If ever racing men sit down to talk about famous punters, there is one name that will always be mentioned - Eric Connolly.

He was a racehorse trainer in the good old days' but mainly he won a legendary reputation because of his enormous success as a punter. He bet in tens of thousands of pounds when men were earning just a couple of quid a week, back at the turn of the century and then in the 1910s, the 1920s and the turbulent 1930s.

Connolly's life story is as colourful as you will ever find in the annals of the turf. He really was larger than life, a man who went through life with a courageous gambling heart, and who took his losses on the chin, and was never afraid to step right back into the fray.

He was born in 1880 and lived until his 64th year. Those who knew him say he was one of the great personalities of the Australian turf. He lived only for horseracing and he loved nothing more than landing a giant plunge - and he landed scores of them!

But Connolly left more than a stack of stories about his punting activities he left also a legacy for the punters of the 1980s. This legacy is the secret of how he bet and won.

Connolly believed in 'saving' on his bets. This approach apparently was perfected in the latter years of his punting.

In his younger days he was an inveterate 'back in every race' man, something he freely admitted in interviews with newspapermen in the late 1930s. But, he confessed, he suffered some of his biggest losses on the days that he tried to beat the card.

His advice - and it echoes now from his grave - is that a punter is mad if he tries to back a winner in every race.

"You can't do it," he once said. "if you bet on 100 races at the same stake each time your winners' prices would have to total 100 just to break even and that would be impossible to keep up, month in and month out."

Connolly believed in playing safe. It was this policy, he said, that enabled him to make so much money as a punter.

The ‘saver' bets became the bread-and-butter of his existence. They were the backbone of his everyday punting action and the theory that he placed behind them is as relevant today as it was back then, more than 50 years ago.

By playing 'safe', Connolly ensured that if his main selection lost he at least saved his money, or won a little bit, on his saver' horses in the same race.

We will now look at the two key aspects of Connolly's magic approach. They may seem simple and unexciting, but think about them for a while and you'll fully appreciate their smooth beauty and commonsense.

Let's assume you fancy Droll to win the first race on the card. He is a 3-1 chance. Now you figure that there are only two other runners who can beat him. They are Cynical at 4-1 and Smug at 2-1. To play safe - as Connolly did you would back Cynical and Smug as 'savers' and back Droll to make a profit for you.

This is how you do it (and we assume here that you are betting, say, $40 a race). You add 4 and 1 for Cynical and get 5 and divide this figure into 40, which gives you 8, the size of the bet you will place on this horse. For Smug, you add 2 and 1 to get 3 and divide this figure into 40, which gives you a figure of 13 (rounded off) for your bet on the horse.

So - you have saved on these two horses. Your $8 bet goes on Cynical at 4-1 and your $13 bet goes on Smug at 2-1. You are left with $19 to put on your main choice, Droll, at 3-1.

If Droll should win, you get a total return of $76, from which you deduct the $40 you staked for the race. You are left with $36 clear profit on the race.

This is just one example, and usually you would operate with better prices. We chose an example where you would not be chasing exorbitant profits. There is another way, too, which Connolly used and this one gave him a profit, no matter which of the three horses he backed should get up and win, even though he still had the most money on his major selection.

With this method, you would adopt the following approach. Your race bank is again $40. The horse you think will win the race is Peacock, and the two horses you rate as the immediate dangers are Howard and Hawke. Peacock is a 7-2 chance, while Howard is 4-1 and Hawke is 3-1.

Instead of adding one to each saver horse's price, you simply divide the price into your bank. Thus, you would divide 4 into 40 to get your bet on Howard, and 3 into 40 for your bet on Hawke giving you $10 on Howard and $13 on Hawke, a total of $23. The remaining $17 is placed on Peacock at 7-2, a bet of, say, $59 to $17.

Should Peacock win, you have a total return of $76, from which you deduct the $40 you lost on the savers, leaving you with $36 profit again. But should Howard have won at 4-1 you would have had a return of $50, for a small profit of $10. Had Hawke won, your return would have been $52, for a profit of $12.

The sheer simplicity, but boldness, of this approach is what must have appealed so much to Connolly all those years ago. It really is eminently sensible, isn't it? We all know how many times our one bet in a race gets rolled, and how often the horse we thought was the immediate danger got up to beat it! With this method, you are closing off all the danger aspects of the betting action. That 'threat horse' is running for you as well!

Connolly's advice was that punters should never attempt to play every race on the program. He suggested that you should have patience and pick your horses carefully; in that way, you would be operating only on those races where you felt the odds were not stacked too much against you.

Pass over any race, he advised, where there were four or more big chances. In doing this, he added, you should put the money you didn't bet on the race into your bank, so that you would be able to bet more on the carefully chosen races where there were a maximum of three top prospects.

"Don't bet in a race where your chances of losing are bigger than your chances of winning," he told his followers. "I can give no better advice to any racegoer.”

The late Rufe Naylor was another punter who liked to play things safe, obviously with a view to long-term financial survival. The successful punter, said both Naylor and Connolly, was the one who knew when to bet and how to bet.

Naylor, of course, often went 'crazy' and broke all his own rules! So even the best professional punters can be human, too.

Connolly, in his secure latter years, argued that punters simply had to control their betting if they were to succeed.

He stressed that by following his method of 'saving' a punter could, if his selections were sensible, retire from work and settle back to a life of betting-inspired luxury. Just how many punters were able to take advantage of his free advice is not known - but now, in 1986, here is your chance.

Connolly should know what he is talking about - he had been as broke as many other people, many times, during his career on the turf. There's a well-known story about him, passed down by word of mouth in pubs and clubs, of the day he arrived at the old Sandown Park racetrack with ten shillings in his pocket.

He put the lot on a horse named Slim Jim and won a couple of pounds.

Then he plonked all that on another horse and it won, too. His bank had soared from the original 'ten bob' to more than £12, which all went on a horse called Jum-Known at 5-1. It was yet another winner, and the Connolly ragsto-riches bandwaggon was off and rolling again. By the end of the day his 10 shillings had been turned into more than £4,000 - a fortune in those days.

Not that he was always so lucky. There are a host of tales of his great losses as well as his great wins. But no matter whether he was broke or flush, Connolly, the old-timers say, always retained an air of optimism and confidence. He was down sometimes, but never out.

It was, however, through the simple ploy of 'saving' on his bets that kept the great gambler financially alive for year after year. In the 1930s, with his financial security assured, he sort of plodded along, making a nice living without being spectacular, though he often said that 1935 was one of his worst years, during which he suffered enormous losses.

There was one race, in the 1920s, in which a jockey's mistake cost him an estimated £50,000 collect. It was in the Williamstown Cup and Connolly had backed a horse called Backwood.

Backwood had won the Melbourne Cup and Connolly was convinced he was a certainty for the Williamstown Cup - and he was right, even though the horse didn't win.

What happened was this - Backwood settled back in the field and as the home turn loomed he began to be pushed forward around the field by his jockey, Bunty Brown. Connolly looked on happily through his binoculars and remarked to a friend that Backwood was home.

With just over 100 'yards' to go, Backwood surged up behind the leader and was travelling easily. In another stride he was in front and then disaster. Brown stopped riding and began to ease Backwood. Suddenly, as Connolly looked on flabbergasted, the jockey began to work hard on the horse again, but it was too late. Backwood had lost all momentum and four or five other horses had slipped past him. At the post, he wasn't even in the first six!

What had happened? A disconsolate Brown told an equally disconsolate Connolly that he had mistaken the winning post. He had thought the race was over when Backwood's head got to the front 1 00'yards'from home! He had begun to pull the horse up when he suddenly realised the post had not been reached. Connolly, however, was a great loser.

He was never heard to complain about the costly mistake. And remember that £50,000 was an absolute fortune in 1924 - probably the equivalent of 20 times that today, and that's a million pounds! Another Connolly triumph was his huge backing for Nightmarch to win the Epsom Handicap, and then his confidence that the New Zealand horse could beat Phar Lap in the Melbourne Cup. Connolly was quite sure that Phar Lap's jockey would not have the strength to 'hold' the champion over the two miles and he reasoned that Phar Lap would be a beaten horse at the home turn.

His forecast proved correct and Nightmarch, sent out the 2nd favourite for the big race at 9-2 (mainly through Connolly's massive bets) went on to win.

Here is some other Eric Connolly advice for punters, which we advise you to take serious note of, and keep in mind for the future when you are tempted to bet irrationally and without real purpose:

  1. One of the most important things in betting is getting value for your money.
  2. There are no certainties on any racecourse, anywhere in the world.
  3. Pick your races carefully and always bet to 'save' on the race.
  4. Never lay odds-on, and never rush in blindly to bet on hot favourites at short prices.
  5. Never ignore the form of a horse. Too many horses cannot be trusted. They have poor records. Steer clear of them.
  6. Don't give all your winnings back. If you are having a good day, put some of the profits in your pocket and make sure you take it home.
  7. Don't be scared of long prices. If your horse is at big odds, it may mean that everyone else has overlooked the factors that have made you price it much shorter.
  8. Your best investment is a notebook, in which to record all the mistakes you made during any one day at the races. From then on, you'll be able to see your errors in black and white and prevent yourself from making them all over again.

By Brian Blackwell