Robert Saunders Dowst is regarded as we of the worlds leading  racing experts. He is legendary for his books about in-depth handicapping and money management his theories  being formulated in the 1930s and refined through to the 1950s. Dowst died in 1959. In this article Martin Dowling conducts an 'imaginary' interview with Dowst using his written material as resource references.

MARTIN DOWLING (MD): Mr Dowst, you spent many years making selections on tens of thousands of races - are there any quick methods you can recommend?

DOWST. There are many such methods, but none is entirely satisfactory. Some players may think it handicapping to add the last three finish positions of a horse and then divide this total by three. Under this method, the horse with the lowest quotient is considered best, and to be the theoretical winner.

The major failing of such a shortcut is that it will not work. Almost all such non-inclusive figures are practically unsound because too many really vital factors are eliminated from consideration.

MD: What about ratings? In your time, were there ratings men around?

DOWST- Sure. But the ratings figures themselves often attempt to measure differences in ability far too narrow to be made the basis of a sound bet. There may be only a difference of 1.72 per cent and a less than 2 per cent edge is not a sound basis for seeking out overlays.

A horse race is not a mere mathematical exercise - rather it's a furious contest between horses bred to run and run fast, and unless some one horse stands out in the figures by a reasonable margin over the others, then a bettor can have no assurance that hair-splitting between runners will not be grossly offset by the accidents of the race!

MD: What's one good rule to overcome this?

DOWST. A major purpose of good selection is to avoid the high percentage of races in which contention is so close that there can be no logical single choice.

The factors that make a horse stand out in the minds of the newspaper tipsters and the public are no guarantee that a short payoff is insurance against a favourite losing the race. After all, the public is wrong two-thirds of the time about favourites.

MD: Can a punter make a profit?

DOWST. To avoid loss in betting the horses is a small triumph in itself. I think punters should remember that horses widely chosen by newspaper selectors, and sent out favourites or near favourites, will pay poor odds.

When a good horse is overlooked by the newspaper tipsters then in 20 to 25 per cent of cases it will win and pay from 5/1 upwards.

MD: If you are figuring any race, whether by ratings or just analysis, what's one of the first things to consider?

DOWST. The intrinsic class of each horse. The most certain guide is the class of company each runner has been running against.

I use a ratings pattern to obtain a class consistency rating by dividing the number of starts by number of wins (strike rate percentage). Rating One is for those with 70% or more wins, Rating Two for those with win strikes between 40% and 70%, Rating Three for between 20% and 40% and Rating Four for below 20% consistency. But you also have to consider other factors.

For class, Rating One is for open and welter handicappers and weight-for-age horses, Rating Two is for those midweek open and welter horses, and Rating Three is for the rest. Then you must throw in a further consistency factor by looking at win and place rates combined, on the same percentage scale as win only. So figures for winning consistency and in-the-money consistency are rated twice on a scale of 1 to 4, while there is the single 1 to 3 scale for class.

MD: Any other factors to be considered?

DOWST. Weight is important. On a scale of 1 to 3, the bettor has to decide if a horse is advantaged at the weights (Rating One), has no advantage (Rating Two) or is disadvantaged (Rating Three).

MD: I suppose current form then comes into consideration?

DOWST - Yes. A horse whose recent race indicates he is able to run the distance well against horses of his own class receives a Rating One. A horse whose recent form shows his condition to be questionable, or a horse who has not raced recently, gets a Rating Two.

MD: What's the process from that point?

DOWST - Each of the five factors are added. Punters must try the idea for themselves. I am concerned to point out how relatively precise and definite a picture of each horse is presented by them. A player who uses these figures will speedily gain solid ideas of what class and racing performance really are.

MD: Is the best rated horse the obvious selection?

DOWST - No horse should be bet unless its recent racing record indicates it is in condition to display the full measure of its ability. So keep recent form and consistency in mind.

MD: What do the newspaper tipsters do for the public then?

DOWST - The answer is short and sweet. Nothing, except to lead into loss. Once in a while a selector will manage to make a small profit on best bets, but these will be microscopic. If they do make a profit one year, they will not repeat it the next. On whole-card selections the tipsters are entirely and always unsuccessful, all of them. Any one of them might pick from 25 to 33 per cent winners but the average price secured is never sufficient to result in a profit.

MD: Why is the position so poor?

DOWST - The tipsters fail in picking whole cards simply because of the high number of close and therefore unpickable races. To that extent, that's their alibi!

MD: What's your advice for success then? Is it really possible?

DOWST. Any betting operation which aims at a planned profit, and not merely wishful expectancy, should involve a strategy to make a series of bets over an extended period, say 6 months, or a year.

These bets should involve horses that are well placed in their races, and will return a fair average price. Success or failure depends on the averages. All bets should be on a flat stakes basis until accrued profits have raised the available capital to a point where greater sized bets can be made and maintained through the unavoidable periods  of loss.

With a bank of $200, the bettor can wager in $10 flat bets. When the bank reaches $400 he can bet in $20 flat bets. As for the horse itself, a simple rule is to bet the best horse in the race. Work that one out and you're made!

MD: What advice do you have as far as the mind of a punter is concerned?

DOWST: No man can escape his own mind. He is what he is, and he heads for a lot of grief by betting on horses if he knows little or nothing about them or about betting. The uninformed punter is constitutionally incapable of carrying himself through a bad streak to a better day.

The pro is not shaken to the core when two to 10 bets go down in a line. He knows before he starts to bet that he will lose at least six out of 10 of his wagers and he knows the winners and losers will not fall in any definite pattern. He knows he will encounter an unusual streak of losers once or twice a year but he also knows that these will be overcome by his streaks of winners. He has confidence in himself because in the past he has proven it to himself.

He does not hope his handicapping is good enough to beat the game. He knows it is.

STAKING – The three angles of intelligence.
According to Robert Saunders Dowst there are three levels of intelligence as far as punters are concerned. And they all concern making 20 per cent profit.

He says: " A first-class handicapper should be able to get 20 per cent return over and above his amount wagered every year. This figure can only be realised by straight play (level stakes). It cannot be attained if the bulk of the play is for the place.

"In my view, the bettor has to choose one of three levels of intelligent play. They are as follows:

  • To obtain a 20 per cent profit, get 40% win bets at 2/1.
  • To obtain a 20 per cent profit, get 30% win bets at 3/1.
  • To obtain a 20 per cent profit, get 20% win bets at 5/1.

"There are variations to this but basically this is what you are up against. Forget about place betting; it's too hard. Even a 70 per cent strike rate might not be sufficient to show even a slim profit.

"Of course, it is more difficult to back winners but when a winner is secured the payoff is maximum for the risk. But in the end it all comes down to the man himself. Only a handicapper good enough to have confidence in his own selections can expect to make any money in the long run.

"The poor handicappers, and those who follow the newspaper tipsters, lack confidence. After two or three losers they are likely to dive back into place betting in an attempt to cure their choice of poor selections.

"it doesn't have to be this way. Careful selection of race and horse can provide you with enough winners at the right prices "

By Martin Dowling