The term 'overlay' betting has been used a great deal in recent times. What it really means is 'value' securing a better price about a horse than its true chance reflects.

It attempts to take the gamble out of betting. If you invest your money carefully on sound selections, and if you refuse to accept poor value, then you are betting sensibly.

No-one has to be a university educated economist to understand that success in the racing game, as in any business, depends to a large degree on obtaining value. The better value you obtain the more profit you will make. It's as straightforward as that.

How can you ensure you get value without resorting to trying to 'price' each runner in a race? There are shortcuts which are acceptable. One of them is to grade particular races into A, B, C, D and E races.

Better horses will race in the higher graded races, and 'lesser lights' the poorer class races. Races graded 'A' can be Open and Welter Handicaps on city tracks, as well as Weight-For-Age and 2YO and 3YO Classic races.

Your 'B' races can be Opens and Welters at provincial tracks. You might also throw in Mares races on city tracks as 'B' races. Then you can look at provincial and country midweekers to grade the other races into C, D and E.

My suggestions are as follows:

'A' Grade races: Minimum acceptable price about a selection 2/1.
'B' Grade races: Minimum acceptable price about a selection 5/2.
'B' Grade races with 16 or more runners: Minimum acceptable price about a selection 3/1.
'C' Grade races: Minimum acceptable price about a selection 3/1.
'C' Grade races with 16 or more runners: Minimum acceptable price about a selection 7/2.
'D' Grade races: Minimum acceptable price about a selection 7/2.
'D' Grade races with 16 or more runners: Minimum 4/1.
'E' Grade races: Minimum 9/2.
'E' Grade races with 16 or more runners: Minimum 5/1.

It really goes without saying that any punter determined to chase value should try to bet on-course rather than in a TAB. Alternatively, if you're a big-bet punter, you can bet by telephone with bookmakers around Australia, but there is a high minimum bet stake in force ($200 to $250, or a bet to take out $2,000).

When you are at the track you can shop around for the best possible prices about any one of your selections. Remember that a price difference of just one point is equal to your stake. Thus, $100 on a 4/1 winner will result in $100 more profit than if you had to accept 3/1.

On an 11/4 winner you will get an extra $25 than if you'd had $100 on the same horse at 5/2. So getting value is what it's all about, and it really is an important aspect of betting.

Of course, it is not always possible to secure the best price when you are on course. Often that best price will be snaffled up by someone else, and you'll be left lamenting. But your aim overall should be to secure the best 'average' price.

If, when combined, your selections can be bet at a higher 'average' than the norm, then you are doing a good job of work. At least when you are on the track you have the chance to secure a better price than someone else. The punter who bets through the TAB has no chance at all of doing that.

A protection against missing out on better prices is to adopt a three pronged approach. Do not place your full stake all at once but divide it into 3 parts, or even four. You can bet a quarter of it when betting opens (say after 5/10 minutes), and then you can shop around for a better price and put on the second 25 per cent.

That leaves you with half the stake to invest. If you see your horse drifting then wait until close to post time before putting on the final half of the stake. It's basically the case that when a horse's price starts to ease it will continue to ease, and vice-versa.

By splitting stakes you will gain the best average price.

Many punters, including most professionals, use their own price markets as a guide to each runner's true chance in a race. They employ ratings and computerised analysis to produce their own betting market.

Then they go to the track and try to find the 'overlays' - those runners paying more than the assessed price. The punter might have the best chance in a race as Red at 6/4 - but at the track the bookies are offering 3/1. This provides him with the overlay he is seeking.

The horse is bet as a true 6/4 chance. If betting to take out $100, the punter would bet $40 on the 3/1 chance.

In the punter's estimation he has gained a 15 per cent edge (he priced the horse as having a 40 per cent chance, and yet he's been offered a price which suggests it is only a 25% chance.

By Rick Roberts