Hands up anyone who doesn't want to win a LOT of money with a SMALL bet? What, no hands? No surprise, of course.

Any punter worth his salt has, at some time or the other, set out to make bets in small amounts in the hope of winning big returns. It's a natural course in anyone's betting life.

The continuing success of trifecta betting is a classic example, and now we have the emergence in the past few years of the First 4 bet. Now, picking the first four runners home is not an easy task, yet I know of two punters who have made a lot of money betting the First 4 in the past 12 months.

And they don't invest huge sums of money. They are conservative bettors and they go for the First 4 ONLY when they are confident they have the winner of a race.

Once this is decided, they then proceed to link other good chances in the remaining three slots for 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Now, some punters might go overboard in doing this but the punters I know rarely bet beyond $60. That's all.

Their favourite ploy is to choose a win banker and then link it with five others for the remaining placings. This is a combination like the following:

1 x 5 x 5 x 5, equalling a total of $60 using $1 units. If they are very confident, my pals will double the bet, rather than take extra combinations.

This particular approach allows you to cover the 2nd, 3rd and 4th slots with a couple of fancied runners, and then three which can inject some top value. Certainly it's something that has worked very well for the punters I know.

When they are not so sure, they will use two bankers, but only to fill the Ist/2nd slots in other words, they are very confident the two bankers can run the quinella. They then fill the 3rd and 4th slots with six other runners. This makes a bet combination of:

2 x 2 x 6 x 6, which means, of course, that the bankers are only bet to run 1st or 2nd, and the six for 3rd and 4th are "new" runners. This bet costs $60 for $1 units.

You don't have to pay $60 for the bet if you use the flexi bet arrangement. I often use this on my NSW TAB account. You merely nominate the amount you wish to bet and you receive a percentage of the total dividend.

Example: You take a $60 combination but you only want to invest $20. That's fine. If you strike the First 4 you'll receive 33 per cent of the final dividend. So, if it pays $300, your return will be $100.

Let's have a look now at some other First 4 combinations that you might like to consider. I've drawn them up on the basis that you won't want to invest huge amounts of money.

What about a race in which you have a win banker and another horse you think can definitely run 2nd? To keep the cost down you can take the following combination:

1 x 1 x 7 x 7 for an outlay of $42, or whatever amount you wish to bet using flexi betting.

With this one, you need to be totally satisfied that your top selection will win, and your second selection can run 2nd. If you can do this, then you'll have seven others running for you for 3rd and 4th.

This approach is probably a bit too demanding, so why not venture into territory that offers you a good chance by spreading your selections around?

A favourite of mine is the following combination:

3 x 3 x 3 x 7 which is a $42 bet. You pick three horses you believe will run the trifecta, and then link them with seven others to fill the 4th place. Once again, it's a bet that requires some confidence on the part of the bettor because it is difficult to select the first three home in three picks.

But if you can do it, well, the returns can often be most rewarding.

Then there's the following linkup:

2 x 2 x 6 x 6, which is a $60 bet. It gives you the chance to have two runners to fill the 1st and 2nd slots, coupled with six other runners for 3rd and 4th.

If you want to go into "win banker" territory and link a lot of runners for 2nd, 3rd and 4th, then it's likely you will need to use flexi betting to keep the costs down. For example, a combination of 1 x 9 x 9 x 9 will cost you a total of $504. Now that's a very large bet, and you'd have to consider whether your money might better be spent with a plain old $500 bet on the horse you fancy to win.

On the more conservative side, a combination of 1 x 4 x 4 x 4 will cost only $24 using $1 units. It's probably best used in small fields.

Usually, though, the average punter attacking the First 4 will want to have a comfort range with the 1st and 2nd positions, and then a fair amount of artillery for the 3rd and 4th slots.

The following may fit the bill:

2 x 3 x 5 x 6 which gives you a linkup like this: AB-ABC-ABCDE-ABCDEF which will cost only $36. It gives you the A and B selections in all slots, plus C for 2nd, 3rd and 4th, plus D and E for 3rd and 4th, and F for 4th only.

By Alan Jacobs