America's best-known punter Andy Beyer failed to beat Australian racing, but he remains one of the most influential figures in international racehorse betting. He's the "ideal" success story for anyone who aspires to earn a living on the punt.

He lives in a chic Washington DC suburb in a spacious home filled with tasteful furniture and expensive art. His wife is an interior designer.

Beyer has always been the wild man of betting. He tends to "rave on" when he's at the track, and he bets almost ceaselessly. He's the type of pro who doesn't believe in the cautious, risk-free approach. Scattergun might well apply.

Michael "Roxy" Roxborough, one of the key figures in Las Vegas gambling, says of Beyer: "When he walks through the grandstand of any racetrack in America, he's the most recognisable person in the crowd. He has more enthusiasm for betting on horses than anyone in the sport."

So what's Andy Beyer's story? He's written a string of top-selling books on handicapping, he's the man behind the Beyer speed ratings, he writes a column for the Washington Post, and his name is legendary since America's Daily Racing Form began publishing his speed ratings some years ago.

"I'm a numbers guy, not a real visual type," says Beyer. "I have no skill at judging a physical animal. I can't tell if it's feeling badly or if it's ready to run the race of its life, just by looking at it. I focus on the fundamentals."

Beyer doesn't even refer to horses by their names; usually it's just their numbers in the racebook. He used to follow "class" but then he set about producing a reliable model for speed figures that could be trusted. He did all the research with pen and paper. He looked at years of data and applied analytical skills he'd developed as a child.

Thirty years ago, he constructed what he considered was a reliable speed chart, taking into account track variance, speed and bias. He'd created the Beyer Speed Figures.

Today, he admits, using his figures alone is no longer an adequate method for beating the races. Horses that he used to be able to bet at 25/1 are now hit by all and sundry.

To compensate, he looks for other factors as well as the speed factors.

"At heart I'm an exotic bettor," he explains. "I get more of a rush. I make some straight bets now and then, or with small exactas, but I prefer to go for the big-paying longshot. I tide myself over with singles and doubles, but I'm really going for the home run.

"The worst thing you can do in betting horses is to be thrown off kilter by emotional highs and lows. You must totally erase close losses and go on. Near misses are an inescapable part of the game."

So what about another view? This one's from the UK. Eddie Fremantle became a full-time professional punter in 1993 and made his living backing horses for eight years before returning to journalism as The Observer's chief racing writer.

In a new book, Counter Attack (published by Raceform in Britain), "Eddie The Shoe" (as he's fondly known) talks of his approach to betting and maintains that a punter must always "hold his nerve" and accept the inevitable losers.

"There's no substitute for doing your homework," he says. "When I'm going racing, I look at every horse in every race on the card, trying to consider every angle.

"It means that I spend a lot of time with the form book and I dabble with various ratings. I know some people say you should specialise and stick to one particular kind of race but I've never agreed with that. You should bet on any race in which you can win.

"Having said that, I tend to avoid the top-class meetings, because the form is so public that you can't get an edge. I'd sooner bet in the lower grades, where you've got a chance of finding out something that most people don't know."

Fremantle agrees with fellow UK professional Alan Potts that the best philosophy for any punter is to be different to the rest.

"If you follow the same pattern as everyone else, you're very unlikely to succeed," he says. "Looking for value is certainly important, though a lot of rubbish is talked about value. I'm more interested in ant value, finding favourites at artificially short prices and taking them on.

"I'll back two or more to beat a false fav and sometimes I'll fall on the winner. You have to take the long-term view and have faith in your judgement. Everyone gets losing runs, so things will go wrong at some point, but you have to try to keep doing what you've been doing and, if your judgement's good, you'll be all right in the long run."

Fremantle, somewhat surprisingly, says a piece of "common wisdom" he disagrees with is the idea that you should not chase your losses.

He says: "For me, it's more important to chase than not to bet. Some people, having backed a winner or two early on in a day's racing, will then stop, even if they've studied the whole card and come to the track prepared to bet in each race.

"But then, the next time they go racing, they're betting again, so it's not as if they've given up for good. So why stop just because you're up for the day?

"If you're losing and you don't chase, then you'll never get out of trouble. A punter who can't have a bet is like a golfer with the yips or a darts player who can't let go of the dart. It's the worst way to be."

Eddie The Shoe believes punters should keep their turnover high and bet as often as possible. It keeps you in the game, he says, and takes the pressure off.

"If you only bet rarely, but have a big bet when you do, you really have to get it right," he explains. "For me, it makes more sense to divide that one stake up and have 50 bets in the same time, at a fiftieth of the stake. You'll get more winners, the losers will matter less and your confidence will go up."

Although not a professional punter in the true sense of the word, Tony Stafford, a British racing columnist, has spent a lifetime on the punt. He has firm views on what success is all about.

"I believe you either need to know a lot or next to nothing," he says. "They say hard work brings results, but given that so many people now have identical racing pictures in their homes, rather than the imagined pictures derived from form books and newspapers, there has to be more uniformity of opinion.

"More reason, then, to look for the contra view and oppose the obvious. Too much study can be counter-productive. I have had my successes, like many other people, but if you get involved with betting on racing, you should expect to experience the highs and lows of outrageous fortune."

Sir Clement Freud has had a long association with racing and betting, much of which is covered in his best-selling autobiography Freud Ego (BBC Books).

"I started gambling at the age of 8, at a bent roulette table in my Devon boarding school," he says. "I read the Sporting Times in the school library, wallowed in the racing terms and longed for the day that ponies and monkeys would become part of my lifestyle."

His advice is only to follow the tips of journalists who actually bet themselves!

"Someone wrote that racing journalists who don't bet on horses should be ignored," says Sir Clement. "I think that is sensible. The most readable writers are those activated to work by bookmakers' bills.

"I have tried very hard to achieve a ratio between the bets I make and the income I receive for writing about racing. The answer to my wife's, 'Did you have a good day?' is now only rarely, 'Wrote a good piece but lost six times the fee'."

These are the views, then, of some of the world's best professionals and near-professionals. Each has his own way of setting about making a profit on his betting.

Betting, as we have stated in PPM, is very much an individual pursuit. Each punter has his or her own way of looking at form, and of analysing what is on the printed page. Each person will watch a race and interpret it differently.

One train of thought shines out from what the experts have to say. It's this: With so much information around, and all punters more or less having access to the same information, the punter who wants to get an edge has to search for something different, a new angle, a fresh way of looking at things. Avoid the bleedin' obvious because it's sure to be bleedin' obvious to everyone else.

If you can find that "new and unknown" angle, you can be well on your way to a profitable path in your betting life. Whether it revolves around well-fancied runners, or longshots, your angle needs to be totally your own. If you can find this "holy grail" . . . well, go for it.

By Richard Hartley Jnr