Does 'value' exist BEFORE a race? Or is it only in existence AFTER a race when the winner is known? These are just two of the many questions that crop up when any discussion of the concept of value takes place.

Each person has his or her own idea of what constitutes 'value' in a race. One man's assessed 6/4 is another man's assessed 3/1, with both claiming that they have the value'. One or both will be proven wrong.

Value is a concept that punters embrace or despise, says US expert Barry Meadow, publisher of Meadow's Racing Monthly and author of many best-selling books on betting.

Meadow rightly points out that value - the idea that each horse can be deemed to be worth a certain price, and no play should ever be made unless that price is equalled or exceeded - is the defining activity of gambling for some, and yet considered a waste of time by others.

The people who back value, and those who decry it, can be vociferous in their arguments.

Take, for example, Stefan Perry, one of Britain's leading racing and sports publishers. Perry runs the popular SmartSig, a British gambling journal, and he is sceptical about the whole idea of I value' in betting.

"I don't have much use for the way the V word is often employed," he says. "A supporter might say that to make a profit, one must bet only on outcomes where the chances of winning exceed the odds offered. No-one could possibly quarrel with this statement. It's obvious. But I do have one question: is it helpful?"

Perry says that if he were an Olympic high-jumping coach he could offer his protégé the secret of success: To win a gold medal, you will have to jump higher than any of the other competitors.

He explains: "While the message may be true, it's a piece of totally empty advice. If the high jumper does win gold, it is because he did indeed jump the highest, but that is a conclusion we can draw AFTER the event.

"The conclusions that follow the V word make it seem as though it is some sort of discovery, a magical formula able to turn losers into winners.

"Most horse players constantly practise, revise and re-assess their methods to improve their profits. To achieve this, they attempt t eliminate losers to increase win percentage, or sift out the lowest odds selections, or both.

"What they hope to achieve is that the selections they make will b more successful than the odds they are taking would suggest. Value Maybe, but such a result is what they're HOPING for, rather than an embrace of the idea.

"Value is a comment on what ha been achieved, rather than how it I achieved.

"My own betting is governed exclusively by knowing the odds want beforehand but I wouldn't presume to dictate that other should follow suit. Far too many people I know make money from betting without ever attempting to establish the 'true odds' of an event."

Barry Meadow regards 'value simply as shopping. An odds board, like a store, he says, presents a series of goods (horses' chances to win) at specified prices. It's up to the shopper to decide if the good are worth the price.

Meadow points out: "A hungry man doesn't care much about value Whether a ham sandwich is $1.99 or $8.99 doesn't matter to him. He's hungry and must satisfy his hunger as quickly as possible.

"If he wasn't so famished, he might drive an extra couple of blocks for big savings on the same merchandise. But he's desperate.

"He's like the horse player who must play his top selection no matter what. He's desperate.  He wants action, and action is what he'll get. But probably not longterm profits.

"Between the takeout and the breakage, players give up 20 per cent of their stake for the privilege of betting. This wouldn't be so horrible if the public weren't so clever at picking winners.

"The world's greatest handicapper cannot approach the public's record of picking 33 per cent winners playing every race at every track.

"The crowd is a tough opponent. Yet betting every one of its top selections still yields a track-take loss.

"The only way I know to overcome this takeout is to restrict your betting to horses who offer value - the horse who should be evens who goes off at 8/5, the horse who should be 4/1 who's let away at 7/1. Of course, it isn't easy determining what is value, and two sharp punters may disagree about whether a certain horse offers value in a particular race.

"But all top picks, or second picks, or third picks, are not created equal. Some horses look like solid 6/5 shots, while others appear to be lukewarm 3/1 choices.

"If you don't know which is which, I doubt you can make money long term. Every horse has its price. It's our job to determine the price and take advantage of discrepancies between our opinion and the crowd's."

Gary Crispe, who runs the popular Racing And Sports website, says that the late Don Scott taught him how money management was the key to successful punting.

Crispe believes in the concept of value and its tactical use in betting.

He says: "The longer I've been involved in racing, the more significant that statement has become to me.

"What never ceases to amaze me is that most of the population will rant and rave about a 1 cent or 2 cents rise in the price of petrol, but will very happily accept 6/4 about a horse that should be 3/1, just because so-and-so told them it was a good thing.

"The point being that the 'value concept' is at the heart of every decision we make in our daily lives, yet when we have a bet we totally ignore it.

"If you don't do a set of prices for yourself, you should at least set yourself some minimum odds rules, like never taking less than 2/1 about any horse."

Crispe believes even that decision can save money for a punter.

He adds: "I personally bet to 90 per cent markets. Don Scott used 80 per cent and even sometimes 70 per cent. If your pre-race analysis is good, I don't see why you cannot use 100 per cent.

"It just means you have more bets and maybe a lower profit on turnover but a bigger dollar profit. I don't think it should be hard and fast as long as you are doing something that feels right for you.

"The most important thing is you are looking for value and in my opinion there is no other way if you want to make steady, long-term profits."

In his book Winning More, Don Scott wrote that his theory of the value price was not a new one. Before him, outstandingly successful punters, like Phil Bull in England, Pittsburgh Phil in America, and Eric Connolly, Fred Angles and Jack Shaw in Australia, had certainly used it in one form or another.

What Scott admitted was very much the case with Pittsburgh Phil. His prices not only put him onto winners, they kept him off the losers.

Scott wrote: "Phil was especially skilful at avoiding favourites at false odds. He knew most punters liked to back favourites. He also knew most bookmakers liked to lay them.

"He knew it was hard to go against the majority because the prices in the betting ring represent the consensus of the best form analysts at the track.

"If Phil did not rate the favourite highly, or the second favourite, he ignored them completely.

"Sometimes his top-rated horse was only the third or fourth favourite; occasionally, it was the rank outsider. His job was simply to decide which horse in a truly and perfectly run race, should be the winner."

What's the answer, then, to the question of whether value exists before a race? It exists but only as a slice of personal speculation. After the race, it can be proven to exist, provided the winner is found!

By P.B. King