You stroll to the teller's window at your local TAB agency, banknotes clutched in your hand. You are about to place $20 on a horse you have selected in a race at Randwick. You hope to win about a hundred dollars.

But let's freeze the action right there. Let's stop and analyse the steps you have taken as a punter to reach the moment when you hand over your hard-earned brass!

How much real thought has gone into the selection of your bet? What do you really know of the horse and its form background? What is your financial 'goal' with this bet and any others you are going to have?

In short, how much sensible thinking has been put into your betting game plan? I pose these questions because it behoves all punters to take stock of themselves at regular intervals, to analyse their betting behaviour, and to recognise weak spots and strengths.

Mark Coton, a UK professional, talks of this very point in his bestselling book One Hundred Hints For Better Betting.

He explains how he began to analyse his own betting. He compiled a list of mistakes made, faults exposed and opportunities missed. The list, he says, began to extend so far that he realised there was enough material in them for a book!

One way to start yourself thinking seriously is to do what I do: I place a lot of money (around $500) on my kitchen table. I make sure it is in $20 and $50 notes. I put each note next to another across the table.

And then I ask myself: "How am I going to play this money?" It is a simple question and yet it reaches right to the heart of what betting is all about. The risking of money.

By placing the money in all its coloured glory in front of me I teach myself the VALUE of that money. I can see it. I can touch it. It makes me think about it, and how valuable it can be. It also makes me realise that I have to have a sense of responsibility about the manner in which I bet it.

There has to be a decision-making process that makes you feel composed and confident about betting the money. When you have this feeling you give yourself a chance to make a right decision.

With the $500 in front of me, and my betting experiences as 'research', I have then to decide HOW to bet it. Where have I gone wrong in the last year? Which type of betting worked for me - and why? Which betting approach didn't work - and why?

Did I fare better on Sydney, or perhaps it was Melbourne? How did I bet? Did my win bets show a better profit than my doubles betting? How about percentage return on turnover? Which staking did the best?

I divide the $500 into 10 lots of $50. Then I ask myself: If I bet $50 level Stakes on 10 horses would I come out much richer by the final bet? Would I be better off playing 20 bets of $25, or even 50 bets of $10? This is the time to check my betting from the last year or two.

Let's look at a theoretical example: I call up my betting spreadsheet on my computer and I click on to the 'win bets'. I see that I invested just over $15,000 on win bets in the 1995-96 season, and I had a return of $18,300. That's a profit of $3300, or around 18 per cent on turnover. Not bad but below what I had wanted (25 per cent).

So the $500 in front of me could be turned into $590 if I could maintain the profit level of the past season. Seeing it like that isn't so inspiring, is it? All that money outlaid to win 90 bucks.

So maybe, I tell myself, I should think again. Could I, perhaps, trim my bets down? How could I have cut out some of the losers? Should I apply a price limit - nothing under 6/4, nothing over 10s, something like that?

Maybe I need to maximise the win betting by linking some of the selections in all-up pairings? If I have $50 on a horse and it wins, I pocket half the return and then 'all up' the rest on the next selection, whether it's on the same day or the next, or whatever?

One all-up could return me a lot of money. Say I have $50 on a 3/1 winner. That gives me a $200 return. I pocket half and then swing the other $100 onto the next selection, or even a selection at a later date perhaps (whatever I feel comfortable with).

That means the next selection will have $150 going on to it - the normal $50 plus the $100 'all up'. If it wins at 3/1, I get a return on that 'all up' bet of $400. That means I have turned an initial $25 bet into $400, odds of 15/1 for the all-up double.

So, these two horses would normally have returned me $400 for two $50 win bets. But because I went for the 'all-up' approach, they have returned me the following:

Horse A: $25 win (return $100).
Horse A-B: $25 all-up (return $400)
Horse B: $50 win (return $200).

Total stake: $100. Total Return: $700. Profit: $600.

I have doubled the profit I would have made had I backed the pair separately.

So I know that this is an area I can look at. I won't link all the selections in 'all ups' but it might pay me to selectively make a few of those bets in order to give a fillip to my overall profits. I know, by looking at that $500 worth of banknotes, I need to invest carefully, that I can make only a few bad mistakes. I must do my homework.

In his book, Mark Coton quotes a professional as follows: "Right, so you've done your homework. Then you consider the price you are likely to get and the amount you wish to stake. People forget that betting involves three important processes - the evaluation of form, the evaluation of price, and the staking.

"If you are on top of the game you will have a firm idea in your mind how much you will stake on your favoured horse at a given price."

In a nutshell, that's what betting IS all about it, isn't it? When that $500 is invested, you have to try to ensure that you obtain a better price than the horse's estimated 'true' odds. If your true odds are accurate, then over a period of time, with a certain strike rate, you will win money.

Keep in mind the following key points, as advocated by Mark Coton and other successful bettors around the world:

  • Set aside a betting bank: It's the first step for a disciplined and organised betting approach.
  • Set realistic profit targets: These should be sensibly related to the size of your betting bank. Earlier, that theoretical $500 bank was talked about in terms of $50 bets at level stakes - but perhaps that's just too high a percentage of the bank. What about 5%?
  • Establish a consistent routine for form study: Don't bet on those days when you haven't properly examined the form.
  • Narrow down the number of races you study: No serious punter will want to bet every day on huge numbers of races.
  • Study each horse objectively: Don't make the mistake of missing looking at some of the lesser-lights because now and then they will win.

Finally, something to think about from US expert Frank Cotolo:

  • Do not bet the same amount in every race you play.
  • Do not bet to place every time you make a win bet.
  • Do not bet 10 per cent of your bankroll on any race.
  • Do not attempt to bet on every race.

There you are, then, factors and angles to make you think more deeply about your betting. Remember, in the end it is YOU who will make the final decisions, no matter what the information.

By Denton Jardine