Gordon Pine, the noted US handicapper, wrote recently that if, as a punter, you are not “handicapping yourself” then you are actually handicapping yourself!

What he meant, of course, was that if you don’t look after yourself as a punter then your whole betting activities will be handicapped. To put it more clearly, perhaps, badly affected.

I think he’s right. I know that over the years I have kept a constant check on myself, making adjustments to the way I think about races, and how I analyse form, and how I bet my selections. I couldn’t have been the successful punter I am had I not continually taken a long look at myself and what I was doing.

I know many punters who are making the same errors today they were making 20 years ago. Yet some are still wide-eyed at others’ success  and can’t believe that other punters are successful and they are not.

One of them asked me recently what was it that I was doing right and he was doing wrong. I’ve known this chap since university and I told him directly: “Bob, you’ve never really changed. You’re the same mug punter you were when we were at uni together. You don’t seemed to have learned much in all those years.”

He admitted as much, and said his bad habits were hard to leave behind. My advice was simple: Step back, stop and think, pinpoint your weaknesses, make changes and start again.

I think you’ll be interested in Gordon Pine’s views as outlined on the popular Netcapper website (www.netcapper.com). This is what he says:

“If you want to make money at the track, handicapping yourself is more important than handicapping the horses. (Oh boy – I’ll get letters about this one.)

“Handicapping is a filtering process; in essence, handicapping means choosing a subset of all possible bets. Your justification for your subset might be pace, speed, trainers, pedigree, whatever. Everybody’s subset is different, as everybody’s handicapping is different. (A woman handicapper I knew seemed to do pretty well by betting on horses whose saddlecloths complemented the jockey’s colours nicely.)

“But whatever your subset is, if there’s any logic behind it, it’s very possible that you’re already a winning handicapper in certain areas and aren’t even aware of it. I’m not saying that handicapping the ponies is unimportant. I’m just saying we’ve overemphasised handicapping them and under-emphasised handicapping ourselves.

“Let me deal with real world examples. June was a pretty good handicapping month for me. I have three main methods I’m using now. The first involves betting my top horse in a race if it’s overlaid. Looking at all the bets that qualify, I had 12 per cent wins at average odds of 7.7/1, with a flat Return On Investment (ROI) of 1.04.

“However, it’s my policy to only bet with real money the most profitable subcategories of each handicapping method. For this method, the profitable subcategories changed somewhat during the month, but usually consisted of 3+Up Female races. My real bets for this method had these stats: 23 per cent wins at average odds of 7.2/1, with a flat ROI of 1.84.

“My second method involves betting one or more longshots in a qualifying race. All qualifying bets for the month generated an 11 per cent bet win percentage and a 19 per cent race win percentage at average odds of 8.1/1 for a flat ROI of 1.03. My real bets, which were restricted to my most profitable subcategories, generated stats of 13 per cent bet win percentage and a 22 per cent race win percentage at average odds of 7.5/1 for a flat ROI of 1.14.

“My third method, which involves betting underlays at certain tracks, showed for all qualifying races 41 per cent wins at average odds of 1.6/1 for a flat ROI of 1.07. I don’t have enough of a sample for this method to make many real bets: I made only three this month, won one, and lost a little money so far on this method.

But my profitable subcategories for my ‘imaginary’ bets indicate that I may be looking at a 1.20 or greater ROI for this method once my sample gets larger.

“My point is, I’ve worked hard for years to get to the point where my methods are flat-bet profitable (and hopefully will remain so). My main method showed a 4 per cent profit in June. But by betting only in my best profit centres, I made about 60 per cent more profit than I would have, while betting only about 25 per cent of the qualifying races.

“I was able to increase the 4 per cent profit rate by more than 20 times just by keeping and following my betting records. Did anyone read that last sentence? Hello? We search high and low for handicapping secrets, when the main secret is handicapping ourselves.

“Playing the devil’s advocate, you could take pretty much any sample of bets, divide it into a bunch of subcategories, and after-the-fact, you’d have certain very profitable ones.

“But the type of delving into your own betting records which I’m talking about differs from that kind of data mining. For one thing, the stats that I quoted were not based on subcategories rated after-the-fact. These subcategories were chosen before-the-fact.

“Also, profitable betting subcategories don’t seem to change that much over time, whereas random data-mining subcategories change constantly.

“Keeping track of your bets is no fun. Nobody wants to do this accounting work. Even with good software, it takes time to enter and analyse your bets. Serious handicappers are a romantic bunch. We’re like hunters entering the antediluvian forest, us against the world, facing nearly insurmountable odds but confident that we’ll face lions and tigers and bears and still come home with the bacon. (Someone call the mixed-metaphor police.)

“That’s why handicapping is mainly a guy thing. It resonates with our primeval-hunter natures. If we wanted to be accountants, we’d be accountants. We’re horseplayers, handicappers, the last romantics. But isn’t it ironic that the one thing that can help us the most is the last thing that most of us want to do?”

Gordon’s thrust is that we owe it to ourselves to keep a close eye on all that we do with our betting. This means a VERY close check on how all our bets work out. Which ones win for us, which ones lose. Which are getting the staggers. What races are best? Which classes of race are letting us down?

We can extend this to jockeys, trainers, days of the week and so on. And it’s essential we extend it to ourselves. How stupid are we when it comes to betting? How many horrible mistakes do we make, and do we repeat them?

How many times have you set out for the day full of good intentions only to discard them by the middle of the afternoon? How many times has your carefully drawn up set of bets for the day been dumped or added to with disastrous results?

My pal Bob is one of those mid-afternoon Pumpkin Heads. He has never been able to remind himself of the need to remain disciplined. He is as quick to throw out the baby with the bathwater as the worst punter you’d ever meet.

The thing to remember, then, is that you are much like a racehorse. You get basic training, you embark on your racing career, and you get fitter and better or, because of poor training or whatever, you lose fitness and you perform poorly.

If you really care about what you do, and the end result, you’ll take stock of yourself on a regular basis. Find your faults, correct them and move on to bigger and better things, always remembering that the personal checking and rechecking will need to continue!

I hope this article has at least made you think. If you’ve been losing lately, or for a long period, it’s obvious you are doing a lot that’s wrong. It may take just a simple reshaping of your approach, and a tightening of your discipline, to turn things around.

Take the time to do what’s required to make the right moves.

By Richard Hartley Jnr