One of the great talking points in racing revolves around the best way to bet, and whether there's an avenue that offers light at the end of the tunnel if you wish to veer away from the conservative level-stakes area. Stopping at a winner is an approach that usually draws fierce fire from critics and supporters.

Let's take a simple example. Let's say you are a three-bets-a-day man. You usually go to the races and bet your three horses at level stakes, come what may. We'll assume that your bets are usually between 2/1 and 5/1.

So you're at the races and you put $20 on your first selection. It wins at 3/1, so you are 300 per cent up on your outlay ($20 bet, $80 back, profit $60). What if you stopped now? You've made a nice profit, why not call it quits?

After all, your next two horses might lose. If they did, you would have outlaid $60 for a return of $80 and you would be only $20 ahead, or 33 per cent on outlay.

Of course, the problem is this: Your next two selections might WIN and provide you with far greater profits. The riddle of this 'red light' approach is whether your overall strike rate is high enough for you to consider continuing.

Try it out with newspaper tipsters. Check out, say, their top three selections in the first three races and use the approach of stopping at a winner. How many times would you stop and win? How many times would it have been more advantageous to continue?

It's not only here in Australia that the 'red light' issue raises its controversial head. In Britain, serious punters are continuously tossing bouquets and brickbats over it.

Stefan Perry, publisher of the popular monthly Smartsig, recently gave his authoritative views on the subject and they make for enlightening reading. This is what Perry had to say:

"Stop-At-A-Winner  (SAAW) methods must have been around for almost as long as there has been betting on races.

"Let's attempt to draw a well reasoned and logical conclusion as to why someone should wish to operate such a technique or suggest to others they should do so.

"Operating SAAW, over any number of selections, we must assume that we think it unlikely that all selections will win, otherwise the best policy would be to back them all, probably as a combination bet? Yes? But we will also be fairly sure that they will not ALL be losers, otherwise the best tactic would be not to back any of them, or revise our selection process? Yes?

"The above two statements are not unique to a SAAW approach. They fit virtually EVERY situation where any of us have more than one selection over the day. We'd like them all to win, but realistically feel that we'll get some winners and some losers. (Unless you're the fatalist whose views would lead him to KNOW he'll inevitably have a full hand of losers.)

"The application of SAAW perhaps does suggest one significant difference when compared with the knowledgeable win singles-only punter who has several selections on the day.

"The very essence of the SAAW ethic of pulling the plug after the first winner infers that they have much less faith in the following bets than the traditional punter would have. Otherwise, why else not back them?

"If the above views are accepted, logic therefore suggests that SAAW is purely an intermediary technique aimed at maximising the returns from a series of selections where it is hoped at least one winner is highly likely? Yes?

"But Smartsig has printed much in the way of mathematical PROOF that tinkering with stakes and betting procedures CANNOT and WILL NOT turn level-stakes losses into profits. Or rather, no-one has ever shown, nor is ever likely to show, that there are mathematical strategies which will yield a profit from level-stake losing bets.

"It is not too difficult to print mathematical proof either that SAAW is detrimental to profitable betting. Taking the two extremes: If the six bets all lose, the level-stake SAAW guy loses just as much as a straight level-stake punter backing the same six runners. If all six win, the level-stake punter is quids-in, whereas the LS-SAAW punter only backed one winner."

Well, those are some thoughts from the UK. Here in Australia, I've been testing the Stop-AtA-Winner process on formguide selections. I decided to try three tipsters in Best Bets (Melbourne meetings) on the first five races, top selections only, and stopping the betting as soon as a winner was struck.

The first seven weeks showed the following results:

Steve Moran

Oct 27:Race 1: Ist $7
Oct 20:Races 1, 2, 3, Race 4: 1st $6.70
Oct 13:Race 1: 1st $2.60
Oct 6:Races 1, 2, Race 3: 1st $8.60
Sep 29:Races 1 to 5: losses
Sep 22:Races 1 to 5: losses
Sep 15:Race 1, Race 2: 1st $4

Total bet: $21. Return: $28.90 PLUS 37.6% on outlay.

Brendan Tupper

Oct 27:Races 1, 2, 3, Race 4: 1st $4.10
Oct 20:Races 1, 2, 3, Race 4: 1st $6.70
Oct 13:Race 1: 1st $2.60
Oct 6:Race 1, Race 2: 1st $3.20
Sep 29:Race 1, Race 2: 1st $2.30
Sep 22:Races 1, 2, 3, Race 4: 1st $5.60
Sep 15:Race 1: 1st $3.50

Total bet: $18. Return: $28 PLUS 55.5% on outlay.

Mark Hunter

Oct 27:Races 1, 2, 3, Race 4: 1st $4.10
Oct 20:Races 1 to 5: losses
Oct 13:Races 1, 2, Race 3: 1st $3.20
Oct 6:Races 1 to 5: losses
Sep 29:Races 1, 2, 3, Race 4: 1st $3.80
Sep 22:Races 1 to 5: losses
Sep 15:Race 1: 1st $3.50

Total bet: $27. Return: $14.60 MINUS 45.9% on outlay.

Not bad results, really, with Steve Moran making a profit of 37.6 per cent and Brendan Tupper doing even better with 55.5 per cent. Mark Hunter's loss was 45.9 per cent. It could be, of course, that Hunter struck a poor period when he was unlucky enough to have three meetings at which he failed to pick a winner in the first five races. He might well bounce back and pick up the losses.

In the same way, the two successful tipsters might go cold and start to lose their profitable edge. We shall see as the weeks roll by. I will keep PPM readers informed.

This is but a seven-week example but it surely provides some optimism that given a good tipster there is a chance that a Red Light punter can get ahead of the game.

Another way to approach this Red Light issue is to slightly change the 'stop' command to 'stop at a profit' so that you keep betting until you are showing a profit on any given set of tips.

Thus, you could strike a winner with, say, your fourth bet but if it's 2/1, you would keep betting because a profit hasn't been reached. This is target betting, the target being 'any profit'. It's a policy fraught with some peril if you hit a bad streak and your selections hit the wrong sequence.

A contributor to the Smartsig forum had this to say about his use of the Stop-At-A-Profit approach.

"A couple of years ago I decided to monitor the full season's betting covering 'stop at a decent profit on the day' versus my normal mode.

"The results for the stop at a profit were far better than I expected with a big increase in profitability through September to January but the results then swung totally the other way, resulting in a loss on the total season by the end of April.

"I have not bothered monitoring stop at a profit-type betting since. However, I could well walk away at any time during the day and often am more inclined to do so if I have backed the first two winners or a 16/1 shot.

"I once backed a 33/1 shot in a bad selling hurdle and there was no way I could bet again that day as I did not stop shaking for an hour!

"One very big pitfall I can see with stop at a profit is the increased temptation to get the day's wages on the good thing that in normal circumstances you may well have passed up on. The punter's temperament will play a big part in being able to accept that the horse you fancied and left unbacked has just won at 16/1 is part and parcel of playing the game as is backing losers and being confident that you are going to back many more."

Another forum member put it this way:

"I know the theory says that the next bet is independent of the fact that I've hit a winner/profit already but it seems that I end up trying to play the winnings up and given the small number of bets on a day against the probability of hitting another winner that day, the temptation is to cut and run on a high rather than on what might have been."

A recent letter-writer to PPM, Ken Larch, from Pymble, NSW, had this to say of his attempts at applying the Red Light factor to his betting:

"Have any of your readers wrestled with the staking plan that says you should stop betting as soon as you have struck a winner for the day? A friend of mine claims to have been using this thing successfully for many years, though how much I can believe him I don't know.

"Anyway, as a result of what he told me, I tried the idea myself. I am usually the type of punter who likes a bet in every race in Melbourne and Sydney, so I guess I'm up for 16 bets a day. I found that when I got away to a good start and hit a winner in the first or second races, I could stop and be in profit. Sometimes I missed other good winners on the day and would have made a lot more money.

"On the days when I had a cold run early on, sometimes as many as 10 losers in a row, I found I couldn't get ahead once a winner arrived, because usually my bets are all around the 6/4 to 3/1 mark. I also found that stopping at a winner was ruining my day out. It's no fun being at the track with 15 races to go and no bets, believe me."

I hope you've found this discussion an interesting one. I would love to hear from any readers with tales to tell about 'stop at a winner' or 'stop at a profit' staking, or tales about any sort of staking approach. I'm sure many of you can relate some interesting yarns!

By P.B. King