My father, a throwback from the Victorian age, was often given to uttering platitudes as though he had just invented them. When my interest in dog-paddling across the treacherous English channel had developed into an obsession he suddenly announced: "Get yourself down to the public library and state quite clearly what your requirements are, because someone will have been conceited enough to have written a book about the very subject in which you are interested."

Sure enough, he was right.

Immediately after spotting a second-hand copy on a bric-a-brac stall of Come Fly With The Butterfly (subtitled The Ten Secrets of Successful Betting), my father's words came back to haunt me. This, I decided, would be just another dreary account of how the writer had overcome what had previously seemed to be insurmountable odds to the rest of mankind and had sallied forth before miraculously slaying the ill-tempered dragon of life itself.

Providentially, the potted biography, which so often appears on the reverse side of paper-backs, kindled my interest to learn more about the author, the legendary John Mort Green who, as a boy, had aspired to be a veterinary surgeon.

However, poor examination results had forced an abandonment of this ambition, so the boy's father is said to have declared: "You are too frightened to be a thief, and too tall to sell newspapers, so I will have to get you a job in the racing game."

After a mere half dozen years spent working his way up through the bookmaking ranks, John, at the tender age of 21, took out his own bookmaker's licence. Ten years later he took the opposite course of action and became a professional gambler.

Then, in 1963, when well in front of the Australian bookies, he decided to go to the United Kingdom and have a cut at the English fraternity of those who calculate the odds.

Having only thumbed through the book, I was delighted to see that no reference was made anywhere to another person having "helped" in the preparation of the manuscript. This, then, was the authentic version of (as the brief back-page write-up suggested) "a great character, fun and lady loving, and interesting and erudite into the bargain".

Here, I concluded, was a Don Quixote character to whom I could warm instantly.

Another point in favour of the book, one that appealed to me on a purely personal level, was that in the first chapter (entitled My Advice), the author had taken great pains to give at some length his Ten Commandments.

By following these words of wisdom, he assures us all that we could "enjoy the sweet life" of the successful gambler.

Then, finally, in condensed form and under the heading Summary, these Ten Commandments are repeated, but phrased in an entirely different and more phlegmatic tone.

Now as a young, still-wet-behind-the-ears, freelance journalist, the first editor I had ever served gave me what I have many times considered to be exceptionally sound advice for the would-be racing analyst: "If the article is meant to have a far-reaching effect, state what are the salient points that are being covered. Follow this with the froth of the idea, always being sure to end, though, by hammering home the points you started with but in a more serious format. Do it that way and you might just get the points over to a few readers."

That was a very long time ago, but it is something I have never forgotten. Often, when I have finished a particularly hard-hitting piece, I have remembered those words. On more than one occasion, I have even confined the article to the waste-paper basket and rewritten it in accordance with the formula laid down so explicitly by thee editor of a lowly provincial newspaper in the year dot.

Having satisfied myself that "The Butterfly" knew what he was doing by adopting the repeat policy, I handed over the asking price, scurried home, retired to my office with a large mug of coffee and devoured the book in one

First written in 1969, it contains many references to the past. Consequently, parts of it may be looked upon as being particularly dated. However, when those discussed include jockeys such as Geoff Lewis, Jimmy Lindley, Joe Mercer and the incomparable Lester Piggott (not to mention the down under brigade of Scobie Breasley, Ron Hutchinson, Russ Maddock, David Maitland and Bill Williamson), along with trainers such as Bernard Van Cutsem, John Dunlop, Dick Hern, Noel Murless, Paddy Prendergast, Ryan Price, Sir Gordon Richards, George Todd and Harry Wragg, these reminiscences can prove to be highly pleasurable as well as extremely informative from a historical point of view.

Throughout the book I was reminded on numerous occasions that John Mort Green has a very high opinion of himself. To quote: "I have talked about myself at some length, not only because I find it an interesting subject, but also so that you can appreciate the kind of make-up necessary for a man to become a successful professional punter."

This type of conceit I do not take offence at, because the writer proves his point many times over. The brand of conceit I cannot tolerate is the lukewarm type, or that which originates from only partial, or fortuitous, success.

Stressed in the publisher's introduction is the fact that the book has been presented as it was written, "by an absolute maestro" and, in their opinion, as a classic it should remain unaltered. No-one but the man who had experienced some of the quite hilarious situations he found himself in could possibly have told the stories so convincingly. You can always spot a ghost-writer, even on a foggy day!

Liberally littered with gems of humour that took me back to my first reading of certain passages from Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men In A Boat, it is both highly comical in parts and an exceptionally serious read in others especially for anyone who happens to be seeking even part solutions to cure his betting ills.

Arguably, it may even be more true today than it has ever been to say that the advice contained in this slender book of only 127 pages cannot be bettered. The words of John Mort Green - of whom Richard Onslow wrote in Volume 2 of Great Racing Gambles And Frauds, that he was "Without doubt the best professional gambler on horses in the world today" - are as pertinent now, in the vast majority of instances, as when they were first uttered. This is a book which educates as well as it entertains, and does both with admirable self-assurance.

Nevertheless, it would be unforgivably remiss of me to end this article without giving you a glimpse of the Ten Golden Rules. Some of them will be well known to you, but others may come as a none too gentle reminder of where you may have been going wrong in the past. It all depends on whether you are prepared to admit certain things to yourself!

The rules are reproduced below exactly as they appear in the Summary that has already received a mention:

  1. Never be greedy.
  2. Never look at anything other than the best class horses, trainers and jockeys.
  3. Forget those dreams of 100/1 winners and be content with horses in strong demand in the market.
  4. Stop as soon as you are showing a profit on the day.
  5. Back unpopular riders on the tote.
  6. Watch for eleventh-hour riding changes.
  7. Follow money from big betting stables.
  8. Learn to think the same way as trainers and jockeys.
  9. Always get value by trying to beat the book.
  10. Never lose confidence because you have lost everything-else.

For a distinct change, I have no intention of discussing now the significance of each one of the points made in relation to present-day circumstances. This I will reserve for the second part of this feature, because I am not only going to concern myself then with the application of these rules to the situation that currently exists, but I am also intent upon examining in depth much of the psychology behind the words of this unusually gifted author.

Compiling racing articles (and in particular those that deal exclusively with betting) constitutes a singular, and peculiarly limiting, form of writing. There are only so many words that can be used in pursuit of winners, or winning methods. It is not like sallying forth to write a novel where, however many millions of verbs and adjectives that there are, you can employ any, or all, of them as the fancy happens to take you.

Obviously, John Mort Green excelled at English language like he did at so many other things. Therefore, what was a loss to the veterinary profession, was an acquisition to the world of intelligent racing writers.

Two characteristics stand out head and shoulders above the rest of the trappings that concern this man, and they are his flamboyant lifestyle and his hugely successful career. Those outstanding features can best be summed-up by one word, and that word is none other than my most favoured word noun when it comes to all racing and betting matters.

That noun is QUALITY and it has been shown clearly in every facet of John Mort Green's existence and in everything for which this betting colossus has always proudly, if sometimes overconfidently, stood.

PS: Never did manage to swim the channel after all!

Click here to read Part 2.

By Philip Alexander