Much has been written about place betting, both for and against. As Statsman said in last month's PP.M., any punter who decides that place betting is the way to go will find that 'patience' will be needed.

The good thing about place betting is that you have three chances to win (in fields of eight or more) and two chances in fields of five to seven runners. The downside is that because you have a greater chance of a collect you also have to be prepared to cop the small dividends!

How do you find good, solid place bets? Like all other things in racing, it's not easy, though some punters may try to kid you that it is. Test yourself: Pick 10 potential placegetters on a Saturday and see how many you get right. Then work out how you would have fared betting each for $1 a place.

If you want a high percentage of returns ' you will probably have to get used to adopting a rather stodgy approach to picking your bets. That is, short prices! The one approach I can recommend in this particular area will provide you with lots of placegetters, and the chance of making a small but tidy return on investment.

What you do is mark off all horses at 7/4 and under in the pre-race betting. These are your 'likely' candidates for support as placegetters. But you don't bet all of them. What you do is check their win prices with five minutes of betting left, and those you back are the horses that have either:

(a) maintained their morning price (i.e., same price) or
(b) firmed in the betting from their morning price.

You ignore those horses which have eased in the market. It's a very simple approach but it throws up a heap of winners and placegetters. The reason is simple: You are backing only horses which are very strongly fancied, so well fancied, in fact, that they dominate the betting market.

The theory is that if these horses do not win it is very likely they will finish 2nd or 3rd-enough for place punters to collect the spoils, whatever they may be.

As an example, we can look at some recent instances. In Brisbane on March 21, only Magic Deal fitted the pre-race price schedule, being at 4/6 for the 8th race at Doomben. Magic Deal held this priceline and started at 8/11. He won and his place dividend (Qld TAB) was $1.15. The only Sydney horse all day was Schillaci, who was quoted at 4/7 in the morning papers and started 1/3. He won but was relegated to 2nd on protest, and- paid $1.05 for the place.

Two skinny examples, to be sure, but ones that give you an idea of what you can expect if you want to strike 90+ per cent of your place bets. What you should do, of course, is to lever yourself into positions where you can carry over winnings from one placer onto another one, and then into perhaps a third and a fourth.

How can you get onto something like this? Well, there was a Melbourne professional many years ago who played a place bet system with enormous success. He sought a series comprising what he thought would be three certain placegetters.

The opening bet of his series had to be on what he termed a gift-edged proposition. He bet $1,000 a place on this special. If it ran a place, as it usually did, he played up the winnings on the next two specials.

As an example, we'll assume that each horse paid at odds of 2/1 ON. The return from the first bet would be $1500. He would take out his own money ($1000) and was now in the position of being in a no-loss situation. He put the $500 winnings on the second special. Assuming it got a place, he would get $750 back and all of this would be placed on the third special. If it was placed the return was $1125.

His position, then, would have been:

Bet No. 1: Profit $500.
Bet No. 2: Profit of $500 reinvested, return $750.
Bet No. 3: Profit of $750 from first two bets reinvested, return $1125.

The professional's three specials have delivered and for his initial $1000 outlay he has won $1125. And remember, after that first collect, he couldn't lose. A variation on this plan is to bet as usual on the first place special, and then divide any winnings into place bets on the other two specials.

In the above case, you would have placed $250 on each of the remaining two specials, assuming your first special had won and paid $1.50 for $1 (return of $1500 on a $1000 bet). If the second special had won the return would have been $375. If the third horse lost, the day's betting would have been as follows:

Bet 1: $1000 place, return $1500.
Bet 2: $250 place, return $375.
Bet 3: $250 place, return nil. Profit for the day, then, would be $375 from backing two placegetters out of three. If the third horse had won the day's profit would have been $750.

Seeking only two placegetters is an easier target. A successful $10 all-up place bet on two horses paying as low as $1.60 for $1 (odds of 5/3 ON) returns $25.60, a profit of $15.60 (156 per cent), or odds of just over 6/4 against.

Could you secure enough of these doubles to make such an approach worthwhile? All will depend on how good you are at isolating the place-bet specials! Some punters will mess things up by looking for longshots and putting them into the place double, thinking that the payoff will be wonderful.

The problem is that the outsiders will, in most instances, fail to run a place and will, thus, torpedo the place double.

A common complaint about place betting concerns the poor dividends that are paid (see Hans Eisler's letter in our Winning Post mailbag section, page 37). It doesn't matter if you bet with the tote or with on-course bookies, place prices will usually not be to a quarter of the odds, as bookies must pay for each-way bets.

Let's take as an example a 4/1 chance. A quarter the odds is even-money, but the place bookies will not offer you even money. He is more than likely to be offering you 5/4 ON or even 6/4 ON. Take as a further example a horse at 20/1. Could you get 5/1 the place? Probably not. More like 4/1.

And so it goes on. When considering tote place dividends, think in terms of one-fifth the win price at least for your return, and with bookies it's much the same. Thus, if a horse pays $5.50 (odds of 9/2) on the tote, then its place dividend is probably going to be a fifth of 9/2 (.90) plus your own $1 bet, equalling a dividend of $1.90. Often it will pay even less. Had you received a quarter the odds the dividend would have been $2.10 (the fraction rounded down from $2.125).

You can see that this is a significant difference each winning place bet at 9/2 means you miss out on 20 cents (or more) for each dollar bet, plus the fraction rounding off. That 'missing' 20 cents can mean the difference between winning and losing over an extended period.

It's this sort of trimming down of already skinny returns that makes place betting such a difficult assignment. But, with some effort and an aggressive approach to staking, profits can be achieved, It's my own opinion that only by coupling your place bets into sequences-doubles, trebles, all-ups, etc.-can you realistically hope to beat the odds stacked against you.

One well-known professional punter adopts the following strategy to link place bets into parlays. It's what is known as a four-bet progressive parlay. Four horses are chosen. That means six doubles, four trebles and one four-horse accumulator.

Each double: seven units.
Each treble: two units.
Accumulator: two units.

This is a total outlay of 52 units. You'll need two doubles, each at 6/4 total, to break even. But profits can rise considerably once you've hit with three placegetters. Four out of four, which you should be able to manage quite often, will boost your bank dramatically.

The One-A-Day Plan is another interesting exercise. It can be played for both win and place, though I thoroughly recommend it for place punters seeking regular returns.

The bank is 200 units. The bet is the shortest-priced favourite of the day (pre-post betting). The bets are staggered-10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, so it's really up two units each time a bet returns a dividend. If a loser is backed, you remain at the point you were at before the bet. You never go back.

With short-priced favourites, this plan does really well. But what does a more risk-taking bettor do if he wants to try place betting? Here I am talking about the punter who wants to have a lash at collaring bigger-priced placegetters-and linking them into doubles and trebles.

There is no easy way. Perhaps the best approach would be to use some mini-systems that come up with good-priced selections which can race well on a consistent basis. Horses at the top of the weights in handicap races and those with the best win strike percentages can often be followed successfully for the place.

A couple of mini-plans I revealed in the '91 P.P.M. Annual are worth recalling in this regard. They are as follows:

  • The selection is the horse at the top of the handicap, at least three kilos clear of the field before any claims, if it won last start in the city within the previous 21 days, and if no other contender did. The logic: Top weight and the only last-start city winner in the field.
  • The selection is the horse with the highest winning percentage, provided it has won at the track and distance and was placed at its last start on a city track within the previous 21 days. The logic: The most reliable horse, a winner over the course and distance, and in city form.
  • The selection is the only horse in the race that won or ran 2nd at its last start, provided the win or placing was in the city, within the previous 21 days and provided the horse has won at the course and distance. The logic: The only horse in top city form, and a winner over course/distance.

These few systems will at least provide you with some ideas as you go about looking for solid place bets. My own experience has been that they provide some excellent selections. You won't get bets all the time but when you do they'll usually be worthwhile.

Don't forget, always, that place betting dividends invariably pay lower than they should-and that makes the task of achieving a long-term profit so much harder. Punters who make their own price lines, accurately, and back only overlays may well fare better than anyone else when it comes to place betting.

By Jon Hudson