And now, as they say, for something completely different. This month I’m interviewing William Mack, who is more than 80 years old and has been watching more Melbourne Cups than he cares to remember, going back into the late 1950s.

The Optimist (TO): William, the question everybody will be dying to ask is whether you back the winners.

William Mack (WM): Well, I’ve managed to find some winners over the years, enough to keep me going and to keep my confidence high enough about the big race.

I suppose the worst result I ever had was 1997, when everybody praised the win of Might and Power. To be honest, having backed Doriemus at really good odds, and I might also add, being very near the winning post and believing, along with Greg Hall, that we had won the race, I was very disappointed. But probably more so, I was disappointed by the reaction of the press, and for the last 10 years I’ve had to read about this incredible champion Might and Power, whereas the horse which gave him 1kg, the horse which had won the race two years before and had such a wonderful record, was very quickly forgotten in all the nonsense they wrote.

What really got to me was that whatever they claimed for Might and Power, be it for the Caulfield Cup or the Melbourne Cup, Doriemus had already done it and he was a whisker from doing it again. To some extent I’ve always acknowledged that this was talking through my pocket, but that’s what punters do.

TO: Best win?

WM: There’s been a few that I thoroughly enjoyed, but probably the best was Light Fingers in 1965. You know, she was another one that came back and almost repeated the dose in 1966, giving two pounds to Galilee, another one that the press maintains is an all-time great. I actually managed to back her at 25/1 in 1965, and it’s very interesting to take on board the fact that my most exhilarating result and my most irritating result were still, I think, the two closest results in the history of the Cup.

TO: Biggest win?

WM: Oh without doubt my biggest success on a single bet was Makybe Diva in her first win. You were largely responsible for this, as you pinpointed her for me in the previous spring, and like you, I hunted around and I got 50/1 pre-post. I’m not a big investor, but I am a very selective one and I don’t mess around with $2 and $5 single bets, I wait for the ones I really think will win or the ones I really think are anomalies, and I will put all my eggs in one basket at various levels. I had $50 on Makybe Diva, which is my maximum bet, and that provided me with a potential fifty more maximum bets.

TO: I recall when we were chatting before you told me that you have a rather unusual approach to your bank and I think you’ve just alluded to it above, haven’t you?

WM: Yes that’s true, I operate five different banks and four of them represent different extents or different degrees of confidence and my considerations of value about single selections. I know your next question before you even ask it, so here’s the answer.

TO: Think you’re clever, don’t you?

WM: Oh we’ve known each other for a long time, and I can read it all over your face. You’re going to ask me how I assess value and how it can possibly apply to a race like the Melbourne Cup, which can only be regarded most years as a lucky dip. Right?

TO: Well, half right. As you say, we’ve known each other for a long time, and sure, please answer that for my readers, but I was just as interested in the fact that you do have a bet every year, sometimes two or three, in a race which doesn’t really tie in with what I know of your basic principles of betting. I mean, there are lots of imponderables that you just can’t get rid of in this race. I accept them but I recognise that something can knock me out when really I’ve got everything right except for the winner!

WM: And I couldn’t agree with you more. It is indeed a lucky dip, though, and the way I compensate for that is to seek nothing but the quality horses. If you take Makybe Diva as an example, it was pretty obvious what the original trainer was doing in her four-year-old season. He was one of the most patient men to ever throw a bridle over a horse, and it paid off big time. Nobody was more surprised than I was when he pulled up stumps and Lee Freedman took the horse over, to end up with all the glory and praise. People just forgot that David Hall trained her for her first Melbourne Cup win, after she won again in 2004 and 2005. Anyway I’m wandering a bit, but at my age that’s permitted.

The value for me is in finding a horse which is a quality horse and has already won something of significance. Makybe Diva qualified, and anybody who saw her win that minor cup in the spring of 2002 had to wonder just how good she was and how far she would go. You certainly did, and when you alerted me, I did too. Sometimes, class will triumph.

My five banks, to get back to the question you actually asked me, are based on different monetary investment levels and levels of risk. I set aside $10,000 for the year, but I started many years ago, 1956 I think, with £500 and worked my way up. The £500 translates as $1,000 after 1966, and it is now 10 times that. I withdraw 50 per cent of all my profits at the end of every year and let the rest slip into a reserve. It’s very healthy for the grand kids right now. However, just jumping ahead for a minute, I never let myself go beyond the 50 bets per bank, per year, level.

I’ve developed this staking plan to suit myself, my pocket, and my personality along with, I suppose, what we all call the comfort zone. I bet my maximum $50 from my bank of $2,500, created at the beginning of each year. I don’t follow the racing seasons, I just go through from January to December. It suits me better.

My next level of bank is $40, with the bank of $2,000 again for the calendar year. Any bank that busts is out for the year. None ever has, but there are numerous occasions where I haven’t used one bank or the other very much. The third level is $1,500, with bets at $30, the fourth is at $1,000 with the bets at $20, and I know that you know the fifth level, but I think it might surprise some of your readers. What do you reckon?

TO: I have no doubt in the world that it will. But it’s your story and I’m just holding the recorder.

WM: I’m not like our dear old pal Reg Maloney. I remember he didn’t have to have a bet for weeks and weeks, but I can’t do that and to be quite honest, I come to the races for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and that includes trying to make a bit of money!

I allocate, well, did you do your counting? So far, unless I’ve been getting it wrong all these years, we’re looking at $7,000 for the four banks. Over more than 40 years, as I’ve developed these ideas, I’ve been able to average between one and four, and one in five winners for each of my levels, and this has meant that I never, ever bet below what the bookies now post as $5.

That’s my bottom line, the odds at which I regard myself as cutting even. I suppose it should be “breaking even” shouldn’t it? Anything below 4/1 means that, at level stakes, if I crack 20 per cent winners for that particular bank, I will have a losing year at that level. I know that’s an arbitrary way of looking at it, but it’s also part of my comfort zone and you know what? It represents a challenge, because I like the idea that if I’ve picked 5/1 or a 6/1 winner, then I got it right and the bookies got it wrong! If I back a favourite, or something at a really short price, where’s the thrill?

My final bank is again at $2,000 and the staking is $10. As you can see, I’ve got 200 bets, as much as I’ll ever need for the whole year for everything that I’m tempted by or want to have a fling at. It’s not everybody’s way but it’s my way. The bank that I’m just referring to now is something I regard as outside the normal bank situation, where I’m restricted to 50 bets per bank. I’m sure your readers would have worked out that I was looking at $7,000 – did I mention that? – and the other $2,000 is my pleasure money from which I allocate $40 a week to do whatever I like with.

I realised a long time ago that there was a gambler in me, screaming to get out, and that if I didn’t give him some room he might well wreck all my carefully-laid plans. So I gave him the room but I kept the books on him just like on everything else, but I also allocated him a job: win my dear wife and me enough for a decent holiday every year.

TO: And it worked like a charm!

WM: I’ve managed to hit 277 significant multiples in a bit over 40 years. That’s not impossible when you know your racing thoroughly and you concentrate on the area you know best. When the trifectas came in, I was on cloud nine, but before that I mainly used my own version of the overseas Yankee bet, reinvesting after each race which you had to do then. I concentrated for years on the race-by-race doubles, and I turned them into trebles and quadrellas of my own, simply by sitting down and doing the maths after each race. I loved it and, on average about five times a year, I really hit big-time.

The gambler in me still does this, and in an eight-horse program I have adapted something that I learnt on a trip to England a few years ago to suit myself. It’s called the Goliath and I’ll tell you what, on the days where I get two or three winners up by the fifth race, I can feel the old ticker really whacking away!

TO: Bet you can, Bill. Thanks so much and I’ll catch you next Saturday.

By The Optimist