Most punters are aware that the last race of a meeting is traditionally known within punting circles as the "get out stakes". Should a punter be losing coming into the last race, it is referred to in this manner as their last chance to finish the day ahead of the game.

To many with a broader vision, there is no such thing as the "get out stakes". A loss is a loss which will be carried over to the next betting day, with such occurrences being accepted as part of the game.

The Internet has become a very popular form of communication over the last few years – discussions can be held with people throughout the world that would have only been a dream not so long ago.

Racing discussion groups have surfaced in the Internet "revolution" with a wide and varied list of topics discussed, some of which are virtual ever-presents, while others appear on a more infrequent basis.

One of the infrequent topics is the "stop-at-a-winner" approach, the so-called "Red Lighting".

Although totally different in their approaches, the "red light" punter and the "get out stakes" punter psychologically share the same philosophy – the need to win on any given day. But is Red Lighting a logical approach to punting?

Recently on one of the racing discussion forums, one of the regulars commenced a particular discussion with the following: "Time or, more importantly, lack of it can make handicapping an unattractive proposition and simplicity a preferred option. I recommend a system of your own making . . . (that) should have a reasonably good strike-rate pro­viding no more than three to five bets."

This regular then put forward a simple (loss chasing) system of his own, which included the following rules: "If the first horse wins, collect your money and stop for the day, otherwise continue until you get a winner and then stop."

One of the other regulars, who has posted many systems and staking plans of his own, responded: "If one is going to take up any progressive (loss chasing) betting idea, it is wise to set up a rule for when to stop betting for the day. A rule I have found to work very well, is to stop betting on the day, once you have struck 10 losers in a row then start afresh the next day."

Another posed the question: "I don’t understand how level bettors can make a profit; how do you know how much you will make for the day and when do you stop if you're in front, (and) what to do if you're behind for the day?"

Meanwhile, on another racing discussion forum, Ausrace (of which I’ve been a long-time member), a similar discussion ensued when Clinton M. stated: "Have just started with a bank of $1000. Each day I try and win 1 per cent of the total bank balance. Obviously on day one I try to win $10. When I get my $10 profit I stop betting for the day. I have been doing this for a couple of weeks now and have had no problem.

My balance is now $1200 and I am trying to win $12 a day until I reach $1300. Accordingly . . . I should be trying to win $100 a day by around August 2004. As long as my place selections keep coming in at valued prices and I stop when I get to my target I don't see why this is not attainable. My staking plan is called Oscar's Grind as per the Practical Punting Monthly March 2003 edition."

Peter F., a long-time contributor to the forum, stated: "I've never understood this ‘stop when you reach your target’ business. Have you kept records on what would have happened if you kept going regardless?"

Lindsay, who has become a regular on Ausrace, added in support: "I've never understood the stop at your target approach either. It seems you are betting for luck not profit. In other words, ‘I was lucky – let's not give it all back.’ Sound prophecy if you can't win at level stakes and are just having a really good lucky run. Luck, superstition and hunches should have nothing to do with making a profit."

Perth teacher Tony A. takes a different tack by stating: "It's quite simple, really. The only reliable research on the psychology of ‘gambling’ shows that punters gamble in mental ‘sessions’. Closing out creates a time space which allows the punter to declare a position: I am winning or I am losing. I'll personally vouch for the stop when you are ahead approach . . . quite simply, it works. You make profits, again and again and again – but with a time space between one winning event/closure and the next. This is purely a psychological phenomenon."

He added: "In answer to the question of what would have happened if you kept going, here are my rough statistics of the last five years (approximately): Winning days at theoretical stop when in front stage = 264; Losing days at theoretical stop when in front stage = 78. 

While these figures are incomplete obviously, the general pattern holds true. And to Clinton can I just say the target you are chasing is very attainable. Monitor what you do with your betting, not just the selections you use. You'll learn a lot more by understanding your own psycho­logical makeup in punting situations than from studying staking plans. Unfortunately there isn't a lot of independent research on the psychology of gambling."

Tony the Turf Accountant (a long-standing Ausrace "character") was next to chime in with this: "I never understood the idea behind stop when in front. Stopping when in front is arbitrary – if you stop when in front today that is one thing, but it would be different if you stopped for the hour when in front until the next hour.

It would be different again if you stopped when in front for the week until the next week and so on. All that happens is that the stop-start deletes an arbitrary sequence and reduces bet volume when there is no reason that the arbitrarily deleted part of the sequence should be any better or worse than the rest of the sequence, so all you are doing, if you have a profitable strategy, is rob yourself of volume and dollars."

Another Perth contributor, Rodney, followed up: "Anyone who stops at any time . . . lacks selection confidence, which would reveal, in my opinion, a serious flaw in record-keeping and selection criteria. I do believe whilst travelling the long road to securing good selection criteria, one has to have a brake whilst putting ideas into practice, to save serious drops in the bank. A good methodology would, in itself, condemn any ‘close up shop’ principle."

From far north Queensland Terry S. put forward some thoughts not otherwise mentioned in the debate as yet when stating: "You guys are not forgetting the day’s race pattern in all this, are you? – i.e. standout favourites in the early races due to thin fields and much harder decisions as the day wears on where there are commonly more than three contenders? Maybe, just maybe, Clinton et al are con­centrating on the easy favourites in the early races for the place (and not ashamed of the $1.40 or so average dividend) and stopping before the tougher races commence. While I don’t deny the psycho­logical aspects involved in this, there is a chance the race category being bet on is in fact more important."

And while on this theme concerning the early races, my buddy and fellow PPM contributor Roman Koz once stated: "There are days when I have picked five winners and would feel very ordinary if I stopped when the first won at 6/4 and some of the other winners were 5's and 6's – the stopping at the first winner idea is definitely not for me."

However, having done some research comparing the early (first four) versus the late (last four) races, Roman has had a change of heart, now offering: "At the time I thought . . . why not keep going because today could be your best day ever. However, my research showed that well-fancied horses did better in the first half of the programme than in the second half – I am not so convinced. If someone approached me today and said they stopped betting as early as possible I would be hesitant to bag the idea."

To which Tony the Turf Accountant responded: "The slightly better strike rate in the early races is being offset by slightly better dividends in the later races."

Some time ago the author of Watching Racehorses, Geoffrey Hutson, had this to say about Red Lighting: "Should a punter stop betting when he gets ahead, strikes at the very heart and soul of punting. Two key areas have been identified – the psychology of punting and the probability. Why do we punt? For me it's for the rush, the adrenalin, the fear, the excitement. Punting makes me feel alive. And I reckon it's the same for 99.9 per cent of punters. Like all punters, we aren't betting to win money, we're betting to be on a winner – Ourselves! That's why we go into tipping contests. We want to be somebody, a famous tipster! When punters tell me they are betting to win money, I don't believe them, because 99.9 per cent of punters lose. We're in there for the thrills. If so, why stop? As for me, I couldn't stop."

Which perhaps brings into play another psychological aspect of the punt. It may come as a surprise to many, but there are people out there who are actually afraid of succeeding. They have just decided it is easier to just take the easy road and say "to hell with it", without realising that they have this problem.

There are people who strive for success, then, for some psycho­logical reason known only to themselves, turn their success into failure. They literally "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory".

Then there are people who will turn failure into a learning experience, and never give up until they are successful, no matter what.

Many years ago, Brian Blackwell, the editor of PPM, posed the following question: "What about the punter who goes to the track or the TAB and bets every race, all day? Surely they would be better off cutting off their betting once they got ahead?"

I would offer the opinion that those punters with a "fear of winning" could help themselves overcome that fear by stopping at a winner, a good start to actually enjoying the punt, not forgetting the old axiom "you can never go broke taking a profit".

By EJ Minnis