Years ago, it was a common practice among serious punters, including most professionals, to support more than one horse in a race. Today, the practice has become less of an integral part of the professionals' armoury, mainly because it's claimed there is much less 'value' around than 40 or 50 years ago.

This may or may not be true. My own view is that there is still plenty of room for an ordinary punter to spread his risk by betting more than one horse.

I know most punters don't like to bet too many horses in the same race. For a start, it can take a lot of money to cover yourself. But there is a variation of the approach which can be effectively utilised to greatly reduce the chance of loss.

Let's say you find a horse which you think has a terrific chance of winning. You want to back it but you realise there is a danger to your selection. You want to ease the risk in the bet. What's the best way to do it?

You could back both for the same amount, but this doesn't appeal because you fancy one more than the other. My plan is the use of a formula which enables you to make a major bet on your top selection and a saver bet on the other one.

The formula is, firstly, decide how much you are going to bet. Add one point to the price of the 'danger' selection and then divide that into the total stake. The figure you get is to be bet on the 'danger' horse. The rest of the money is bet on your main selection.

Let's say you have \$20 to invest. The 'danger' selection is 6/1. Add one point to it, making 7, and then divide into 20. This gives you, say, an answer of 3 (rounded off to 21). You bet \$3 on this horse, and the rest of the stake, \$17, is bet on your main selection.

Let's say the top selection wins at 2/1. The total return is \$51 for a profit of \$31. If it lost and the 'danger' horse won, the return would have been \$21, a slight profit of \$1.

TI-xis approach works well when the second-rated horse is at a good price. The closer the two selections are together so far as price is concerned, the less attractive the bet becomes.

If you want to extend to backing two 'danger' selections, you simply do the calculation twice. If the dangers were, say, 8/1 and 10/1 and you wanted to bet \$20, you would divide 20 by 9 and then 20 by 11. The dangers, then, would be backed for 2.5 units and 2 units respectively, with the remaining 15.5 units to be placed on the top selection.

What this sort of 'safety net' staking does is to go some way to protecting you from a wipe-out on a solo bet, which, as we all know, happens many times, no matter how assiduously we study form. Taking a saver selection, or perhaps two, is a way of spreading the risk.

What if you want to back well fancied selections but you don’t want to go down the 'saver' trail? What can you do? One method, often used by UK professionals, is specifically aimed at punters who back solid selections and who want a plan that enables them to increase stakes without getting into high-finance risk.

The plan is this:

1. After every 10 bets, have a look at the profit (or loss) on that sequence of bets. What I mean is: Examine your betting in lots of 10, 20, 30, etc.
2. If you find you are in a loss situation, then just continue normal betting (and here I am assuming level stakes).
3. If you are making a profit, increase your stakes in the following manner:

(a) If profit is 6 to 11 units, then increase your usual bets by a half unit on each selection for the next 10 bets.

(b) If profit is 12 to 17 units, then increase your usual bets by 1 unit for the next 10 bets.

(c) If profit is 18 to 23 units, then increase your usual bets by 1.5 units for the next 10 bets.

(d) If profit is 24 to 29 units, then bet an extra 2 units for the next 10 bets.

If you get into further increases, they would go like this:

• 30 to 35 units: Increase by 2.5 units for next 10 bets.
• 36 to 41 units: Increase by 3 units for next 10 bets.
• 42 to 47 units: Increase by 3.5 units for next 10 bets.
• 48 to 53 units: Increase by 4 units for next 10 bets.
• 54 to 59 units: Increase by 4.5 units for next 10 bets.
• 60+ units: Increase by 5 units for next 10 bets.

With this plan you continue to bet level stakes - but the level of each bet rises depending on what success you have.

Let's say that with your first set of 10 bets that you do very well and have a profit of 19 units. That takes you to the (c) component of the staking plan, which means you now raise each individual bet by 1.5 units. This means that from now on, each bet is 2.5 units.

After another set of 10 bets, you find yourself 25 units in front. Then you look at the (d) component of the staking, which says you now add 2 units to each individual bet, taking your staking to 4.5 units per selection.

And so it goes. Which component you go to after each set of 10 bets depends on the profit you are making. If any set results in a loss, then simply continue at the same level. It's easy, anyone can follow it, and it is sensible.

If your selections are sound and you get a good result from them, the reinvestment approach should lift your profits, sometimes quite substantially over a long and winning time, as against betting level stakes.

I suppose the one lesson that has to be learned from betting on racehorses is that the punter must, for his own  protection, regulate his/her betting in some way. This must be done even if it's only to adopt a commitment to level stakes!

Putting on various amounts of money, without thought, leads to the inevitable situation of having more on your losers than you do on your winners. It's been my experience, personally and from talking with other punters, that the haphazard approach simply doesn't work.

You back your share of winners but too much money is dissipated on losers and when you back a winner you nearly always end up having a smaller amount on it. Not every occasion, but when you look back on your betting I am sure most will admit the basic fault.

Superior staking is sensible, regulated staking. Even the often cursed progression staking plans can be useful if operated properly and conservatively. The main word to bear in mind is 'sensible', or just plain 'common sense'.

Progression betting, while it can often work okay, is in the 'risk' category of staking. But I am one of those who do not write it off completely. Much depends on your selections and how good or bad they are.

If you can strike, say, 25 to 30 per cent winners with horses priced between 3/1 and 5/1, your maximum losing run expectancy, I think, should be no more than 10. Therefore, a progression plan that could be operated is the following:

The progression is 1-1-1-1-1-2-2-2-3-3. You switch back to 1 after a winner and start a new series. If you strike 10 losers in a row, meaning a loss of 17 units, you start a new series but double the stake, making the progression: 2-2-2-2-2-4-4-4-6-6.

Provided you bet carefully, say one bet a day, and your selections are based on sound, carefully considered form analysis, then this progression method will be as good as any other, I suggest.

NEXT MONTH: A look at more intriguing approaches to staking and money management, including one plan from the UK which has been successfully used by professionals for many years.

By Philip Roy

PRACTICAL PUNTING - JANUARY 1997