Is there anything much worse than to enjoy a golden winning run on the punt and then be hit with a savage losing streak? Talk about a confidence blaster!

Losing runs are the bane of every man or woman who has ever had a bet. They can quickly unravel all the good work and the bright results you may have been enjoying.

Most punters, I believe, have an instinctive "feel" for the times they are slipping into the trough. There's an air of tension, the feeling that things are getting out of control, that your confidence is slipping away.

Then comes a veritable tsunami of emotions. Panic, anger, bitterness, a desire to strike back at this unseen but all-embracing foe. There's also a vein of stubbornness, a refusal to accept that you are responsible.

You stick to your approach, then admit it's failing, and switch to another tack. The streak, though, won't end.

UK expert Mark Coton, author of 100 Hints for Better Betting, says his worst run was in 1990 when he backed 49 losers in a row. He wrote about it in an English racing magazine. One reader met him at the races and said he didn't believe him, that he'd made up the 49 losing streak.

Says Coton: "I told him I only wished it were true!"

Like the rest of us mere mortals, Coton has suffered the pain of backing loser after loser.

He writes in 100 Hints: "I have only once been genuinely scared about my betting and it was at the end of this sequence. I had always toughed it out past losing runs, trying to maintain my style and waiting for the tide to turn. This sequence tested that brave and foolhardy notion to the limit."

Coton's 49th loser was a horse called Vintage at Royal Ascot. He had been planning to bet on him for a month, the trip and the going were ideal, and Coton says he was "fully confident he would go close, despite the inevitable caution and pessimism induced by the losing run.

He made what he says was a "bold and no doubt reckless decision" to back Vintage to recover the entire losses from the 48 unsuccessful bets. Vintage was at 14/1 in the morning market and Coton convinced himself the horse would win. But Vintage ran a deplorable 11th of the 17 runners.

"I left the betting shop and took a train into London feeling a genuine sense of shock, akin to that which comes after witnessing a traffic accident," he says.

As a result, Coton drew up some steps that a punter can take to limit the damage from losing streaks. They certainly bear repeating here.

  1. Take a breather. How I realised the benefit of this advice following the Vintage run.
  2. Cheek your bets over and over again, review and criticise them. This can enable you to have a grip on your position. A tough losing run might not seem quite so bad once the losses have been totted up and compared to a winning period from earlier in the year, or after it's been noted how one or two perhaps unlucky losers would have turned the sequence around had they obliged.
  3. Stick to trusted methods. Don't play unnecessarily "safe" by picking out short-priced favourites simply to end the run. Equally, do not start backing outsiders in the hope of getting it all back in one hit.
  4. And don't keep cursing your luck. Easier said than done, perhaps impossible in such a situation, but it is precisely when in the midst of a losing run that the old chestnut about negative thoughts always being punished comes into play.

Coton is a great believer in the 'mind side' of betting.

He says he's convinced there are waves and forces flowing from our minds which can make luck run for us, good and bad.

"The problem is that we let bad luck get to us," he says. "We become tense, agitated and unfocused, and hence we lose. This is no more than a common sense observation, for you cannot succeed at anything if you are in such a state."

In Hint 82 of his book, Coton presses the cause of having fewer bets as a way to avoid a long losing run.

He says: "We are nearly all guilty of having too many bets. Like a good gardener or wine grower we must prune. Expel those careless last-second wagers, the uncertain savers, and optimistic doubles and forecasts."

100 Hints for Better Betting, by Mark Coton, is published by Aesculus Press, UK. This company is no longer in business. Check the Internet for details of availability of the book.

By Josh Smyth