For over a decade, I’ve sold and counselled in the use of record-keeping software for handicappers.

Keeping and analysing betting records is both the thing that handicappers least like to do – me included – and the thing that helps their profitability the most.

During that time, I’ve seen the actual betting records of many handicappers. I may have the dubious distinction of having seen more handicappers’ betting records than anyone else on earth. It’s not the kind of thing most people get to see. I’ve seen the reality – good, bad and ugly – of many handicappers’ betting.

What was the most common trend in all those betting records? It was a tendency to win money in wins and place betting and give most, all, or more than all of it back in exotics. So my advice was usually simple: Stop betting exotics! Or bet them only on paper until you find a profitable method.

Take the exacta. Racegoers tend to hack away at the exacta in an ugly fashion, boxing and wheeling their way to poverty.

They commit the cardinal sin of trying to cash the bet rather than going for value in the long run. If you want to cash exactas, I’ve got a system for you: box every horse in the race.

I guarantee that you will hit 100 per cent of the time. And you will lose a heck of a lot of money.

Principle Number One of exacta betting is that you’ve got to bet lean and mean.

With a big tote takeout, this is a must. If your system is to bet four-horse boxes, you’re putting out $12 per race (assuming $1 exactas). Do that regularly and you’re unlikely to get your money back.

The smaller you can make your per-race outlay, the more likely you are to show a profit in the long run. I know that some well-regarded handicappers have written about “constructing a bet” so that you make money if your key horse or horses run anywhere in the money. That may work for them personally, maybe because they have the handicapping judgement to know when to apply the technique.

But for most handicappers, even really good ones, it’s a mistake to try to cash the exacta based on multiple outcomes.

So, lean-and-mean exacta betting suggests that you set it up so you cash only if your key horse wins. Save your money on all those other saver bets.

Principle Number Two of exacta betting is that every exacta combination must have a value component.

There are many complex ways, including handheld computers and exacta grids, to estimate the fair pay of each exacta combination.

You can then compare that fair pay to the actual payoff on the monitor, and thus decide which combinations contain value and deserve a bet.

One problem with these techniques is that actual exacta payoffs are even more volatile than win odds, so you’re never quite sure if you’re getting the value you think you are.

A second problem is the amount of last-minute work you have to do in each race to try to bet only overlaid exacta combinations. I think exacta grids are workable, but handheld computers just have too much inputting and last-minute stressing-out for my taste.

Principle Number Three of exacta betting is that you seriously consider including the first and second favourites in your combinations.

Something like 85 per cent of all exactas contain either the first or second favourite, so unless you want to restrict yourself to the remaining 15 per cent, you had better use them in some of your combinations.

(The origin of this statistic is lost in the mists of time, so I’m open to correction if a reader has more accurate statistics on the rate of favourites placing in the exacta.)

Now here’s the quick-and-dirty part: My typical way of betting exactas has been to wheel my overlay top-and-bottom to the top two favourites.

This has worked well for years, but in the spirit of Principle Number One: Bet lean and mean, I’m going to tweak it.

My records don’t distinguish between the profitability of the overlays on top of the favourites and the overlays under the favourites, but my suspicion is that the profitability of overlays in the place spot have lagged behind overlays in the win spot.

So here’s what I suggest: bet your overlay on top of the top two favourites. This is a $2 exacta outlay, so it’s lean and mean. It has a value component because when a horse is an overlay in the win pool, it’s usually an overlay in the exacta pool.

And it includes the first and second favourites, so you’re not cutting yourself out of 85 per cent of the winning exacta combinations. (If your overlay is the top favourite, use the second and third favourites in the second spot. If your overlay is the second favourite, use the first and third favourites in the second spot.)

If you have two overlays, wheel both of them on top of the top two favourites. Then box the two overlays.

This is a $6 exacta outlay. It’s lean and mean, it has a big value component (as you will find out if your overlays run one-two), and it includes the top two favourites. If you have three or more overlays, skip the race.

As Steve Fierro says, if you have this many overlays, it may be because you are unduly disrespecting the favourites – your line is probably inaccurate.

So here’s the summation: Bet lean-and-mean exactas with a value component that involves the top two favourites in some of your combinations.

Do this by part-wheeling your overlays on top of the favourites and boxing your overlays.

Stay away from three-plus overlay races. When your overlay runs second or third, get over it and move on to the next race. And be sure to tip the ladies who sell you coffee and donuts or the racing gods will get you and it’ll all go south no matter what you do.

Gordon Pine’s excellent books can be obtained through the website

By Gordon Pine