I don't care about the price, at least I've backed a winner," I heard a chap say at my local TAB recently. He'd just had $10 on a winner that paid $2.20. Good luck to him, but ... long term, what's his likelihood of success?

Unless he can do what most other punters never do, make a good profit from backing horses at around 5/4, then he will lose anything from 3 cents to 30 cents in the dollar, depending on his skill at eliminating the bad-value 5/4 shots.

So is that well-known statement ANY PRICE A WINNER worth thought at all? In my view, no. For the simple, basic reason that success in this game means getting VALUE (and I know there's even a debate now about whether VALUE even exists!).

Value to me is a good price. And good prices often are not those below 3/1, unless we are talking champions who are good enough to carry my money around at short odds. But a Maiden galloper at 6/4? No thanks. Your money not mine.

When you punt you should be punting for PROFIT and that means getting the best value for any one selection.

Some professionals go to the extent of "grading" their selections. The lower the grading, the higher the price demanded before a bet. None of these professionals will back a horse at a ridiculously short price because they know the price doesn't reflect the horse's real chance of winning.

If you think a horse is a 2/1 chance (that you believe it could win the race 33 times out of each 100), then why would you back it at, say, evens? Long term, it's not a bright recipe.

It's a fact that many punters lose all sense of proportion once they set foot on a racetrack, or step inside a TAB agency. Their sense of value flies out the window. They will fail to recognise the poor value of a poor horse
at a short price and they'll ignore better horses at better prices.

Always remember that the game is about ECONOMIC VALUE. If the price doesn't seem right, give the bet a miss. There will always be other races.

Let me tell you the story of my own betting forays on Saturday, March 23. I was at the Rosehill meeting in Sydney. I had a number of horses circled as being worthy of close attention but I knew I'd be fighting a price war because most of them were being freely touted in the newspapers, formguides and on the radio and TV.

When this happens, the warning bells ring. Be careful. Don't take silly odds. One of the horses I was very sure about was Empire. In fact, I rang PPM editor Brian Blackwell on the Friday night to get his opinion. Like me, he had come to the conclusion that Empire was a good thing (well, as much of a good thing as you can get with top weight in a class of race that you haven't tackled before).

Both Brian and myself had reservations on the price aspect. Anyway, it wasn't to run until the end of the card, so I had other races to concern myself with before that.

I'd narrowed it down to two chances in the opening race, Borelli and Youhadyourwarning. As things turned out I was right on the ball. They ran 1st and 2nd (Borelli 2nd). The prices available were $3.40 for Youhadyourwarning and $3.90 for Borelli.

To back both, I'd have to outlay 2 units to get a return of 3.40 or 3.90. That's well below evens. It was, though, hard to see anything else winning, yet the conservative side of my nature took over, and I decided to miss the race and use the money I didn't bet to double-up on my next bettable race.

This could have been the next, in which I had circled Ugachaka, Omens and Paris Heartbeat. The price of the latter, over 25/1, made me re-assess my Friday night's assessment and I decided that she was a risk and that
the price probably was close to reflecting her true odds. I had marked her as a 10/1 chance but my re-assessment saw me scrub that and shoot her out to 20/1 minimum.

I'd made Ugachaka a 5/1 chance but I knew I was never going to get that price. She won the race but she was paying only $3.70. Once again, I didn't bet. Nor did I bet Omens at $10. I did some last-minute reassessment of her form and decided that a win was probably beyond her.

I let the race go, not without some misgivings as I had some time back decided Ugachaka was a filly with a bright future. But, the way I bet now is that there has to be some value.

I decided to carry over the second lot of stake money to the next bettable race. This was the BMW and I had  narrowed it down to two chances only, Universal Prince, which I'd priced at around 5/2, and Ethereal which I had at 3/1. I had wiped off Tie The Knot because I felt he had peaked and was on a downward path. I placed him in the "acceptable risk" category.

It didn't take me long to realise that I had little chance of securing a decent price about Universal Prince. He wound up at $2.10, completely overbet. Ethereal was a different thing altogether. She was over my price and even going back to the formguide I saw nothing to alter my opinion that this fine staying mare was "peaking" and that she would finish off powerfully.

I bet $200 at 9/2, which gave me a profit on the race of $900. Often in instances like this I will quit betting for the day. A nice profit like that is a good day's work and there is not all that much urgency to shoot for any more action.

But, this day, I decided to press on because Empire was coming up in the last and there was the Golden Slipper to watch. I say "watch" because I was not tempted to have a bet. The race was something of a lottery though I admit now that Calaway Gal was somewhat over the odds at $14.

The only way to bet these wide open races is, in my opinion, to back four or five at good odds. That could easily have been done in the Slipper by backing Calaway Gal ($8), Choisir ($20), Victory Vein ($17) and Bel Esprit ($22), a total stake of $67. The return on Calaway Gal would have been $112, giving a profit of $45, or 67 per cent on turnover.

So I looked on as the Slipper was run and won, and waited for Empire. But it was a letdown. My price about this up-and-coming type was 3/1, but that was never going to be available. It seemed as if a kind of hysteria had overtaken the public is they clamoured to pile the money on.

I had no hesitation in opting out. There was no way I intended to risk money at such a short price. I knew there would be many more far favourable situations in which to bet at other meetings. I didn't need a crumb or two from Empire.

As it was, the 3yo lost. He finished 5th at $2.30, or 11/8. Shockingly silly odds. Anyone who took them had placed themselves in the "high risk for low return" category.

Later, I spoke to Brian and he said he'd opted out of a bet. His regret was that he'd tipped Empire on the PPD Club service, not realising the extent to which the horse would be overbet. Had he known at 9am that 11/8 would be the price, he wouldn't have tipped Empire.

So I kept my $900 profit and the day ended. Not that I was completely satisfied. I could have made more money. In hindsight, perhaps I should have bet the pair I'd chosen in the first race. I hadn't fancied anything else,
I was very confident one of them would win.

What stopped me was the fact that I couldn't secure a decent price by backing both. Many punters in my situation would not have had second thoughts. They would have gone in boots and all.

As for Ugachaka, perhaps I had overpriced her? I'd made her a 5/1 chance and, with hindsight talking, she should probably have been a couple of points below that. But that's how it goes. When you analyse form and make your judgements, you are doing so to the best of your ability.

I was WRONG with Ugachaka. I'd correctly assessed her as the best chance in the race but my price was not matching that of the public, who were prepared to back her at much shorter odds.

Sometimes it works out in my favour. Many times I've avoided backing losers by refusing to touch any horse lower than my assessed odds. Other times, fewer, it goes against me. Long term, I know I'm ahead.

Summing up, then, ANY PRICE A WINNER is, I believe, a recipe for financial failure.

By P.B. King