Eric Connolly was regarded as one of Australia's greatest professional punters. In his lifetime, he won massive fortunes, lost them, won them back and lost them again. In fact, at the time of his death, his personal wealth was modest, according to some reports.

But no-one can question his knowledge of the racing game was a trainer, a tremendous assessor of trackwork, a master at weights analysis and an expert at the "figures" aspect of betting.

Records show that Connolly made a fortune from racing and yet right up to his death he maintained that it was IMPOSSIBLE for the ordinary racegoer to beat the races.

It was not, he said, that the game was unbeatable, but because the majority of punters beat themselves. Bookmakers, too, had too much in their favour.

This last belief may not apply so much in the modern racing world where bookmakers are under siege due to the competitiveness of the tote, and falling on-course crowds.

At one seminar not long before he died, Connolly told his audience: "I can tell the public how to make an intelligent attempt to beat the bookmakers but I wonder if they will listen."

Connolly did, in fact, draw up a number of important factors which he felt would prove a telling guide for any punter who wanted to take the time, and had the inclination, to adhere to them.

Although Connolly's "deadly dozen" were compiled some 60 years ago, they remain as relevant today as they were back then in pre-war days. 

Don't bet on all races. Limit your investments to two, three or four races a day, but only bet if you consider you have a reasonable chance of finding a winner.

Always wait for the right race and then don't trust your money to one horse. Make a book against the bookmaker; that is, go for a win on one or two of the runners and save on the other chances. Always remember to have patience and await the right race. "You can beat a race, but you can't beat the races."

Starting price bettors should be careful about betting eachway in races where there are more than 12 starters. In SP betting the universal rule is a quarter the straightout odds for a place, and this rule applies whether there are 8 or 24 runners. In large fields the SP eachway punter is not getting true value for his money.

In a field of 8, a horse has 3 chances of filling a place and 5 chances of missing a place. In a field of 24, the chances are 3 of running a place and 21 of missing a place, yet the place odds are the same. In the long run, a punter having $1 eachway a horse in large fields would be better off by having $1 straightout on two runners in a race.

To the punter who does not have the time to properly study form, Connolly suggests he confine his bets to good horses prepared by good trainers and ridden by good jockeys. Every raceday, thousands of dollars of public money finds its way into the bookmakers' bags and into the tote through racegoers backing poorly performed horses trained by poor trainers and ridden by inferior jockeys.

All punters should study the winning jockeys' list. There are dozens of riders whose winning average is one winner in every 20 33, 50 or 100 mounts, yet racegoers will often take a short price about one of them winning a particular race. This rule does not apply to every race. There may be a race in which the better-class jockeys are not riding. The inferior ones then have the field to themselves.

It generally pays, however, to steer clear of ordinary riders. Their winning percentage is too poor. On this same point be very careful about betting on races confined to apprentices. Steer clear of them unless you know the rider can get the best out of his mount.

Backing a poor horse is invariably a poor bet. Poor horses are not consistent and the odds are all against such a galloper ever turning in two successive good runs. Top-class horses are always more likely to race to form, particularly if they are prepared by knowledgeable trainers.

A trainer who doesn't know his business generally only flukes getting a horse to its top. Even if the fluke comes off, such a trainer then lacks the ability to keep his charge at concert pitch. Maiden and restricted handicaps for horses of all ages can be traps. A young horse on the improve can win these races, but always be wary of the old horse with many convictions to his discredit.

Never back a horse on a mud track unless it is a proved mud runner, or has no mud convictions.

When doing the form, never consider performances recorded in the mud as a guide as to what is likely to happen on a good track. Wet weather form can only be applied to races run in similar conditions.

Class is all-important. Backing horses out of their class is generally bad business. Occasionally a young improving horse will overcome the class hurdle, but when such a horse comes along it is generally obvious.

Always consider the courses on which a race is to be decided. Because a horse runs away with a 1200m race at Moonee Valley it doesn't mean he would beat the same field at Flemington. Knowledge that a horse can handle the course over which he is to race is most important. 

Weights are obviously a pointer to winners and losers. The ability to be able to handicap one horse against another is a great asset for any punter to possess. Doing the weights is far more than just a  problem in maths. You have to know your form and your horses to be able to assess in kilos just what each competitor in a race should carry. 

You also have to know which runners can carry weight; which runners are lightly built and at their best under light imposts. 

This is a most complicated angle to picking winner and one which would require a full-length book to properly explain. In doing the weights, Connolly allowed 3lb (1.5kg) to equal a length, except in long-distance races and jumping events in which he estimated a length to be 2lb (1kg). In long-distance races he considered every half-kilo over 57kg to be equal to log. In doing the form on highweight races it generally pays to start at the bottom of the weights and work upwards.

Barrier positions MUST be studied. Each barrier is generally a problem in itself. You also have to consider the horse
and whether he's a fast or a slow beginner.

Backing horses drawn wide at barriers, where inside positions count, rarely pays off. There are exceptions to this rule, but these can only be discovered by a close study of the race.

For instance, a fast beginner may draw 14 at the 1600m start at Caulfield; that would be against him, yet you may find that a number of the horses drawn inside of him are slow beginners. In such circumstances the handicap would not be as bad as at first glance. 

In betting, make a rule not to lay long odds-on. If you lay $10 to $5 on a horse and it's beaten, you have to put the same amount on two winners at 2 / 1 ON to break even. A shade of odds-on is permissible on a standout bet.

Always treat your racing investments as a business. Never bet just for the sake of betting. Only stake your money when you consider you have a better chance than the bookmaker.

If you're playing a serious game of poker, you don't bet on every hand you draw. You put up the chips only when you consider you hold a hand good enough to take the centre. APPLY THE SAME POLICY TO RACING, AND YOU WILL LAST MUCH LONGER.

I'm sure readers will find much to interest them in Connolly's 12 racing rules. They are all sound commonsense, and Connolly was a great advocate of using commonsense in the approach to all racing problems.

By Martin Dowling