The late Phil Bull, perhaps the greatest professional punter in Britain in the 1940s and 50s, always believed that anyone who wanted to make a living from racing needed the right temperament.

Never one to act modestly, he was the first to say that he did, in fact, possess the temperament needed to bet for a living and win.

Amazing, really, when you consider that he was a coalminer's son from a little town in Yorkshire who might have spent a lifetime as a schoolteacher had it not been for his passion for horse racing and betting.

He founded the huge Timeform empire in the UK, and his success as a punter brought him the full trappings of wealth, including a 10 bedroom mansion in 66 acres of woodland, a string of Rolls Royce cars and the money to do whatever he pleased in life.

"The racecourse was a perfect battleground for me," he said. "It was an exhilarating place where you could pit your abilities and your nerve against those of everyone else, because that is what it amounts to, every punter against every other punter and only the best-equipped would survive.

"I wanted an arena, and here was one readymade for me, with all the elements of testing myself already created and a marvellously varied and fascinating cast of characters to go with it."

Why do I tell you about Phil Bull? Well, this article poses the question of whether it is possible to bet for a living and win.

Of course, the answer is yes, but with qualifications. Only a few people are capable of achieving that so called glorious state of being a "pro punter".

Some last for years and years. Others come and go. But it's punters like Phil Bull who can ADVISE us what is really needed to make a go of things.

And he did have one big secret which he kept to himself for years, although many suspected what it was.

I'll tell you the secret a little later. But let's first examine the thrust of what Bull was all about as a punter.

No surprise, perhaps, that his empire was built on obtaining VALUE (which may have been far easier to attain 50 years ago than it is today!).

He didn't bet unless the odds were "good value" and that, he said, is always a matter of individual judgement. Some have it, most don't.

"If I am offered only evens about a horse I judge to be a 6/4 chance I do not bet,' Bull said. 'If I can get 2/1, 1 bet, and 3/1 about the same horse is a Bet with a capital B."

Naturally, he always advised those who asked him for advice that they should never bet beyond their means, and never to bet each way in handicaps or other races with big fields. "I'm not saying a punter can't make the game pay but he needs to be very good," Bull said.

Now, one of the keys to his success was his temperament. He could remain cool in the most trying of betting circumstances and he could take losing on the chin.

Reg Griffin, who worked with him at Timeform, said: "Phil was never one to shout about his selections. One day at Ayr, he had a bet of 5,000 pounds to 2,000 pounds about a 2yo and it crossed the line locked together with another youngster and I was getting in a desperate state until the result was announced in Phil's favour, but he hadn't turned a hair.

"At the end of the afternoon, I might ask him how he'd got on and he just says '5,000 up' or '2,000 down' before falling asleep in the back of the car on the drive home. He took the day's results with equanimity; it was the season as a whole that counted."

So what was Phil Bull's secret of success?

Well, it actually relates to the way he began his betting career and it's an approach he always recommended to anyone who was thinking of chancing their arm in a professional way.

Bull ADOPTED A STABLE. In his case, as a beginner, he made the decision to tie his fate in with Lord Derby's horses. It was a move that paid off handsomely for him. When the lucky Lord Derby's horses won, so did Phil Bull.
And this is what I recommend, too, for anyone who fancies himself (or herself) as being able to make a living on the punt. There are any number of stables in Australia which offer followers the chance to make good money.

Bull did not back each and every runner that Lord Derby owned. He knew that was not the way to go. But what he did was weed out the potential losers and plunge on the potential winners, provided always he could obtain the value price about them.

This is what any sensible punter today can do. Pick your stable, and it will need to be a high-profile one, and then throw yourself into form analysis of the stable's runners.

It's easy enough to secure a list of the horses in the stable. Subscribe to TVN's video service at $15 a month, and all you need to do is type in a trainer's name and you will be presented with the names of every horse which has started for him, or her, in the last year or two.

The underlying sense behind this strategy is that the newcomer to full time betting is able to concentrate his attention on only a certain number of horses. He gets to understand the way the stable works, the way its horses are placed, and how well or badly they do with first uppers, or sprinters or middle distance gallopers.

In short, you can become an expert on a particular stable. After a while, like Phil Bull did with the horses owned by Lord Derby, you get to "know" when a horse is worth a big bet and when a horse can be ignored.

When the stable wins, you are aboard. As the stable's inside connections get richer, so do you.

You cannot miss a winner unless you decide not to back it. Every horse the stable puts on the racetrack is there for you to see and examine.

It's a simple approach but one that can work spectacularly well.

Phil Bull said: "Backing Lord Derby's horses got me away to a start, and laid the foundations for my future betting. It was essential I did something like that to give myself the grounding.

I knew his horses usually ran well, they were given a thorough preparation, and they were trying."

Later, with a betting bank that had grown enormously, Bull was confident enough to leave the embrace of Lord Derby's runners and spread his wings.

All races came alike to him. He regarded a race as something which required examination. If, having studied it, there was no bet, so be it. Every race was treated on its merits.

Anyone today who fancies himself as a professional punter will need all the facets of character that Bull possessed.

He was fearless yet sensible, always ready to plunge on a horse when others reckoned it had no chance, he always firmly believed in his own opinion above those of others, he knew when to bet and when not to bet, he knew that losses had to be absorbed in pocket and in the mind, and he knew that courage always was required on any given betting day.


  1. Choose a trainer and follow his horses.
  2. Use form analysis and commonsense to determine which of his runners to back.
  3. Never bet beyond your means.
  4. Bet for a win.
  5. Believe in your own opinion before that of others.
  6. Take losses on the chin.
  7. Do not lose your nerve when losing.
  8. Invest your winnings in property.
  9. Consider your betting on a year to year basis, not day by day.
  10. Treat every race as an individual event. Examine it carefully.

By Jon Hudson