Parlays, Yankees, call them what you like - but do we think about them when we place our wagers? There is a chance of winning a big return for a small outlay but we have to ask whether place parlays are worth the money.

A parlay is a multiple bet on the one ticket. Let's look at a four horse place parlay, with the horses known as A, B, C and E (you expected D didn't you!). The parlay, or Yankee, comprises six doubles (A-B, A-C, A-E, B-C, B-E, C-E), four trebles (A-B-C, A-B-E, AC-E, B-C-E) and one accumulator (A-B-C-E). The cost is $11 for $1 units.

If you pick two placegetters you will receive a dividend for one double. Three placegetters gets you three doubles and one treble. Four placegetters pulls off the Yankee, or parlay, with all sections paying a return.

So far so good, but picking four is not as easy as it might seem. Picking three is a good result and all too often is the result of the four selections.

One 'myth' about parlay betting is that your first horse should be a Banker, the best bet. This is not true. Maths does not discriminate based on position - 2x3x4 equals 24, so does 4x3x2 and 3x4x2. Your Banker, then, can be positioned anywhere in the parlay.

The bottom line is that you need more than one dividend-producing result to get a pay in the parlay. So is there a better way for place punters? The answer is Yes, in some instances. If your selections are priced under, say, the 10/1 mark then there is a better way.

Here's an example: Let's suppose that you successfully picked four placegetters paying $2.20, $1.80, $2.40 and $2.00. Your parlay of $11 ($1 units) returns $82. Not bad. Or perhaps horses A, B and C placed and your return is $23.05. Pretty good. But what if only horses A and B had placed? Now you get back $3.95 (with rounding down) and that's a loss of 64 per cent.

But consider this: The doubles will never make you rich! If you only pick two placegetters from the four, at these odds, you will lose money. With the above odds, the best return for a double would be $5.30 for horses A and C and the I worst $3.60 for B and E.

My solution: Forget the parlay doubles! For the same outlay of $11 we can place $2 on each treble and $3 on the accumulator. If we pick all four placegetters the dividend soars to $130.25 - almost $50 more over the actual parlay dividend.

If only three get up, say A, B and C, we'll receive $19, almost the entire parlay dividend. Of course, if we pick only two placegetters, we get zero, so what we are after are good divvies for a small outlay. The idea is to back four placegetters, not two or three.

You may have a Banker that will pay $4.50 the place, with the others at each-way odds, or perhaps you wish to take one selection to win at 2/1 - so why not try the staking approach I have recommended?

Or you could try investing $15 by placing $3 on each treble and the accumulator. The outlay is slightly increased but the dividends improve immensely when three or four placegetters are struck.

The parlay is an excellent vehicle for small punters when the divvies are going to average over $3.50 each, but if it's the big payout you are seeking (and we're all lusting for that!) then I think my suggested methods are the answer.

I try my luck and judgement each weekend, just like everyone else and I have achieved some memorable results. The number of times that three placegetters come up are good but when all four strike the returns are fantastic.

Editor's note: We put the theory to the test with a look at a place parlay chosen by Statsman on the Firepower newsletter telephone service in late May. The placegetters were Cohort ($5.30), Juggler ($1.30), Danewin ($1.40) and Guam Holiday ($2.20). On the normal parlay bet the return, for $1 units, was around $100, but using the approach of a $15 investment and placing $3 on each treble and the accumulator (and ignoring doubles) the return was $199.

So, for an extra $4, the profit is lifted an extra $95. Even if you reduced the stake to $10, having $2 on each treble and the accumulator, the return would have been around $165 - still well ahead of the normal parlay result, and for a dollar less outlay.

Mic Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Wollongong University, currently studying for honours in Mathematics. He has been betting for some 15 years and has been winning for the last five years.

By Mick Fitzpatrick