Special Report and Chart

Getting the price right is a vitally important element in a punter's armoury. If you can't get the right prices then over a period of time you are destined to lose, or at the very least have profits cut from being substantial to miserly. And no-one wants this.

Knowing when to bet is essential knowledge for on-course punters, because it is these hardy souls-fewer in number each year, alas-who can take advantage of the best odds, because they have a choice between bookmakers and the tote.

If there's one important lesson I have learned during my years in the punting game it is that horses which firm in the betting are fewer than those which ease, but they provide many more winners. The conclusion, then, is that if you follow horses which firm in the betting you have a much better chance of being on a winner than should you follow horses which ease.

This is not to say that easers do not win. They do. But in my experience these easers have probably accounted for some 55 to 60 per cent of the runners, and yet this group provided less than 40 per cent of winners. In contrast, the firmers were around 25 to 30 per cent of all runners and they provided around half of all the winners.

The statistics speak for themselves. The firmers are the horses on which to concentrate your attention. Especially those horses which firm substantially. You will see from the chart below that I have listed different areas of 'firming' with their actual percentage fall, and a comment about horses in that range.


For instance, a horse firming from 13/8 into evens is actually coming in 11.90 per cent-which can be considered a substantial fall. In major races, any horse which firms more than 5 per cent should be closely considered. A recent instance of this involved that very good galloper Shaftesbury Avenue in the Lightning Stakes at Flemington in mid-February.

The Bart Cummings-trained galloper opened at 6/1 and firmed to start at 4/1. This was a price movement of 5.71 per cent, quite significant in such a top race. Shaftesbury Avenue went on to win the Lightning in a tight finish.

Another important thing to remember when watching price movements with bookmakers is this: Horses that firm from the first call are more than likely to continue to firm, while horses easing from the first call are more than likely to continue to ease.

This is a key point to bear in mind, because punters every raceday face the torment of not knowing exactly when to put their money on with the bookies. They see their fancy open at 7/1 and then it firms quickly to 6/1. They've missed the 7s, should they take the 6s? Or will the horse ease again back to 7s and maybe more? It certainly is a dilemma, but one that you can 'ground' by adopting the simple philosophy of jumping in to have a bet as soon as your fancy begins to firm.

There is a body of opinion that says you should never back a horse until it has begun to firm! Many professional punters adhere to this thinking, and I know for a fact that it has held them in good stead for many years. Of course, there will be many occasions when the horse you want to back doesn't move at all in the market. Mat do you do then? Well, the best advice I can come up with is that you wait and wait-and wait, until the very last minute of betting. Only then put your money on.

What you should be looking for when monitoring price movements in the betting ring is for the big firmers. My chart will help you determine which horses fall into that category. If a horse moves only a few percentage points, it cannot be considered a very big firmer, but once its pressure point hits the 5 per cent and over mark you should start to pay serious attention.

As I have said, in major races that 5 per cent mark is usually enough to alert you to strong support for a particular runner. The further the fall above 5 per cent then the stronger the tip, believe me. Any horse which firms 10 per cent or more in the betting, from whatever price, is probably deserving of your financial attention.

Always at the back of your mind should be the comforting knowledge that statistics show that firmers pull in the most winners from the fewer number of runners. That means the percentages are on your side on that aspect.

And to win at betting you need to have all the percentages on your side-if you can work it that way. This is how bookies win, after all, by having a percentage edge. By following the 'firmers' carefully, and backing them sensibly, you can beat the bookmakers.

But what, I can hear you saying, if quite a few horses firm in the betting? Which ones should you back? This has no easy answer, but in my mind there is very little doubt that you should support the horses which firm the greater percentage points. It could be that you could quite profitably back two or more firmers, but this depends on prices available, naturally.

For instance: Race 2 at Doomben on February 16. There were only two firmers in the 5/1 and under price range (the most significant area for winning firmers - Who's In, from 4/1 to 7/2, and De Lemarie, 3/1 to 11 /4. Now, these were both fairly small firmers-2.22 per cent and 1.67 per cent. At the prices you could have backed both horses at 1 unit each, and come out with a profit no matter which of them won. As it turned out, Who's In was 1st and De Lemarie 2nd, so you would have staked 2 units for a return of 4.5-a profit of more than 100 per cent.

There was an interesting race later on the card, with just A Diamond firming from 9/2 into 7/2 (4.04 per cent), Astrum 12/1 into 9/1 (2.31 per cent) and Buck's Pride 2/1 into 7/4 (3.03 per cent). We can see from this that all three horses firmed under 5 per cent, but just A Diamond's fall was the highest. He won the race, while Astrum was 4th and Buck's Pride 5th.

If you had concentrated on the two horses highest in the betting market, you would have been able to back both at level stakes and have emerged a winner no matter which won (4.5 return on just A Diamond and 2.75 return on Buck's Pride).

This is not to claim that you will strike profitably every time you back the firmers. The stats I have already quoted are evidence of that-but you are looking at grabbing some part of the 50 per cent winners that the firming horses provide over a given period.

If you're a prices follower, you are having the form worked out for you. All you need do is follow the money. You don't even need a form guide. Let the price-makers worry about that! Your whole aim is to invest your money on horses which firm in the betting, and the bigger the percentage firmer the better bet it should be.

If you can, always try to back more than one runner, even if you only 'save' on one horse and invest heavily on the other one. This sort of approach can easily be achieved, as long as the prices on offer are good enough. This is something you have to work out on the spot. Sometimes it's impossible. If you have a horse which has firmed from 6/4 into 4/5 you have a 15.56 per cent price movement in favour of that horse. This is very high, and points to a horse which should be very, very close to being a good thing. In cases like this I would not bother with any other bets-unless another horse had also firmed in strong fashion, a most unlikely happening given the massive support for the other firmer.

Take careful note of my comments on the 'easy chart' and you should have no problems following what happens on the bookie boards. And always remember that it's a real fight to get the right price from a bookie! His aim is to set such prices that if he is able to lay the amount of his 'book' against all runners he will show a profit no matter which horse may win.

For those a bit hazy about bookmaking, a brief example is worth studying: In a field of, say, four runners a bookmaker might decide to bet to a 10 per cent profit.

His quotes could be:

Horse Aevens
Horse B2/1
Horse C5/1
Horse D10/1

For every $100 book he would seek to lay as follows:

Horse A$50 to $50
Horse B$66.70 to $33.30
Horse C$83.30 to $16.70
Horse D$90 to $10

On that book he would hold $110 to pay out $100, so no matter which runner was successful he would win $10 (10 per cent) on the race.

You have to adopt the same basic attack plan: Follow the firmers, get a good price, bet multiple horses if need be. and have more confidence in a horse's prospects the greater its percentage firm.

By Rick Roberts