Some eight years ago I wrote an article in PPM which drew attention to the fact that it might not be so important where a horse finished at its last start when it comes to the punting side of things.

The thrust of this article was that you are more likely to make money backing horses that ran, say, 7th or 8th last start than by backing horses that won or ran placings at their last start.

The reason is that the well performed horses are usually overbet and the prices are skinny; in contrast, horses with a bad form figure last start are likely to be underbet and be at prices good enough to ensure a profit over a long period.

I wrote in the November 1992 article: "You hear a lot of wails and howls of anguish and regret on a racecourse. Especially so when a horse wins that at its last start appeared to do very little; in fact, a horse which finished in the middle of the field.

"On closer inspection, many of these winners did actually possess the credentials to win the race. Sadly, before the race their credentials looked, on the surface anyway, to be slightly suspect.

"Horses which finish midfield should not be casually disregarded when next they start. In many instances, horses finishing 7th and 5th do just as well next time out as those horses which ran 2nd and 3rd last start, and at better prices, too."

I then went on to give a few examples. At a Flemington meeting, 2nd and 3rd placegetters last start returned a profit of 14.50 units, while horses that ran 7th and 5th returned a profit of 13.75 units, The profit for the 7th and 5th placegetters was 125 per cent on turnover against 120 per cent for the 2nd and 3rd placers.

A second test, at Caulfield, showed 2nd and 3rd placegetters returning zero from 11 starters, while 7th and 8th horses returned 2.75 from 11 starters. A third test, at Flemington, showed a return of 6.75 from 15 runners for 2nd and 3rd placers, and a return of 9 from 15 runners for 7th and 8th horses.

A fourth test, at Eagle Farm, showed 12 runners for 2nd and 3rd placers for a return of 17.75 units, while the 7th and 8th horses had 12 runners for a return of 26. One horse that ran 7th last start came out and won at 25/1.

In a final wrap-up, horses that ran 211d and 7th last start returned profits, while 3rds and 8ths posted small losses.

Together, the 211ds and 3rds showed a I unit profit but the 7ths and 8ths showed a 13.5 units profit!

I was reminded of this article recently when reading a new book I from America called C & O's Greatest Hits, by Mark Cramer and Bill Olmsted. It's a collection of articles I from their much-acclaimed Cramer Olmsted Report, a newsletter that became something of a bible for punters in its five-year life span.

One of the articles featured in the book is headlined 'Finish Position: A True Story' and it's written by Mark Cramer. The general tone of the article goes very much along the lines of my article from 1992, in that Cramer says that as punters we have to discover 'flat bet profit situations' and he goes on to explain various aspects of statistical evidence, coincidental correlations, etc.

He writes: "What follows is a massive research project on the meaning of finish position. For some of us, this study will shatter a myth or two. For others, it will validate what we assumed but were not able to make part of our objective analysis. Either way, it will provide a sober view of reality that will serve as a percentage-based foundation for realistic decision making at the track."

Cramer's belief is that if a punter knows 'the truth about finish position percentages' it may help to dismantle what he calls the 'negative psychological baggage' that intervenes surreptitiously in betting decisions.

Know what he means? Have you ever had the situation where you fancy a horse but you talk yourself out of it because of a deep-seated psychological reaction to its last start out-of-a-place finish position? I know I've been in that situation many times, and sometimes it has cost me a great winner.

Cramer poses the question: "Is finish position a legitimate handicapping factor?"

He says: "Following a few objective adjustments, we have a finished research project. On its surface, it would appear that finish position is indeed a valid indicator of win probability.

"A 2nd place finish in t-he last race had clearly the best hit rate, with lower finishes earning a lower hit rate in descending order that would give unkinky handicappers the right to tell us, 'I told ya so!'."

Cramer's figures show that last-start winners with a class rise have a 17 per cent strike rate, last-start winners in same class or dropping in class have a strike rate of 20 per cent, last start 2nds have a 21 per cent strike rate while 3rds have a 16 per cent strike rate.

But, he then points out the reality of the situation from the point of view of betting. There was a loss backing ill horses in the various areas, but the LOWEST percentage of loss came from the horses who ran 5th and worse last start!

Says Cramer: "So overbet by the public is finish position that higher win percentages have lower returns on investment. To put this another way, if you were to bet all horses that finished 7th or worse in their last race, you would lose 12 cents in the dollar while if you bet all horses that finished 2nd last start you would lose 21 cents in the dollar."

Cramer's conclusions fall into eight areas. I won't list them all but the most interesting seem to be the following:

(1) It is more feasible, financially, to search out redeeming characteristics for horses that finished in the back of the pack, than to eliminate non-redeeming characteristics for horses that finished close up.

In other words, horses that finished 5th or worse in their previous race have an average mutuel (tote dividend) that more than compensates for their lower bit rate. This is true, in part, because the betting public has a psychological aversion against horses that did not finish close-up in their last race.

(2) Finish position is NOT a primary factor in handicapping because it is over-emphasised by the public.

(3) Those of us who previously suspected that finish position is an insignificant factor may now handicap freely without our subconscious intervening to tell us that finish position is important.

Cramer goes on to make a highly interesting and pertinent statement about racing handicapping and punters. He writes: "The best horse race handicappers are the ones who are able to deal with contradiction. The theocracy we live in maintains its control over us with simplistic, one-dimensional slogans. They have no idea that the truth is made up of contradictions."

What Cramer discovered in his testing of thousands of races in the USA can more or less be assumed to be much the same here in Australia. I've found in the past that racing patterns and stats tend to be similar all around the world.

A glance at any formguide after a day's racing will usually clearly show that the winners who were UNPLACED last start will always return VERY GOOD dividends.

At random, I picked out one of my recent Best Bets magazines in which I mark off all the results, and jot down my thoughts on each runner in every race.

The first race at Caulfield went to a horse than ran 9th last start, the third race was won by a horse who was 15th last start, race 6 went to a horse that was 5th last start, as was the winner of race 7, and the eighth was won by a horse that ran 9th last start.

Five races from eight, then, won by horses unplaced at their last starts. Their winning prices were 13/4, 25/1, 6/1, 13/4 and 8/1. You can very quickly see what Cramer was talking about, and that is the VALUE of such winners to punters.

There are many more insights into various angles in betting in the Cramer-Olmsted book. Although they play the US tracks, and naturally concentrate their attention or racing over there, a lot of what they write about is 'universal' and can be picked up on by astute punters anywhere.

Cramer's reputation in America has been built on his anti-traditional handicapping approach. He calls himself a 'kinky handicapper' or a devotee of 'guerrilla handicapping'. That is, he goes against the betting crowd.

Cramer sees no financial future in following the herd and backing favourites. His life is devoted to seeking out the quirky angles that might give him an edge, no matter how small, over the crowd.

A 'quirk' like the 'unplaced horses to winners' syndrome is just one example of the type of angle he searches out, sometimes by intuition and other times by detailed research.

In an article headlined 'The Nature of an Erotic Obsession', Cramer writes of those punters who make the same mistakes and keep coming back for more of the same.

Cramer writes: "In fiction, there is a prevailing theme of the lover /husband/ suitor who is mistreated by the mate of the opposite sex but keeps coming back for more.

"This man or woman, obsessed with a love affair, will defy all logic and go back for more punishment, We all have a friend or two who is in this predicament. Marve tells me, 'I'm gonna dump her, I can't take it anymore' but he doesn't fulfil this commitment to himself and returns for more abuse.

"In other words, this motif from literature is prevalent in reality. The abused lover can intellectualise both problem and solution, but when called on to act upon what he knows, he can't do it.

"I relate all this to a certain class of horse bettor. Until now, horseplayers have been divided into two classes: (a) degenerates and (b) smart investors.

"But there is a third prototype which crosses the line between them. This is the smart handicapper who is so obsessed with betting that he cavorts with many races that he shouldn't touch, and hands over hard-earned money to other more disciplined bettors via the mutuel (tote) machines."

40 C & O's GREATEST HITS by Mark Cramer and Bill Olmsted, published by TBS Publishing, P.O. Box 6283, Annapolis, MD 21401, USA.

By Brian Blackwell