On these pages I try to bring to your attention the aspects of racing which the average punter might overlook to his detriment, and those which he can bring to bear on his betting in order to make a better go of things.

This month I want to talk with you about returns on multiple bets. I don't want to talk the same way as Don Scott does in his books. After all, who is going to go over that ground when everything conceivable has been precisely laid down for you to ponder?

No, I'm going to be very specific and talk about the day to day business of taking multiples, and the chances involved. But there will be no figure lists, just mathematical points as we meander along.

First, let's imagine a day at the races, or for some readers, a day of TAB wagering. Either way, your big hope is to win. At least I suppose it is. If not, you either like wasting your money and would do better putting it in the bank, or else you have a betting problem and should seek help now.

Let's say you are prepared to outlay $200 on multiples for the day. Now some of you will yelp at that, and many will have a heart attack at the thought. But for others it is at least somewhere near the truth. Anyway you can substitute whatever you like for this amount, and on we go. Most of the money is still bet in three areas: single win bets, the daily and extra double, and trifectas.

The win bet, off-course, is fraught with danger as the final odds are unpredictable unless you hold on to the last seconds (and chance missing out). On-course most of us bet five to six minutes prior to the race because we have to get into a position to see the race. That's a disadvantage but there isn't a lot a working pressman can do about it. If a horse I like is blowing in the betting then I will hang back and make a frantic dash late, but mostly my money is on a few minutes before the death.

With the doubles, you can get on early. Not too early, because a late scratching can leave you with a clutch of tickets that you do not really want: special dividends, extra units on the favourite, that sort of thing. Now there isn't much you can do about that when a barrier scratching occurs, but often a horse is taken out two or three hours prior to its race, sometimes 10 minutes prior... so the later the better, despite the pleas of the TAB to bet early. It's your money.

Same goes for the trifecta. I believe that if a horse is scratched late in proceedings, it is difficult to cancel a multiple trifecta in some States, so the answer is to take them late. What can otherwise happen is for the horse you would have included to take a placing and all you collect is part refund!

So far as your single bets are concerned, for today, they are your concern. We are going to look at the doubles and the trifectas, and the way you distribute your money here. Let's say you decide to have $20 on the daily double and $20 on the extra double, distributed in the most popular multiple way, viz:

3 x 3 = 9 bets at $2, plus $2 on your best combination.

This means that your double will have to win at 9-1 to cut even, unless it is the best combination, which will need 4-1 to cut even. But who wants to cut even? So you will need 10-1 or 9-2. That 10-1 return will win you $2, a profit of 10%, odds of 1 -10.

That's a sobering thought, isn't it?

Let's say you get a really good double up and it pays $25 (50-1). You get back $100, odds of 4-1. But then there is the other double, and unless you are better than most of us, you cannot hit two doubles on a regular basis, so your 501 double has to be reduced again. You have to deduct the lost $20 from your extra double and that means you take away $100 for an outlay of $40. The odds about your double (remember it was 50-1!!!) are therefore 6-4.

Sure, you could be lucky. But that is not what we are talking about, is it? We are talking about trying to make a regular profit. Perhaps you are more than happy with that $60 profit. After all, it is 150% on outlay. If it could be a regular thing you'd be able to retire early. What I'm getting at is that you have to stop telling yourself, and everyone else, that you backed a 50-1 double. You didn't. You backed a 6-4 double. It doesn't sound quite the same, does it?

The whole thing is that when you have a multiple bet the return has to be weighed against the entire outlay to get the true picture. When you have a multiple double and it comes in, all but one of the combinations lose. Only one wins, unless there is a dead-heat. In our examples above, 19 combinations lost, so you could say that your strike rate for the day is 5%, and that's not so bad either if you can keep it up. However, it has to be seen for what it is.

To digress into quinellas for a moment, if you fancied seven horses for the quinella, it would cost you 21 bets to link them all up. In $2 units that's $42. Let's say you then link your top four in another $1 bet ($6) and your top two in a final $2 bet to round things up to a $50 outlay. Should your best combination win, you will have $5 on it and it will need to pay 9-1 to cut even. The next best would need to return 16-1 and all the rest 24-1, just to cut even.

To make a decent profit on the multis, you can see you'd need to have quite a pleasant return. So the message seems loud and clear for quinella players: don't link up any more than four, five at the outside. After that you start needing big quinellas to make any profit at all, and these days the big quinellas don't seem very frequent. Punters are too informed, and I suspect that big punters might be insuring on the quinelia bet after their win wagers, rather than betting each way. It would explain why quinellas pay so disproportionately to trifecta dividends time and again.

Back to the doubles and trifectas. The exercise I carried out above leaves us with $120 for the trifecta. The trifecta is such a temptation with its promise of luxury. If only we could hit one big one, and it is so possible! Didn't Joe Bloggs round the corner pick up $13,000 only last month? Well, maybe Joe did, but how? Everyone is lucky once in a lifetime. How many people do you truly know have picked up a big trifecta divvy? We've all had one or two we fondly remember, but they are usually in the order of $1,000 or so, nice but not setting the world on fire.

And that is fair enough too. They are the trifectas we are hoping for. The $13,000 job is a fluke. It's one that simply wasn't pickable by any rational punter (including the pros!), and that is why Joe Bloggs got it by linking his wife's birthday (19) with his favourite number (23) and his age (48 less 24 years for good behaviour, 24). It was probably one of those Brisbane graduations where they seem to start 175 horses in each leg.

Jokes aside, that is the way to get the impossible, and Joe is probably down there now looking for the next winner. You are going to be more sensible, and be satisfied with the smaller stuff. And you're going to be honest with yourself, aren't you? That $120 may be invested in 20 boxes of three horses, or five boxes of four horses, two boxes of five, or one box of six horses.

Clearly, provided you don't try to select the placings in the Doncaster or the Melbourne Cup, the one box of six selections is your best chance of collecting. However, it is an all-up situation: the bet either wins or loses, as if you had placed $120 on the nose of a selection. To make the return worth the risk you'd have to take note of the chances in the race and the likely return. Since you'd need a return of $600 to make a 4-1 profit, and since that kind of thing is rarely predictable, I'd forget the six box trifecta.

The five boxer is a possibility, but here for a 4-1 winner you'd still need a $300 dividend. It's bad enough getting them into the placings without having to hope the dividend will make it all worthwhile! The four boxer, with five chances in the day, is a decided possibility. You need $120 to make 4-1, and that happens to be exactly your outlay. If then, you can make the right selections for one four box trifecta out of five, and get 4-1 or better (a dividend of $120), you can make a go of the trifecta. The three boxer is always a big, big risk: they all have to place, and so often two get in and your fourth choice runs the other place. The trouble is, as I've said to you before, that the fourth selection takes the cost up 300% ... from $6 to $24, and it's your least favoured selection.

Well, you have to think about that and make up your mind how you want to handle it.

My feeling is that the four boxer, five times on the day, provides the most realistic chance of a return. There can be a big one, but even a moderate $121 makes a profit. To return to the point made before, if you really want 4-1 you have to look at $600, and with a six boxer that means in one hit. With the four boxer you have a fair chance of the $600 collect, but all your eggs are not in one basket and you can still recoup your outlay should any combination win at 119-1.

OK, there's also the three boxer which I dismissed a time back. It gives you 20 chances. It's nice when you're at the races to have an interest in every race, and I admit that when I have been winning well I have sometimes had a dozen three box trifectas all over the place, costing me perhaps $70 or $80. The thing is, I can only recall having had really good wins on them once or twice.

I stress that it's been when I have been many hundreds ahead, and have closed the shop for the day. The tension of not betting when you've had a good win can get to you, and a handful of those trifectas can'get it our of your system'. But it's not very wise betting: it's chance betting, like Lotto or the Pools. In my case it prevents me going to the ring and maybe having a largish wager on a horse I don't particularly fancy, but because I am only human and have had a big win I want to go on with the betting. It may not suit you, but as I say I have done it on occasions, although it is not the cleverest way to bet.

From Mr. S. of Melbourne ... Any plan you send to me or the boss is safe until you give us the green light. In your case I have forwarded you the back copies of the magazine which you requested with the Statsman articles, and a few suggestions as to how your plan might be made to work on the Victorian TAB. Thanks for the kind words about the magazine. Just tell all your friends!

(Mr. S. sent us his personal selection plan for perusal, and asked that we do not publish it or even refer to its basic principles. It goes without saying that any other readers who want their systems assessed or who are perhaps so close to a breakthrough are very welcome to send us their ideas. We will not publish, or course, any of the details unless you tell us we can.)

From Ms. J. of Ballarat ...
Victorian readers seem to have our letters section cornered this month. Ms. J. wants to know how come such amazing claims are made by rating services. She says that if they can get the results they advertise, why do they sell? She is, naturally, tempted to buy.

Well it's a good question, and the answer lies in the advertisements. When you read them carefully they say, or appear to say, '32 winners last week'. Then you see they really say '16 were in the top two rated horses'. Finally you get down to it: 'Seven top rated'.

So the truth is that seven of the 32 races were won by the top rated horse! Yep, that's it in a nutshell, seven of 32, or around 20%. It's still OK, but not exactly the same as 32.

But wait! It didn't say 32 races at all. No, it said 32 winners. How many races? Who knows?

Get the idea? It's what you don't say that matters. In my mythical example I advertised 32 winners, half of which were not in my top two ratings (God knows how many were rated in each race!) and I led you to believe that there were 32 winners by taking your attention away from the specific words in my advertisement. Neat?

If you are in any doubt at all, you can write to me and I'll give you the same unbiased opinion I've provided for over a decade or you can go to Punter's Choice and get their opinion by purchasing their latest issue (their ads are always in the Sportsman).

Till next month, then, watch your pocket, and enjoy your racing.

By The Optimist