Before we know it the new season has started. That will certainly be the case after you have had a couple more sleeps and, as has become almost traditional, I offer you some words of advice that I have acquired over many years in the racing game.

There are two quite distinct sides to racing investment. One involves a structured and fixed approach, in which all your decisions are made for you by an external force.

The most common experience of this kind of thing is the use of a system. Subscribers know all about that, but I would think that nobody except the totally new player is ignorant of systems. The system has a lot of good things going for it. It controls your selection number and your output (I mean from your bank). If you are the kind of person who is able to stick to a system, quite often this is the area of betting that will suit you best.

The world of systems is a fascinating journey. System fans are a special breed and they never stop looking, thinking, evaluating, watching and modifying basic concepts. This is one of the reasons that Equestrian provides systems on an ongoing basis. The novice might imagine that one system will set them up for life, whereas the history of the system is a history of evolution. We never stop learning.

In the great years of Statsman, he was always out ahead of everybody else asking questions that nobody else had thought to ask. When he had finished a plan, after putting in more man hours than you could possibly believe, he would make his negotiations with the company (he didn’t bet: this was a ruling that, so far as I know, he never broke; he believed that betting interfered with his ability to remain totally impartial when he was examining a mechanical program). Since you won’t get anybody better than Statsman, we can take it as read that the world of systems is an ongoing and developing thing.

Most of the successful punters of my acquaintance respect this side of betting. They do not necessarily use concrete systems themselves, or so they would have you believe. However, my friends and I have whiled away many hours discussing the basics of the system and the issue of “When is a system not a system?”

For example, one of the classic “systems” is always to consider the topweight in a handicap. I suppose that if all we are doing is “considering” it, the idea can hardly qualify as a full system. But if, as an investor, you have a rigid ruling that the topweight must always come under the microscope, you have a fundamental systematic process in mind. As with all good systems, there is an essential logic behind looking at the topweight. After all, the racing clubs pay their handicappers big money to allocate the weights in handicap events.

You can learn a great deal by the weights that they hand out. You will also learn to smile, as all professionals do, at the squeals and squeaks of trainers who believe that their horse has been hardly done by the handicapper. That is part and parcel of racing and it usually means that the trainer gives his horse a great chance and is a wee bit disappointed that it maybe did not get in a little bit lighter.

If, to this examination of the topweight, a racing investor also added an examination of the order of favouritism, the poll of the tipsters’ selections and possibly the candi-dates’ former performances under similar conditions, you are getting very close to what any system’s fan would recognise as a fair dinkum system. I’m going to suggest another word to you and then have a look at the other side of racing investment.

The new word is “method”.

Common enough word? That’s true, but time and again it will separate the clever, astute, wide awake and successful investor from his neighbour.

Method in racing nearly always means there is some logic, some formal approach to your racecourse activities. Without method you are all over the shop. Without method, all sorts of images of dogs’ breakfasts spring to mind. When you approach your race with method as your basis, you probably have built in a routine structure that is designed to protect you against all those temptations which are, tragically, the pitfalls for many punters.

Method without logic would be disastrous. You wouldn’t last long. But just before we leave the systems side and look at the other side of racing investment, think about any losing day that you have experienced. Would you know, one of the hardest things to get any disorganised punter to talk about is his losing days. Doesn’t have them? You’ve got to be kidding! We all have losing days but (sorry, regular readers, you know this one, you’ve heard it so often) the trick is to win overall.

A disorganised punter bets haphazardly and would be much better served by following a couple of proven rigid systems. Inflexible systems are, for many punters, their betting backbones. One thing you can be sure of is that the unfortunate, disorganised punter we referred to above, will not be following safe and reliable guidelines; no, because if he has to record everything that he does, he is involved in admitting that he loses money.

I believe that everybody can benefit by having a small group of effective systems in their betting battery. The other side of racing investment is, of course, independent judgement. This leads to selection of horses based on the racing investor’s individual experience and ability. It can be quite hazardous, especially if he does not have a helping hand. If I were to say that the best helping hand possible for the average punter is Brian Blackwell’s Practical Punting Daily  (PPD), you might possibly infer that I was putting in a plug for the editor.

Well yes, that would be a fair enough comment, if my plug wasn’t totally justified. But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding and PPD simply has more value than any comparable service. I doubt that anybody knows better than I, what kind of effort Brian and his team put in to producing their daily product, but maybe you should hunt around and ask his satisfied subscribers. Incidentally, his early selections for the cups are legendary.

I make no excuses to anybody about my admiration of PPD. If a punter requires a day by day, reasonably-priced selection and information service, this is the one. And it leads us into the other side of racing investment, which as just mentioned above, is the concept of individual experience and input. If you believe that you have this capacity, you should not object to running a test on yourself.

If you cannot do this, you really are not serious about the long term and all you are hoping for is a quick fix via a TAB win. Yes, you might win this Saturday, but will you win over the long term? The long term is the only term that matters.

Here is the test. I recall many years ago (before the days of the computer), Warren Block used to forward his students a series of examination questions. Warren used to ask students to examine a series of race meetings over a considerable period of time (as I recall, it was either three or six months!)

That is a heck of a time for an anxious, maybe even impatient, student of the racing game to wait without actually producing the cash. But you have to put it in perspective: what Warren was telling his students was that while they learnt to correctly handicap fields, they would make massive blunders along the way. I recall his telling me once that he had received a phone call from one very angry student who had selected a 50/1 winner and a 66/1 winner on the same program. The gentleman concerned had not invested one cent on either horse and felt greatly misled. His argument was that he should have been at least allowed to have small bets along the way while the learning process was in place.

Warren’s answer was that: (a) these two winners had to be looked at from within the perspective of all the bets made over the many weeks of the trial, and that (b) the student should have been pleased with his selection process and be revelling in the idea that he now knew something more about racehorse analysis.

The money was irrelevant: if the man’s selection methods were any good, he would more than make up for those two missed winners in the next 20 or 30 years of betting. As it was, these might be isolated winners and form no pattern at all. My own view is always to back my judgement on long shots, but even after all these years I admit that I get nervous if I am being offered returns of $51 or $67.

I’ve been around long enough to ask what I’m missing in my analysis. It would be interesting to know how many more long shots that student, the one referred to above, managed to back when he graduated.

If you are your own boss and you place a proportion or even all of your investments in the “individual selection and analysis” basket, then you need to be very careful and to keep a rigidly honest record. I’m going to suggest something to you here which might come as a little bit of a surprise.

You should highlight the losers.

I can hear you drawing breath from here. Well, look at it from my angle. If I pick a winner, I know why I picked it and everything in my experience worked out in my analysis. I got it right. Clever me. That’s great and I won money, but I expected to.

Think about what I just said, but this time imagine where I am if I pick a loser. I still know why I picked the horse and I used everything in my experience to try and get it right. And I got it wrong. And I lost money. But, here is the difference: I did NOT expect to!

Honestly, it is vital that you make a close analysis in your notebook of your “mistakes”. Naturally, there will be occasions when somebody riding another horse ruins your horse’s chances, or when your own rider simply makes mistakes. These are what the insurance people call natural disasters. You can’t do much about them. They happen. But what if the losing animal you backed blew in the market and you still backed it and supported your own judgement against the general opinion? It’s essential that you sit down afterwards and try and figure out what happened.

Let me give you an example.

A few weeks ago at Randwick, I really thought that a filly called Hairy was a good thing and deserved to be favourite. In my preparatory notebook, I had virtually written off the race as a betting proposition because I thought she would be around even money. Indeed she was, until she started to blow. All those expressions about blowing like a gale, etc., come to mind when I tell you about this horse.

She was clawed back in a little bit quite late in the betting after getting out to around the $4 mark. However, at that $4 mark I couldn’t resist. She now represented a value investment to me. It was my opinion versus what was obviously the collected intelligent judgement of the best investors in the ring. Their computerised analysis said that this filly was a real risk with her weight and the conditions. Muggins went in anyway.

She was well and truly beaten by the time they turned for home.

I really didn’t get it. I had backed her at her previous start and she demolished the field; my own analysis suggested that she was more than capable of doing the same thing to this field. But I was wrong. And the bookmaker has my money in his bag to prove it. That’s very annoying, as every punter on earth knows. What I want you to know is that I spent a really significant amount of time afterwards discussing the race and my reasons behind my confidence, with my pal. Then I weighed it all up again as I drove home and then again on the Tuesday, after allowing the nasty experience to sink into my skull.

If you were to see my diary (the big one that I keep at home and store everything in), then you would see a lot of writing for that afternoon, under the heading “Hairy”. Ultimately, you would see that I came to the conclusion that my analysis was wrong. (Well she lost, didn’t she?) I had gone into the area of the unknowable, so far as this particular animal in this particular race was concerned. And I had paid the price.

But my point for us here is that you just never stop learning. Even after many years in the betting game, the most challenging admission of all is that you lost. It is one that you must take on board when you are structuring your investment concepts.

So, for nearly all the readers of this article, I think we can sum up by saying that our racing investment structure should involve a thorough understanding of exactly how our betting investments will be made. Will they be from the position of objective, rigid systems, or will they come from our own individual analysis? Or will they come from a combination of both? There is nothing at all wrong with the latter. Many of the best and most successful racing investors combine the inflexible world of the system with the totally independent world of individual analysis.

However, you see your investment structure, you need to have this very clear in your mind. If you want me to make a suggestion I will, but of course the final decision will always be yours. What I suggest, as I always have, is that you have a handful of proven and excellent objective systems to see you through the difficult days and, long term, to ensure you are a successful punter.

I then suggest that you support this (if you have the experience), with your individual analyses and with support from something like PPD. How you allocate funds to the two sides to your racing bank remains with you, but let’s conclude with something that new subscribers will really need to take on board and with which all my regulars will agree: The winnings will come if you are patient. If you exhibit impatience, you will make regular contributions to the bookmakers’ retirement funds and to other TAB users.

To put this another way, the world belongs to the smart punter. Being smart involves being patient. A good friend of mine who is also a bookmaker told me last year that he wouldn’t want me as a client because there was too much chance of my winning. I took it as a huge compliment. He was being as honest as any pro could possibly be: the battle to win money is a two-sided battle between you and the opposition. That is why you need to have your racing investment structure well and truly in place. Not just for next week, but forever.

By The Optimist