks, 52 bets, 52 out, 52 back.

On the other side of the equation, if you were to try to find three winners at 2/1 every weekend, one unit all-up, I wouldn't be surprised if you could do it, say, five times. Above, I said you couldn't do it as a one-off. Some of you would. Then maybe you'd miss for eight or nine weeks, then you might (in fact probably would) manage it again.

If you did it twice in a year you'd be matching it with the straight-out gambler, while if you managed it three times you'd make 50 per cent on turnover!


And the five successful all-ups I suggested as possible would mean 135 back for 52, or 83 profit (159 per cent), and $5 per weekend would give you a neat profit of $415.

That would mean you could add it to your original bank of $260, making $675.

So for Year Two you could have single trebles of $13.

Crack five of those in the 52 weekends, arid you'd return $1755 for your $675, and Year Three starts with $1755, or trebles of $33.

Five of those and you are talking real money!

Over $4450, in fact. Do it for five years and your retirement is assured. All I am doing is raising the returns relevant to the raised stakes, retaining the same 159 per cent on turnover, give or take a dollar to round down.

The question to be put at this stage of our examination is: Which represents gambling? The 25/1 bet on a horse, or the same "exotic" bet on three 2/1 horses? In the first place, the 2/1 horses are likely to be the choices of about 30 per cent of the public. 01- more. They are also likely to be favourites, or close enough. Their statistical record is sound.

The statistics for the outsiders are (not to be too subtle about this) lousy.

In the above challenge to pick three shorties that could get up, I made it sound hard. But that's because it is NOT easy. If it were easy, all the bookies would go broke and racing would die.

But it's easier than many "gambles". Yet we say it is a gambler's bet because it is a treble, while a bet on a 25/1 single is "your own choice" and made after careful analysis.

Well, to that I say "maybe". There are weeks, even fortnights, when I cannot see a long-priced (meaning 25/1) genuine chance on any programme.

But week after week I can go pretty close to a handful of winners at short prices. My problem is identifying just a few good things at any price. I might be able to find three winners for a treble once in 10 shots. That's five trebles a year. I am confident that I can go pretty close to that when I am seeking them from amongst the day's favourites.

I am pretty sure I could do it twice a year. And that means I will crack a small win for my 52 "exotic" outlays. Do it more frequently, and we have the results above.

Okay, so much for that. The gambler takes 25/1 about 52 horses and hopes to get a winner every so often. Reason and experience say "good luck". The bookie asks, with some justification, why the horse is 25/1 if it is a realistic chance.

I say, there might be five occasions in any year when I go after a 25/1 horse, and they are occasions when I believe the price is wrong. If it is 10's or 12's, it is in the market so far as I am concerned. At 25's, it is regarded as a no-hoper by those whose living depends on their being right.

I'll tell you what, though, as an aside. If the day ever comes when the bookies disappear (and it might, especially if TAB Ltd and others get their way), then the day of the 25/1 horse with the real chance of winning will resurface, and the "overlay" concept will reappear in Australian betting markets. At present, in my view, it is still the bookies who establish the markets, despite all you might be told about the punters making the prices.

Bookies live or die by their markets, and they don't care which horse wins, so long as their boards are set to  maximum achievable profit levels. As soon as there is a loophole in any of this, they plug it. As an example, one major bookmaker has dropped a publicised "best price" offer at one major avenue, because the fluctuations are not to his liking.

Or to put it another way, he is riot prepared, or perhaps unable, to finance the astute punters who have recognised this trend and who wanted to take advantage of it. It has taken his edge away. He is not the tote, and he cannot make a guaranteed round book by lengthening and shortening other horses' prices right down to the starting time.

Bookies have all sorts of limits, as well, to restrict their being caught with their pants down. Maybe their limit on a double is 100/1. That would not rest well with someone who for the only time in their life got a double up with two 25/1 winners (675/1). Worse still, imagine a 500/1 limit on all multiples, and you get three winners at 25/1 (17,575/1).

That might happen once in a lifetime, but the bookie who takes your cash about a 25/1 chance, or three 25/1 chances as singles, sure isn't going to be sitting there waiting for the third leg of a $20 treble to cripple him. For the record that's over $350,000 for the twenty bucks.

Of course you'd kill the TAB price too, but at least you could still make the bet and get the odds paid by the TAB. Chances are you'd get close to the $13,520 for the first two legs. That would go onto the third leg, probably cramping the odds down to 7/1 or so. You'd still be in for the best part of a hundred grand as against ten.

Now what about other "gambles" that might be preferable to the safe ways? Well, I still believe that the trifecta, judiciously played, is a reasonable bet. If you are accustomed to having $20 on a horse to win, taking it as a trifecta standout with five more chances for $10 (50 cent units) might make the return soar. Imagine taking it with the favourite (if it isn't favourite itself), two others you fancy and two more that have reasonable chances to run a place at odds.

I had a letter from Ian Fleming of Subiaco in WA recently, containing a clipping of the result of a trots race in Perth. The 7/4 winner, with two outsiders, paid in excess of $15,000 on the trifecta, and there was only a handful of starters!

Easy with hindsight, to be sure ... but if you'd fancied that horse, and obviously plenty of punters did, and you took it with the field to run second and third for 50 cents (outlay was $28) you'd have scored $7500-plus ... Ah, dreams are easy, but you can see where I am coming from here, can't you?

And so to conclude this inquiry, do we have something we can state with certainty? No, not really, but we can say that not all "exotic gambling" is really foolish risk taking, while some moderate week-by-week "flutters" do not make any sense at all.

As usual, a diary must be kept. As usual, the investor must make an agreement with himself to be never less than consistent and never less than honest.

Now I want you to set a few targets for yourself in next weekend's race fields, and see how you go. Warren Block has always said that if it won't work on paper, then it definitely won't work with money. To my mind there has never been a better teacher of Australian racing investment than Warren. And Warren has never said anything more true, and important for us, in his long career.

By The Optimist