In the first of an absorbing two-part series, adapted from his much-acclaimed book Commonsense Punting, Melbourne punting expert Roger Dedman explains how you can make extra money through the TAB, and with the bookmakers. In the March issue of P.P.M., Roger tells you all about the good and bad points of each-way betting. Commonsense Punting, one of the best books written on the mathematics of betting is available at Mitty's bookshops.

Any on-course punter can do better than his stay-at-home counterpart operating on the TAB, by an intelligent combination of bookmaker and tote betting. It is especially worthwhile keeping an eye on the tote in races with many runners, because in them the tote is operating on a smaller margin than are bookmakers.

In the course of the 25-odd minutes between the initial tote odds' appearance and the start of the race, the indicator board will change many times, but there are limits to the extent to which any one horse's tote quote will alter.

If the horse you want to back is favourite or near-favourite, and the opening tote price is less than that with bookmakers, you can safely forget backing it on the tote. Well-favoured horses don't drift much on the tote, even when they are grossly under bookmakers' odds. This is probably due primarily to the large number of lady punters who use the tote exclusively. I don't intend this disparagingly-I don't blame them for not wishing to battle it out in a crowded betting ring.

This is also true to a lesser extent with longer-priced horses. In general, a horse will not drift dramatically on the tote, whatever its opening quote. If your selection comes up at 7-1, and 8-1 is freely available with the bookies, you are much more likely to get 9-1 or 10-1 from a bookmaker than as an eventual tote dividend.

If the prices are much the same-10-1 is the best you can get in the ring, and the tote board also shows 10s-remember that the final figure showing on the indicator when they jump is the minimum price you can expect from the tote. It could pay up to $5.95 for 50 cents, or odds of nearly 11-1. As soon as the proposed dividend falls below 10-1, i.e. to $5.45, the indicated odds will drop to 9-1. The indicator board is programmed to show the odds immediately below the proposed dividend at any time.

A more common dilemma is posed by an indicated tote price considerably above the best on offer from bookmakers. Should you back it on the tote, and hope that it won't come in to a price less than you could have obtained from a bookmaker? Or should you take the best price available with the bookies on the assumption that it will shorten drastically on the tote?

There is seldom need to make a hasty decision. If your selection is 5-1 in the ring, but 8-1 on the tote, the most likely reaction is that the bookies will ease its price. It is unlikely to be solidly backed at 5-1 when most potential supporters know that it's showing 8-1 on the tote. If, a few minutes before the race, the tote is still showing a point longer than is available in the ring, back it on the tote. The indicator board will possibly shorten a point in the last few minutes, but the final dividend will still probably be marginally better than the bookmakers' odds.

The tote is most likely to pay better than the bookies on long-shots. Very often for the duration of the betting a horse longer than 20-1 will be showing much more on the tote than in the ring. It is unlikely to shorten greatly on the tote, because very few punters will be considering backing it. Be careful, though, if you want to back the horse each-way. You may be better off taking a slightly shorter price each-way with a bookmaker than backing the horse separately for a win and a place on the tote. This aspect will be examined more closely in the next chapter.

The likelihood of tote fluctuations depends on the size of the tote pool. On a race such as the Melbourne Cup, so much money has been poured in off-course that there will be very little change in the tote odds during the course of betting on the race. On major races you can invest on the tote with more confidence in the indicated prices.

In assessing whether, and to what extent, your selection is likely to firm on the tote, compare the tote prices with the bookies' quotes for other well-fancied runners. If all other fancied horses are shorter on the tote than in the ring, there will be little money invested on them on the tote, and you can expect your selection to firm. If, on the other hand, two or three other favoured horses are showing comparatively good prices on the tote indicator board, they will attract money to the tote, and your own selection is less likely to shorten drastically.

Tote betting is simply a matter of whether to bet or not. Betting with bookmakers is an acquired skill. If you obtain the best price possible, there is some satisfaction in that alone, apart from the increased profits if you win, or the possibly decreased losses if you don't. On the other hand, some of the satisfaction of winning is reduced if you know you, could have obtained a better price.

Nobody can obtain the best price all the time-but doing so fairly consistently can mean the difference between winning and losing in the long run. Luck certainly enters into it, but there are a few basic ground rules which may help.

It is seldom sound practice to bet in the first few minutes of betting on a race, even if you are pleasantly surprised at the generosity of the odds offered about your selection. The opening quotes are usually tentative, and framed with a large margin. This is especially so with big fields. If you can quickly calculate the approximate margin on which the race is operating, it should give you some idea of likely trends in the market. The vast majority of horses drift in the first few minutes of betting. The few that firm very often gradually drift back to their opening quote as betting proceeds.

The ring is extremely sensitive to an early move for a horse, especially for a favourite. The apparent rush of money can be greatly exaggerated as runners dash along the rails warning bookmakers of the move. Many operators turn the price off without having laid a bet. When things settle down, the price will be edged out again, often beyond the initial quote.

If a horse is generally 5-1 and 11-2, don't take the first offer of 6s to be put up. Others will rush in, and the 6-1 may be turned off, but it will almost certainly appear again. If the punters rushing in are placing only small bets, the 6-1 will remain and soon be joined by others lengthening their prices. If the general quote becomes 6-1, you can follow the same procedure as before. Again, don't take the first offer of 13-2; you may well get 7-1 or better.

When do you make your bet? If, every time 6-1 is put up, it is quickly turned off, you may as well take that price the next time you can; you may not get many more opportunities. If 6-1 is generally available-let's say four or more bookmakers are offering 6s--don't rush in as soon as one turns it off. He may have taken one large bet and decided to draw in his horns. There are still three more boards offering 6s. If another of them shortens your horse, back it; but while there are three bookies offering 6-1 ' there is always a chance that more will join them, and that a fractionally longer price will eventually be obtained.

If a well-fancied horse, other than your own selection, starts to drift in the market, be prepared for a move for your horse. Make sure you can get quickly to two or three of the bookies showing the best price available in case it starts to shorten elsewhere. On the other hand, if a lot of money comes for the favourite, hold off--everything else is likely to drift.

All of these suggestions are just commonsense; but commonsense has a habit of deserting you in the heat of the betting ring. If you've thought the possibilities out in advance, you are perhaps less likely to do something you may later regret.


Often enough you will see inexperienced punters throwing money away by making a bet at, say, 3-1 when 13-4 is available with the next bookmaker. But experienced punters also throw away fractions of odds by not taking full advantage of the standard fractional bets available by convention from any bookmaker just for the asking.

You are about to have $10 on your selection which opens at 7-1, then edges out until you decide to back it at 12-1. $10 at 12-1 will win you $120. But you probably know that any bookmaker will lay you 100 to 8 at 12-1 if you ask for it, and probably even if you don't. You can then place the other $2 separately to win $24, and stand to win $124 instead of $120. Only $4, and hardly worth the effort? Perhaps, but those fractions add up over a period. By putting $10 on in one bet you've thrown away 3% of your winnings. Perhaps the advice has more point if you're having $100 on at 12-1but the principle is the same whatever your stake.

A similar situation arises if you're about to bet $15 on your selection at 6-1. Pull out another dollar bill and claim the bookie for $100 to $16-you're getting 10-1 about that extra dollar.

Some of these fractional bets are better known than others. Does 13-2, for instance, make you think of $100 to $15? It should. Table 1 gives a list of standard fractional bets for different prices, together with the percentage gain they will produce in your winnings.

The rails bookmakers are the strongest in the ring, in that, over a period of time, they have shown their willingness to offer good odds and to lay large bets. Most large bets are placed with rails bookmakers so, for a bookmaker, that is where the big money is to be made. In their attempts to qualify for a rails position, many off-rails bookies bet very competitively, and it is a mistake to concentrate exclusively on rails bookmakers. If you're betting in thousands, you don't have much choice; few off-rails bookies can afford to, lay the very large bets held by rails men, and any fielder is within his rights to refuse a large bet. For most of us, however, this is not a major concern, and all the boards in the ring should be scanned.

Many punters are unduly influenced by market moves. If their original selection drifts in the market, they assume it "can't be trying", and back something else. If you do this, it shows a total lack of confidence in your own method of selection. You should decide on a minimum price which you are prepared to accept about a horse, but having then decided to back it at that price or better, stick to your decision.

One instance in which you should be wary of a drifter is when there is a doubt about the horse's fitness. If the horse is having its first or second run from a spell, and a study of its past preparations, if available, gives you no indication of its likely performance, a pronounced drift probably indicates that it will be in need of the run. If, on the other hand, you know that the horse has performed well under similar circumstances in the past, don't be deterred by its easing quote.


Click here to read Part 2.
By Roger Dedman