Knowing how to bet is something that occupies the minds of even the slickest of punters around the world. Each has his own idea about the best way to proceed.

There are those who advocate extreme caution, and who never break the bounds of level stake betting. There are those who relish target betting, others who stake their financial life on progressions.

We've talked before in this magazine about the practice of betting more on the higher-priced horses, and interestingly this is a tactic which has been receiving much attention overseas.

US expert Fred Davis makes the following recommendations:

At 3/1 or below: Bet 1 unit.
At 7/2 or 4/1: Bet 2 units.
At 9/2 or 5/1: Bet 3 units.
At 6/1: Bet 4 units.
At 7/1 or above: Bet 5 units.

Latest studies seem to show that a good 'handicapper' will win enough at the higher odds to justify the higher bets. But, according to James Quinn, one of America's foremost experts, unit wagering at 3/1 or below amounts to little more than spinning the wheel - neither the profits or the losses become significant."

Quinn says most professionals do not earn their money from short priced horses, even though they may be considered overlays. The profits in the main come, he says, from bets on the better-priced horses. The dividing line is 3/1.

Says Quinn: "Above that, handicappers' win percentages may drop, but not enough to alter the profit picture. Students of win-loss ratios above and below the odds of around 3/1 report that handicappers win frequently enough at the higher odds to concentrate the bets there."

Of course, using Fred Davis' recommendations, if you are betting in $20 units, a bet on a horse at 7/1 or longer will call for a stake of $100. That is, 5 units. The more cautious punter may like to trim the unit size down to a more manageable $5 or $10.

If you using an actual 'bank' it's recommended that you use 1 per cent as the base unit (thus having 5 per cent on the better-priced selections). If your bank, is, say $1000 your 1 unit bet would be $10, your maximum bet would be $50. If you have a $500 bank then it would be $5 per unit and $25 on the horses at 7/1 and longer.

If, say, you hit four losers in a row at 2/1, 4/1, 4/1 and 6/1 you would be losing 9 units. Your next bet is a 7/1 chance, on which you bet 5 units. A win would return you a total of 40 units, leaving you a total of 26 units ahead.

Other interesting thoughts on staking come from American writers like Robert Saunders Dowst and Tom Ainslie. Summarised, their conclusions are these:

  1. Most of a punter's betting capital should be allocated for win betting.
  2. These win bets must be limited to overlays; that is, horses whose true chances are better than the prevailing prices indicate.
  3. Punters should bet MORE when they are winning and LESS when they are losing.
  4. Progressive methods, and due column (target) methods, which usually call for bigger bets after losses, are to avoided.

Seattle expert James Selvedge has pushed the 'square root' approach, which he explains is a 'base bet plus square root of profits'. The base bet he recommends is $2.

Using this method, a punter's every bet to win is equal to $2 plus the square root of any profits that have accumulated. If there are no profits the punter merely continues to bet $2. As profits mount, the punter finds the amount to be added to the $2 by referring to a simple square-root table, or works it out on a calculator.

Let's say you bet $2 and your horse wins at 5/1. That means you have a $10 profit. Using a square root table, you would then add $3 to the next bet, making it $5. If you were in profit, say, to the tune of $306, you would add $18 to the $2 bet.

Incidentally, the square root taken is of cumulative profit, not merely the profit from the previous race.

Another angle to be considered is what the Yanks call 'fixed percentage minimum'. It calls for a fixed percentage of capital following a win bet, but just a minimum amount following a loss. It is said to minimize the losses of accumulated profits during typical losing streaks but also makes it possible for punters to regain big losses quickly, and even pull ahead of previous profit margins, with perhaps just a couple of winners.

The 'rub' with this method is that it calls for a 35 per cent handicapping proficiency (5/2 average winners). One professional following this method in America bets (assuming a $500 bank) a fixed 5 per cent of progressive capital after a win, but after a loss bets a set $25 only (5 per cent of the starting capital of $500), irrespective of what the bank total has become.

With this method, as with most staking plans, much depends on how the winners fall. But it does look a most interesting concept for further study and I'll be giving it a thorough workout in 1995. The results should prove illuminating.

By Philip Roy