Perhaps the most dispiriting thing about betting is the inescapable horror of long losing runs. It happens to all who bet. No matter how good you might be at picking winners, the time will arrive when you fall into the losing streak.

How you bet will often determine how you emerge financially from such losing runs. I've known punters who simply saw their betting bank whittled away to nothing. Yet others, experiencing the same sort of losing runs, were able to hold out and keep control of their financial situation.

The type of losing runs you are likely to encounter will depend very much on what type of bettor you are. Are you the cautious type who rarely ventures far from the short-priced favourites? Or are you more of a risk-taker who snubs a cockahoop nose at hotpots and chases, instead, the long-priced winners?

If you play longshots, you will have to realise that the chance of hitting a long losing run is much more likely to happen to you than the bloke who bets the shorties.

Tom Ainslie, the US professional and author of several best-selling books on betting, suggests that punters bet 5 per cent of their bankroll on each bet. Now, if you're hitting, say, 35 per cent to 50 per cent winners, this may well be okay. I know few punters in this luxurious bracket.

What of the punter who strikes, say, with 25 per cent or 30 per cent winners? They have five times as much chance of running into a losing streak of 10!

Have a look at the chart, taken from Dick Mitchell's excellent book Winning Thoroughbred Strategies (William Morrow, 1989), to see what I mean about your chances of hitting various losing streaks depending on how many winners you back.


You'll see that if you are astute enough to score with 33 per cent winners (a handsome strike rate!), you have one chance in 10 of betting six losers in a row (i.e. if you bet 100 series of 6 races, then 10 of them would not contain a winner).

The same punter has a 5 per cent chance of striking eight losers in a row and a I per cent chance of hitting 12 losers in a row.

Obviously, the higher your strike rate, the less risk there is of terrifying losing streaks. In his wonderful book, Betting For A Living (Aesculus Press, 1992), Nick Mordin writes: "On these figures (Dick Mitchell's), the 25 per cent bettor could afford to bet one-seventeenth (5.88 per cent) of his or her initial betting capital on each race, and the 40 per cent winner could afford to bet 10 per cent of their starting bankroll. In each case, they would have only a 1 per cent chance of going broke.

"Of course, most professionals prefer a wider margin of safety than 1 per cent. To prevent this, they adopt two strategies. Firstly, they typically bet only half of the amounts indicated.

"More importantly, they do not bet a set percentage of their starting bankroll. Instead, they bet a percentage of their present betting capital. If their betting capital grows, so does the size of their bet. If they have lost money, their bets will be correspondingly smaller."

Other professionals say they vary their technique yet, in a survey I did recently among some 11 professional bettors, all indicated they basically worked to betting around 5 per cent of whatever their bank happens to be.

When any punter embarks on serious betting, he has to consider how much betting money is going to be required. To determine this he must examine HOW and WHAT he bets. Again, we get back to the prices of the horses you'll support. If you know that, in round terms, you can refer to Dick Mitchell's chart to determine the risk factor in your approach.

This is the advice that one Sydney punter gave me: "Study the past results of your selections, then multiply the longest losing sequence by three. If your worst run of losers was 7, then triple that to 21. If you're sensible, you'll prepare yourself for a possible 20 losers at least.

"With this in mind, you could bet anything between 3 and 5 per cent of your bank's current total and be pretty safe. It's all a matter of the extent of the protection you want to give yourself. If your worst run of outs has been 10, then you have to multiply that by 3, to make 30, and bet accordingly to around 2 to 3 per cent of your current bank.

"The idea is that, by tripling your worst losing sequence, you create a safety brake for yourself against capital loss. It's all about increased protection, and if you're not interested in that, then all I can say is you are not serious about your money.

"No-one can foresee the future exactly, but having been a punter all my life I tend to look on the black side! Like, if my horse is in a photo-finish, or a protest, I always expect it to lose; I just hope it wins. The same with money. I know that anything can happen and probably will, so I want to protect myself as much as I can."

How can you avoid long losing runs? No-one can say. There is a school of thought that says after, say, five or six losers you should stop betting and resume at a later date. That's fine ... except there is no guarantee that the losing run will not continue when you resume betting!

The problem is exacerbated when the punter is following a rising progressive staking plan. Without a safety brake, these can lead you to disaster on a long losing streak.

My advice is that you never undertake a progressive staking plan without having a fail-safe mechanism in place to halt betting after a certain number of successive losers.

Another slice of advice is to always be cautious, especially if you're not all that well-off and would be HURT by losing too much.

In the event of a longish losing run, cut back your stake to a comfortable level. Secondly, undertake a re-evaluation of your selection process to discover if it is fatally flawed. If you happen to strike 10, 15 or 20 successive losers, there has to be a fundamental problem with your approach.

Maybe a spot of fine-tuning will sort it out and then you can bet more confidently.

Use the concept of value to help you cut back on losing runs. Make sure you accurately assess the VALUE of a selection. Once you've done this, don't risk your money unless the price available is a VALUE price; that is, a better price than you have assessed.

In his book, Nick Mordin writes: "If I think there are three legitimate contenders, I will accept no less than 3/1. If I believe five horses have a chance, I won't bet if I can't get 5/1. These prices guarantee me a profit, provided my calculations aren't in error.

"This is a horrendously crude method, but at least it gives me some guidance. For example, in one race last season I pinpointed a good bet - so I thought - in a race in which there were just two contenders, by my calculations. Odds of 2/1 were therefore the minimum that I could accept.

"Precisely those odds were available. I made the bet but I knew it was a borderline case. On the same day, however, I uncovered a race in which there were three contenders and my selection was available at 12/1. Naturally, I invested more money."

Mordin points out that punters need to shed 'any fantasies' they have about betting every winner on the card. To become a winner, he says, you must accept losing on a scale you would presently find unacceptable.

Summing up, then, consider the following points:

  • Determine your strike rate and check the Dick Mitchell chart.
  • To play more cautiously, multiply your worst losing run by three.
  • Look always for value.
  • If betting on a progressive scale, build in a safety brake.

** Nick Mordin's book Betting For A Living is available from Aesculus Press, P.O. Box 10, Oswestry, Shropshire SY10, 7QR, United Kingdom.

By Richard Hartley Jnr