Jon H Hudson (J.H.): I think I have earned me something of a reputation as a parlay-hater since I wrote in P.P.M. early in 1989 that parlay betting had its problems!

But I really do feel this form of betting, while seemingly most attractive in what it can produce in the way of dividends, can be a trap for small-bet punters, who genuinely think they can haul in three of four winners at a time but find the reality of the situation is much, much different.

Martin Dowling (M.D.): I don't think you hate the parlays that much, Jon, because, as you know, you and I have shared the occasional one over the years. No doubt, you remember that wonderful day at Rosehill in '82 when we collared four running winners, and how we had to take a snort of brandy before we were game enough to plonk on the final few thousand on the fourth horse! We did it, though, and up he came, bless his heart, at 2/1. I recall the four winners that day returned us close to $9,000.

J.H.: Remember it well, Martin, and I suppose it should have persuaded me that parlays could be well worthwhile, but somehow it didn't. But what our experience told me was that it's usually a good idea for two or more punters to get together to select the horses for a parlay. One punter trying to pin all four is tough, but two or three heads each having a go n-tight just work out well a few more times over a year.

M.D.: If a punter is prepared to look at place parlays I believe there is a very good chance that he can end up ahead over 12 months-just as long as he doesn't go crazy and go picking 50/1 shots all the time. If he can settle for sound chances then the rewards can be sweet.

J.H.: I brought forward some of my theories about parlay betting in 1989, and I think it's well worth reminding readers about them. To put it simply, I believe that even if your selections can win 60 per cent of the time-and that's unlikely-your chances of striking four winners in a row are only around 12.9 per cent. And the chances of striking a four-horse accumulator, if your selections win around 20 per cent of the time, is very low indeed-to be precise 0.0016 per cent!

M.D.: That's a general approach, Jon and much depends on how strong a punter's selections are. If he is betting for a place, the odds about snaring four placegetters must be pretty good. If a punter were to concentrate on favourites for the place, I'm quite confident that steady returns would be made on a high percentage of winning parlays, and here I'm assuming we are talking about four horse parlays, where you have six doubles, four trebles and one four-horse accumulator. In some areas, a punter can link six horses in a parlay.

J.H.: You would have to pick your favourites very carefully, though. Don't forget that only about 30 to 33 per cent of favourites win each year.

M.D.: Yes, but we're talking about place betting here, and the statistics show that more than 60 per cent of favourites are placed in the first three, so that gives our place parlay followers a big start. Let's assume a punter backs favourites at 6/4, 2/1, 2/1 and 3/1. I think the longterm prospects are pretty good with horses around that price range.

J.H.: Yes, I suppose that wouldn't be too bad, provided all four of them got into the placings. But if you struck with only two, and that's the minimum you need, you would be out of pocket. A 6/4 chance is likely to pay only $1.40 at best, while even a 3/1 chance is unlikely to return more than $1.60, so that's a double worth only about 5/4.

M.D.: Point taken! So maybe a punter would need to look at injecting some value into the parlay, albeit at putting extra risk into things. A nice placer at 8s or 10s every few hits would be most helpful.

J.H.: I think punters should always try to adopt a cautious approach with parlays. If possible, you should place the bets one by one, instead of putting the complete parlay on all at once with the TAB. By betting solo, you can then take out some profits before re-investing, and thus cover yourself. I suggested some time back that it would be wise to take out 40 per cent of the profits from any winning section of the bet, and then reinvest the remainder on the next horse. The safety-first parlay is sensible.

M.D.: Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with you. IF your first winner was at, say, 4/1 you would have a lot of money in hand to re-invest on your other horses, so to pocket 40 per cent of the profits there and this would enable you to at least cut even or make a small profit, should the rest of the parlay fail.

J.H.: Safety first, that's what it is all about. But let's look at this whole thing in another way. Let's say a punter has $11 to spend on a Saturday. What would be the best way for him to invest it? I know a lot of punters would pick out 11 horses and have a dollar to win on each, which is a pretty unclever way to end up going backwards. You need the equivalent of a 10/1 winner each time just to break even. You could, alternatively, pick out one horse and have $4 a win and $7 a place. That wouldn't be a bad approach. I think a sensible punter could have a lot of fun doing this and I'm sure he would have much more of a chance of winning something over a year than by putting that $11 into a four-horse parlay.

M.D.: Let's say, then, that our punter could pick 25 per cent winners and 75 per cent placegetters at 2/1 each. He would have a winner once every four weeks and a placegetter three times out of the four ,weeks. So in a month he invests $16 (four bets at $4 win each) for the win he gets back $12, and for the place he invests $28 (four bets at $7 a place each) and he gets back, say,, $1.50 for each placegetter, which is four times $1.50 three times, making $18. He has, then, invested $44 over a month and he's got back $30. Doesn't sound too good to me.

J.H.: You're adopting a worse-case scenario, almost! What if he struck a nice 6/1 winner, and another winner at 4/1? That would turn things around. How much better off would he be backing place parlays?

M.D.: One good parlay win could put him in the pink. For instance, he might decide to mix his parlay and take two horses to win and two of them to place. A couple of winners and a placegetter every couple of weeks would boost things along no end. Naturally, the problem is to find the winners, but a sensible approach should do the trick.

J.H.: You're a born optimist, but at this point I'm going to agree that, to a certain extent, the parlay is OK, because it does offer the prospect, however slim, that a small-bet punter might be able to haul in some huge rewards for little outlay. Treated on a fun basis, and with the punter having to be prepared to accept defeat, the parlay can provide a lot of enjoyment and hope, lots of hope!

M.D.: I think it is a fun way to bet, yes, and the wins that would come the way of a punter, especially if he can strike some all-win parlays, could be immense. I do think punters should seriously consider the approach that we have suggested before in P.P.M. and that is to link six horses into three four-horse parlays. Our old pal Statsman introduced it some three years ago and I mentioned it again in February, 1989, since when I've had a number of letters from readers who have struck gold with it. This is an ideal way to approach parlay betting for someone who has around $33 to spend on a Saturday and wants to have some excitement. Betting in 50c units would reduce the cost to $16.50.

J.H.: Yes, I have to confess this little approach is appealing, because it does provide action aplenty.

M.D.: The manner in which the bet is placed means that if any five of the six horses win (or run a place, if you have a place parlay) then one of the three parlays will contain four of the winners It's certain, then, that you will land a tourhorse parlay, striking six doubles, four trebles and an accumulator. The following box is how you deal with splitting your six horses into the three parlays:

Horse Aoo 
Horse Boo 
Horse Co o
Horse Do o
Horse E oo
Horse F oo
  1. Two winners (AB, CD or EF): two doubles up.
  2. Another pair of winners: one double up.
  3. Three winners, AB, or CD, or EF, with any one of the others: four doubles and a treble up.
  4. Any other three winners: three doubles.
  5. Four winners, ABCD, ABEF, CDEF: eight doubles, four trebles, one accumulator.
  6. Any other four winners: seven doubles, two trebles.
  7. Any five winners: 12 doubles, six trebles, one accumulator.
  8. All six winners: 18 doubles, 12 trebles, three accumulators.

By Martin Dowling and Jon Hudson