One of the most discussed aspects of betting in recent years has been the value of making your own betting line. It's something that the writers in PPM have debated many times.

US expert Steve Fierro has won acclaim in the past couple of years for his treatment of the subject in his best-selling book The Four Quarters of Horse Investing. The "second quarter" of Fierro's approach is called "Attach value to my contenders".

He writes: "True value is the function of attaching your own fair odds to your contenders. These fair odds are based on the insights and opinions you foster for each of your contenders in any given race.

"When the value concept was introduced a couple of decades ago you would have thought someone had resurrected some evil racing demon. The naysayers were quick to point out that a winner is a winner is a winner.

"They always followed with something like: You had the horse on top, how could you not play him?

"The handicapper that is involved in attaching value to their contenders is playing horses for profit. They know with an accurate betting line and copious records, they may have lost the last battle, but the war is theirs, now and forever.

"Value is the one item in racing that will not fall out of vogue because it is ever present."

Fierro makes an important point when he says that "your number of winners is not as important as the money in your wallet".

He adds: "If your line is good and you keep records (you must), then you will treat a day at the races more like a day at the stock market. I will mention this over and over again, since it has to sink in."

Fierro regards "contender selection" as 25 per cent of a punter's horse-investing process (one of his four quarters). He goes on to express his surprise at the number of bettors who simply think very little of the betting line aspect of their whole approach to racing.

He writes: "It is absolutely amazing to me that the betting line portion of the handicapping process does not exist for 97 per cent of the everyday horseplayers. I am talking about players who put serious money through the windows . . . The majority of players only want to zero in on a single horse that winds up the answer to the ever so popular 'who do ya like?'

"When you cross the plateau of playing the game for profit instead of for winners, the more important question is, 'who is the value?'. Who do you like then has a number of answers instead of only one: 'I like the one horse at 3 / 1 or higher but I will take a shot with the four if he's 6 /1 or better.'

"You may laugh now, but when you give this very logical answer to the question you were asked, you will immediately be re-asked, 'No, no, no, I want to know what do you like?' The name of the game is to become truly decision oriented, not selection oriented."

Fierro goes into some detail about what constitutes a betting line. He puts it this way: "A betting line is your personal, subjective look at a race from a purely financial standpoint. It attaches what you feel is a fair price to every contender you have in any given race.

"The subjectivity of a betting line is the source of many differing opinions come race time. It is also the source of much antagonism on the part of those that treat subjectivity in racing like some type of black magic. Let's just say if you've handicapped a race and the fruits of the handicapping process have left you with four contenders, you've decided that any of the four can win. After all, they are your contenders to win the race. So why does the top choice have to be the automatic play?

"They are all contenders, so they all have some sort of percentage / chance to win the race. The betting line process attaches this percentage/odds value to your contender selection process. This number (odds amount) is the final separator when it comes time to put the money down.

"The betting line is your own personal stock quote, if you will. The contender selection process is your prospectus."

A most interesting part of the book is where Fierro looks at the actual tactics required in getting value from your betting line. He has compiled templates for races with three and four contenders.

He explains: "These two templates will represent all but a few races that you will be involved in. You will have a rare occasion when there are only two logical contenders but these are few and far between.

"By the time you get to a race with only two contenders you will have an excellent knowledge base on how to construct a betting line, so these two-contender races will not be a problem."

Fierro says the odds percentage table is a "must" when drawing up a betting line, and this is pretty obvious because there is a need to deal in percentages when you are assessing your prices.

He concedes that many punters find it hard to cope with percentages because they are so used to thinking only in actual odds, like 2/1, 7/2, 4/1 and so on. Ask them to translate those prices into percentages and they wouldn't have a clue.

Fierro writes: "This is where the base problem occurs. Percentages to horseplayers are like the metric system is to Americans. The average everyday horseplayer is used to dealing with the hard odds numbers. Regardless of the fact that this odds number is a percentage, an odds number is something that is universal and familiar . . .

Horseplayers feel uneasy with 33 per cent but if you say 2/1 then that uneasiness disappears. It is gone. A player can relate to 2/1. They cannot relate to 33 per cent."

Fierro's process regarding the betting line takes you directly to the odds. Thus the templates.

He says: "These templates provide a simple and effective tool. What makes these templates easy to use is they are odds based, not percentage based. Don't get me wrong, though, percentages have been used to create them."

What Fierro has done, of course, is to set up basic price line scenarios, so the average punter can decide on the price of his top selection and then easily move to price the other contenders.

For example, if you price your top contender at 3/2 (or 6/4), then Fierro's template offers you three different scenarios. If you price your second contender at 3/1, then your third contender has to be 6/1, making a 79 per cent market.

If your top contender is 6/4 and your second contender 7/2, then your third contender will be at 9/2 for an 80 per cent market. Finally, with a 6/4 top selection and a 4/1 second contender, then the third contender is priced at 4/1 as well for an 80 per cent market.

With a four-contender template, you might price your top selection at 5/2 and your second contender at 3/1. The template then tells you that the third and fourth contenders should be priced at 6/1 each for an 81 per cent market.

For punters who find it difficult to come to terms with the pricing aspect of a betting line, Fierro's templates will be a great help.


The Four Quarters of Horse Investing by Steve Fierro, available from Today's Racing Digest LLC, 5411 Avenida Encinas, Carlsbad, CA 92008, USA, or via the website at

By Jon Hudson