Nick Mordin is an English racing journalist who decided-in the racing year 1991-92 to test out his betting ideas as a professional punter. He ended up proving that it is possible to make a living from betting. In this article, Alan Jacobs reviews Mordin's best-selling book Betting For A Living, an account of his life as a pro punter.

Many punters dream longingly about giving up their job to become professional punters. For all but a tiny minority, the dream remains just that and punting remains just a recreational pursuit, sometimes a costly one, sometimes a mildly profitable one.

But what would happen if you took the plunge and actually gave yourself a year to see if you could work the miracle? A friend of mind did just that about five years ago. He lasted 18 months before 'self destructing' in a wild orgy of betting during an autumn carnival in Sydney - a carnival when his luck and his judgment deserted him.

When it came to the crunch, my mate failed the ultimate test making it alone as a professional. When nerve was called on to keep going, he discovered he didn't have it.

Nick Mordin, a well-known racing writer in Britain, knows the feeling well. He had to confront his own inner character the year he took to the punt on British racetracks. At the very beginning of his fine book Betting For A Living, he warns readers that horseracing betting takes as much skill and application as the most demanding job you could imagine.

"The hours are long, the risks great and the rewards often meagre," he says. I agree wholeheartedly. Myths grow swiftly on our racetracks and one of the greatest myths is that pro punters make oodles of money each season. hi my experience, this isn't the case. One friend, who has been betting professionally for 20 years, says he is lucky to make 10 per cent on turnover.

This man says he struggles constantly with himself - what he means is that he is as full of doubt and uncertainty as the next man. His success over the years has been in conquering his inner torment! But only, he maintains, to the extent of a living at around the $1,000 a week mark.

Nick Mordin's advice goes something like this for punters who reckon they are smart enough to beat the punt on a full-time basis: "Before you can succeed in this business you will have to do a great deal more than acquire a new set of skills.

"You will also have to overcome some of your strongest prejudices, and confront some of your most personal emotional drives, the hidden parts of your character that you would probably rather not analyse or alter.

"You will need to do this because you will have to behave exactly the opposite way that your logic and your emotions tell you to, and go on behaving that way until you have programmed yourself into a completely new way of thinking. Don't believe that you can do this overnight. It took me more than a decade of betting before I began to do much more than break even."

Mordin's book outlines the 'tools' the would-be professional will need to embark on his betting odyssey. In his case, he kept form cards (all updated by hand!), obtained computerised printouts of results for the previous three years, ensured he subscribed to all the major formguides - and got himself a pair of quality binoculars.

His book goes into some detail about how to study form and how best to invest your money.

Then he gets into the daily journal side of his betting year, starting with a meeting at Royal Ascot in November, 1991.

On the train to the track, he 'earbashed' a hapless pensioner about his proposed good thing for the day - so much so that the pensioner made a desperate bid for freedom as the train reached Ascot station, bursting out of the train door and elbowing his way through the crowd in double-quick time!

His betting bank totalled only 400 pounds (about $A900). His first bet was 60 pounds at 5/4 - and this, he confesses, was his first mistake. The bet was far too high in proportion to his total bank. In fact, he had bet as if he had a bank of 1200 pounds.

His horse won, but Mordin realised he had got lucky. He had bet like an amateur.

He writes: "OK, I could excuse myself betting too much money and I decided I would stick to my 60 pounds minimum now I'd started it but there was absolutely no excuse for taking 5/4 about any horse. Especially when one of the other runners looked likely to have the early lead all to himself. Only an idiot would do that. I decided I'd been over-confident, stupid. I also decided I'd been lucky and I didn't want to bet on that happening again."

Even after this first successful day, Mordin admits his confidence was zapped. He became so worried about being able to pick a winner at a decent price that he got into difficulties trying to analyse the next day's contenders.

"I convinced myself that just about every runner had a chance to win in every race," he writes. "hi an effort to make up for what I felt was my over-dogmatic attitude at Ascot, I had swung much too far the other way."

Mordin's plight should act as a warning. Here he was after only one day as a pro and already he was fighting inner torment! Such was his anguish that he decided a few days' rest was called for. . . after one day.

His journal then details his next forays on the racetracks. Within a couple of weeks, his bank had doubled to more than 830 pounds from only two winning bets.

But more mistakes were coming. For the Lingfield meeting on December 7,1991, he came up with a horse called Ross Venture which he estimated would start about 3/1, a price he was happy to wait the whole day to collar.

The shock came with the arrival of the formguides. Just about every tipster had come up with Ross Venture as well, and the forecast price was even money!

Admits Mordin: "I sulked for a while. I was shocked. All my work had gone to waste. Then I decided to do something completely idiotic. I picked up my form books and my file cards and started to look for a reason to bet against Ross Venture.

"This is one of my worst failings as a backer. I just can't bear the thought of spending hours and hours studying a race only to discover I can't find a bet."

He ended up losing 60 pounds on a 13/2 chance he picked out in another race, and losing another 60 on Mister Feathers, who - of course - ran 2nd to Ross Venture in the final race!

He then set himself for a bet on a horse in a big steeplechase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. It's in this section of the book that Mordin provides some hint of the very ordinary facilities that await racegoers on some British tracks.

He writes: "British racecourses simply don't have the facilities to cope with really big crowds. As a result you can end up tearing your hair out with frustration on Derby Day, King George Day or Grand National Day.

"I hate to say this, but on these rare occasions, it's probably more profitable to stay at home and watch the races on TV. At least you won't end the day starving and thirsty as you must if you attend a big race day (you simply won't have time to get through the huge queues for the available food and drink)."

On the big race that day, the King George VI steeple, Mordin placed straight forecast (quinella) combinations on Docklands Express to beat the three horses he rated the main dangers. He had six 5 pound forecasts in addition to his 30 pounds eachway on Docklands Express.

Alas, Docklands Express finished 2nd at 25/1, run down by one of the dangers. But Mordin pocketed a 791 pounds pickup on the forecast and another 150 pounds from the place on his main bet (one fifth odds in UK for a place).

His betting journey took him to many of Britain's racetracks and there are in-depth analyses of his betting forays, including form charts and the reasons for why he decided on certain horses ahead of others.

The season's betting ended with the famed Grand National meeting at Aintree in April, 1992. Mordin has his own system for selecting the winner of the great race and the rules are published for anyone who cares to follow them.

But, as with many big races, Mordin knew it was very hard trying to pick the winner in one pick. He decided he would bet the straight forecast again, linking his main chances, who were priced at 9/1,14/1,16/1 and 33/1.

He writes: "This meant I would receive a minimum payoff of around 10/1 for the 120 pounds that the 12 necessary forecasts cost me. The only aggravation was learning before the event that Omerta, one of my four picks, was not considered fully fit by his connections.

"This meant I could have safely doubled my stake on the other three horses and doubled my winnings. That's life."

Mordin landed the forecast of 197 pounds for each one pound invested, and the bookies, William Hill, put in a 5 per cent bonus, Mordin collected 2,077 pounds.

"I was ecstatic," he writes. "In my final bet of the season I had pushed my profit for the six months to over 6000 pounds. I had made over 1000 pounds for every month that I had bet. I had proven just what I had set out to prove.

"You could bet for a living."

Mordin's book is full of sensible hints for punters, and although he operates in the United Kingdom the general thrust of what he has to say has as much application to Australian punters as it does to their counterparts in Britain.

You might like to carefully remember one of Mordin's statements in his book. It goes like this: "I hate handing over my money to a bookmaker. So let me be clear on this point - horseracing betting is not an easy way to make money.

"You must work every bit as hard for your money, if not harder, than you would in any other job. I would say there are no more than 10 people in this country (England) who consistently make as much as the average office worker."

** BETTING FOR A LIVING, by Nick Mordin (Aesculus Press, P.O. Box 10, Oswestry, Shropshire, SY10, 7QR, England).

By Alan Jacobs