How much of a role does intuition play in being a winner at the races? How far can we go in relying on hunches and guesswork? These are questions often asked when racing is discussed.

I am a firm believer in form study, and the application of form basics to selection approaches, or systems if you like. But I reserve the right to use my intuition when I think the occasion demands!

Some of my best wins have been through the mystery of intuition. It's that feeling you have, based on your experience, that a certain horse can win, even though many of the usual signs indicate that it cannot win.

How many times have you met a punter at the track, or at the TAB, who delightedly tells you he 'played a hunch' and landed a big winner? What we will never know is how many hunches failed before this one arrived?

If we look back at the teachings of some of the greats of the past, we learn that they treated hunches with disdain. Pittsburgh Phil was one who believed that the punter who guessed or played hunches was doomed.

If, said Phil, he managed to win next week's rent with a hunch, he should quit immediately ... otherwise the time would come when he wouldn't have the price of tomorrow's breakfast.

Said Phil: "The only time to bet is when you find a reliable horse with a winning chance which is quoted at a price equal to, or better than, its estimated true chance. If you restrict your betting to such horses you may still end up a loser if your judgement is astray, but you will outlast the hunch player by years!"

Phil went on to say that anyone who played 'the ponies' without thought to percentages was just a bookmaker's 'meal ticket'.

"There is a right and wrong price about every horse but most punters make up their minds as to what they are going to back and then ignore the price factor, irrespective of the fairness of the odds," he wrote. "The thing with hunch bettors is that usually they always have it about a longshot. That puts them behind the play straightaway.

"If there are nine races on the card, with 14 horses in each, there will be nine favourites, nine second favourites, and nine third favourites. Between them, the horses so classified win about 66 per cent of all races. If we call all the other runners longshots, it leaves a total of 11 a race or a grand total of 99 from which to pick a winner.

"If the figures worked out and you backed the first, second and third favourites in every race, you would have 27 bets and collect six times. Those who fancied all the longshots would have 99 bets and collect three times. So, if you pick one longshot a race in the hope of it being the right one, you can work out the odds against the guesser selecting the right ones."

But Phil did have some advice for those addicted to hunches and guesses. You must play them on the place tote. That way, you at least secure three chances with a hunch selection.

"Racing is in two categories," said Phil. "You either treat it as a sheer gamble or as a business. The guesser is taking a gamble which in the long run must lose. The man who studies every aspect of a race and only bets when there is a reason to bet, and only accepts the right price or better about the likely winner, is in a business which can and does pay off.

"The thing to do when you come to a race is ask yourself if there is a reason to bet. If there is a solid one, then make your bet providing the odds are right. Should there be no logical reason to let your money ride, then keep it where it is.

"People who guess at picking longshots not only have to play a hunch that there will be a surprise result, but also have to nominate the horse which will cause it. For the race-by-race bettor, this is an almost  impossible task.

"In a field of 14 there may be 10 longshots with no credentials, so the odds of one of them winning, and the punter actually selecting it, will be many times greater than the odds paid.

"I am not suggesting that you never bet on a longshot. Many of my greatest successes have been on longshots but I had figured them to win and took full advantage of the fact that they were bet at a price much greater than their true chance."

Phil had plenty of advice for those punters who become desperate when, after a losing day, the last race comes around.

He wrote: "The last race of the day is the danger race for guessers as well as the average loser. Many who go racing become unbalanced when losing and this is very evident when you watch them operating on the last race.

"A person who bets $2 a race might be losing $12 when the final event arrives. He could have figured a horse as likely to win and it's at 3/1. Instead of being prepared to cut his loss and take $6 to $2 he will do one of two things: He will either step out of the flat stake investment and double or treble his bet to get square or show a small profit, OR he will disregard all his form study and look for a longshot in the hope of it getting him out for a $2 bet.

"The bettor is going against himself in two respects. He is either switching in the size of the stake, or switching horses for no other reason than the price. He is allowing the odds to make his selection.

"You cannot do that and win. Never get caught in the switches. Also, remember that racing is never-ending. It costs nothing to be patient for another meeting."

If you can’t fault the fav it becomes a good bet. If you want to use your intuitive powers, or you just love having a hunch horse to bet, you might consider using such selections in tandem with form selections. There are many ways to do this.

Have a look at the Two's Up article on page 7 to get an angle or two on this idea. Another way is to bet such pairs race to race. That would be a 2x2 linkup costing $4 a time. On an 8-race programme you will have seven such doubles, an outlay of $28.

You might have a form horse at 2/1 and a 'huncher' longshot at 8/1 in one leg, with a form horse at 5 2 and a 'huncher' at 10/1 in the next leg. Every now and then you are going to land some very attractive doubles.

But hunch bets have got to be used sparingly. Why dodge a good form bet for a hunch longshot, especially if you can't fault the favourite? If that's the case, the favourite is a good bet.

By all means use your intuition but try to align it with some sound common sense. I have often fallen prey to wayward intuition, thinking a horse was going to win, convincing myself of such an outcome - and yet knowing, on another level of intuition, that the form facts hardly supported the case!

I guess you, too, have had the same thing happen to you. If so, the next time you are tempted it would be wise to remember Pittsburgh Phil's words. He probably had it as right as anyone is going to get it.

His hunch bets were ones carved out of the formlines, not just names that seemed attractive, or omen selections and the like. If Phil backed a longshot you could bet that it was a reasoned out selection.

Apply the following formula to your hunch selections. A 'negative' reply to three or more factors means it is likely to be a dud bet.

Has your hunch horse:

  1. A decent weight?
  2. A good draw?
  3. Good recent form?
  4. One good run in its last three?
  5. A good jockey?
  6. Won at the track?
  7. Won at the distance?
  8. Been unlucky lately?
  9. Run within the previous 21 days?

These questions will test any selection and more so longshot hopes. Try them out and see what I mean.

By Philip Roy