Book Review

There's nothing I like better (well, almost nothing) than to sit down at night with a good book to read. I have a wide taste in books, and racing, and associated betting and money management techniques are high on my priorities.

It is hard, though, to secure readable books on racing, especially about our own racing world. There are books on personalities but in the past 10 years or so there have been few indeed which deal with the ins and outs of a betting life.

In many ways, this magazine has filled the gap. Since our inception back in April 1985, we have published millions of words about systems, staking plans, money management and the psychology of betting.

A book publisher once confided to me that PPM had helped to kill off any market for racing books in Australia!

"Why is there a call for any when the punters can get a magazine each month with tens of thousands of words  about what they want to read about," he said. "Half a dozen of your magazines are the equivalent of a few books."

Overseas, especially in the USA and Britain, the book picture is a brighter one for readers. The racing books' industry seems to be thriving. The British punters are great readers and snap up anything that comes onto the market.

I was delighted recently to get a review copy of UK expert David Duncan's new book The Complete Manual of Racing & Betting Systems, published by the Foulsham company.

A very well-produced book of some 224 pages, it relates, of course, to racing in the United Kingdom, but, believe me, there are many worthwhile sections inside to satisfy the curiosity of down under punters.

Duncan is a firm believer in the value of a systematic approach to betting, and on that score I'm in complete agreement. Any punter who can formulate a system, or just a consistent approach to his selection process, stands a far better chance of long-term success than the punter who picks his horses haphazardly and then bets in much the same fashion.

Duncan writes: "If you are honest you will almost certainly admit that you lose in the long run. Most people do and the reason is simple.

"Unlike the bookmaker who bets along methodical, businesslike lines, the average punter stakes haphazardly according to fancy. This is fatal and plays right into the bookmakers' hands."

Duncan urges punters to study the form book or follow systems based on established patterns of form and statistics. No judge of form or no system can pick a winner every time, he says, and even the best methods are unlikely to yield more than a marginal gain on outlay, but this is a lot better than losing.

The book is split into four sections: How To Pick Winners (handicaps -v- non-handicaps, overall form -v- very recent form, weight and class, placed horses and instant handicapping), Racing Systems To Help You Win, Making A Backer's Book, and a Racecourse Guide (to tracks in the UK).

I found the first three sections absorbing. There were enough nuggets of advice and information to make me feel the book would be a worthwhile addition to any keen punter's library.

Like myself, Duncan is a fan of very recent form as opposed to good form from some time back. It just makes good commonsense. A horse's recent form tells you all about what he's up to today; old form tells you what he did yesterday and sometimes many months ago.

The Instant Handicapping section outlines a selection approach that can easily be adapted to Australian, or New Zealand, racing. It comprises well-fancied runners, jockeys, recent form (up to six starts back), and finally the pre-post betting market.

These factors have been used before to compile systems, and with some success, and I'll be surprised if this particular system does not produce some winning statistics in Australia.

There is one rule that is quite novel and which I haven't seen used before.

Duncan has some pertinent points to make about the worth of backing favourites and opposing them.

Duncan undertook a survey of 500 conditions' races on the Flat in the UK, whereby betting forecast favourites were arranged by their odds and the number of winners and losers in each of four price ranges were recorded.

Now I won't give away all the details, except to say that the strike rate for horses quoted at odds-on was 54.8 per cent.

Duncan then comes up with four betting approaches which punters can consider. One is to automatically oppose any horses quoted as favourite at 3/1 or longer in the betting pre-post market.

This last area is one that we will be looking at further in future issues of PPM. It's a most interesting one. Should we back the longer-priced favourites or stick to the shortpriced ones? I know some people will say 'oppose all favourites' and I have to admit there's some logic in this as well!

Duncan gets into full swing when he writes about the 'golden rules' of various aspects of betting, and especially so in relation to staking.

When I first began my career in betting I knew nothing about money management, or bookmakers' odds, and so on, and because of this I was a hopeless punter. This went on for years until I gradually awakened, as so many other punters have done, to the realisation that winning is not just about picking winners, it's about how you back the darned things!

I lost count of the times I trooped off a racetrack penniless despite having backed several winners, only to have too little on them and too much on the losers. Yes, it's an age-old vice that grips too many punters, even today when the availability of advice about such things is better than it has ever been.

I learned to overcome the handicap; I know friends who have never done so and who continue to lose the battle of the bets.

Duncan confronts the problem in his book. There is one formula he comes up with that's called The 5 Golden Rules of Betting in Non-Handicaps. To us, that's races at set weights and weight-for-age.

Any Aussie punter can make use of these rules because they are internationally applicable.

And now we come to a section of the book which contains a staking approach that I have written about before, some years back, in PPM. It's the clever 19 Ways To Win Formula.

Nineteen ways to win? Yes, and with a minimum number of bets, too. I'll just go over the approach (readers who have been with us a long time will probably remember the approach; those who are relatively new to PPM will, I am sure, find it intriguing) and show you how it works.

The idea is to link up one horse from one race with two in another race in singles and eachway doubles. Let's say you select Horse A as a banker in the first race and B and C in the second race. The bet would be written like this:

Race 1: 1 unit win on Horse A.
Race 2: Half-unit win on both B and C.
1 unit eachway double on A and B.
1 unit eachway double on A and C.

For a 6-unit stake, this series of bets gives you 19 chances for a collect (which we have explained before in PPM). Duncan's book takes you through the entire process.

In all, then, David Duncan's book is a thoroughly entertaining read for any punter looking for fresh angles on the age-old problem of picking and backing winners.

Foulsham have also just published a slimmer volume called Racing Systems With The Pocket Calculator written by John White. White is a former UK Magazine Sports Writer of the year and has written articles and columns for publications like the Sporting Life Weekender, Royalty Monthly, the Sunday Telegraph, The Betting Man's Contact and Turf & Track.

As the book's title implies, this is all about systematic betting using a pocket calculator - and very interesting it is, too. White writes: "In its capacity as the 'minder' of the backer, the pocket calculator should not be asked to offer protection against the dangers of operating in the high-risk area that a race with a large field represents.

"Thus, on any racing day, the backer should first discount all races which have more than 10 runners, not just because bookmakers are more likely to offer overall value for money when they are offering odds against a small number of runners. But because any effect the draw may have and the risk of interference in running are both likely to be reduced if a small field faces the starter."

This seems pretty sensible stuff.

The examples of the calculator approach shown in the book all relate to UK race meetings, but any canny Aussie could easily adapt things to make them applicable to racing in this country.

White explains how to programme your calculator to do all that's required to apply various factors and come up with the selections for a race.

He also explains:

  • Which races to choose and which to avoid;
  • Which horses to side with;
  • Which jockeys and trainers to support;
  • Which outsiders to consider and when to bet.

White himself sums it up like this: "Thanks to the pocket calculator, today so widely available and used in a whole host of educational, scientific and commercial applications, the backer (punter) can acquire a minder to ensure that he or she does not, through sheer fickleness and lack of faith in initial form assessments, become his or her own worst enemy and the friend of bookmakers."

Both these books were made available for review by PPM from the High Stakes bookshop in London. The High Stakes website is at and there you can take your pick from hundreds of excellent titles.

  • Racing Systems With The Pocket Calculator costs 6.99 UK pounds, plus postage.
  • The Complete Manual of Racing & Betting Systems costs 10-99 UK pounds, plus postage.

By Brian Blackwell