We read a lot about Pittsburgh Phil and how he made a fortune from betting in the good old days. And wise bettors talk constantly about Phil's genius in money management. They point to him as the beacon on the hill for the average Joe Blow punter seeking reward for his endeavours.

But what do we really know about the legendary Pittsburgh Phil, and was he really as clever as his supporters paint him? Well, let me begin by saying that YES, HE WAS CLEVER. Any man who more than a century ago could begin with nothing and die with a fortune estimated at $2 million must have been doing something right.

And all Phil did was bet, so we have to assume that his enormous fortune probably worth $40 million in today's money terms - came solely from his exploits on the racetracks. Mat a man!

Who was he? Before the Pittsburgh Phil tag was applied, he was plain George Smith, a cutter in a Pittsburgh factory. Apparently, he was too smart to remain in such a dull job. He had always been interested in betting but won his early money wagering on baseball games., Then he turned more intensely to racing, and decided he had to adopt a scientific approach if he was to win on a regular basis.

He always looked for value. The longer the odds against his selections the better he liked it. Due to the fact that he backed his selections only when he could secure good odds, Phil was able to overcome long losing streaks.

Once he lost 54 straight bets. Any other punter would have been totally undermined. Not Phil. He knew that his scientific and businesslike approach would make things come good again. His 55th selection gave him a huge return which recouped most of his losses.

And this is where we come to one of the great. maxims of Pittsburgh Phil: Have confidence in your selection method. Do not worry about one or more losing days. If your selection approach is sound and logical you must have the confidence to stick to it. Combined with a good staking method, a good selection approach will win out.

What was it that Pittsburgh Phil did to draw up this scientific approach to racing? He made a special study of the various racetracks, paying regard to CLASS in relation to horses and races. He learned about relative handicapping and weight, and he learned the individual characteristics of horses.

Phil's old-time magic was his enormous trust in himself. At the races he kept to himself, even avoiding friends. His opinion was that to be successful you couldn't afford to divide your time between horses and friends (this is something the modem punter should take careful note of!).

He talked only to the men who placed his bets. Phil, regarded bookies not as the enemy but as business competitors. Phil wanted their dollars, they wanted his. It was as simple as that, and it remains as simple as that today.

Phil studied form assiduously, taking into account every aspect of each horse. Once he had reached his decisions about each race, he never changed them. No newspapers or opinion poll could alter his choices. Phil put a 'value' on each selection. In other words, he priced each selection and if he couldn't get that price he didn't bet.

This is something which even today the punter in the 90s cannot get to grips with -he continually accepts poor odds. It is a form of betting suicide. Let me put it another way, as I am sure Phil would have put it, had he been alive today: My accept even money about a 2/1 chance in one race when you can secure, say, 4/1 about a horse with an equal winning chance in the next race?

The belief, still, prevalent, that the shortest-priced contender has the best winning chance is not supported by facts. Pittsburgh Phil was never influenced by the short prices of horses which were not his selections. He was concerned only with the prices of his selections. You should adopt the same outlook.

Phil had firm views about money management. Basically, it was very simple - you invested your money to the best advantage. He bet heavier when he could secure a better price than the 'value' he had quoted himself, and he didn't bet when he couldn't get his value price.

By eliminating the horses which he thought had no chance at all, he occasionally beat the race by betting the remaining contenders with a Dutch took approach. On such occasions he could make 25 to 40 percent profit. At times Phil would plonk $20,000 on a horse. Sometimes he would have as little as $100. The size of his bets was determined by his 'value' figure.

In a nutshell, his staking advice is this:

  1. Cut your bets in a losing streak and increase them when winning.
  2. Doubling your bets when losing is fatal. Double your bets when you are playing with the bookmakers' money.
  3. If your judgement is accurate, and if you back selections which appear to be outstanding, you have the chance to win a fortune.
  4. Bet only when you can secure the best value. Otherwise, don't bet. Wait for another race.

Phil was rather contemptuous of those punters who believe they can lick the racing game without study and lots of discipline and hard work. He once said: "Playing the races is the one business in which they believe they can succeed without special study, special talent or special exertion."

And how much has changed since Phil cut a swathe through the betting rings in the 1880s and 1890s? Not much. As the modern-day equivalent of Pittsburgh Phil, Don Scott says in his book Winning More: "Nothing has changed since Phil's day. While bookmakers and a few professionals treat racing strictly as a business, and steadily accumulate profits year by year, most punters still go to the races without knowledge or preparation, relying on luck to carry them through.

"For this reason, the bookmakers and professionals ride around in Rolls Royces and dine at Pruniers, while the punters are lucky to end up with the train fare home, and the price of a stale meat pie.

Phil was one of the first people to observe how stupidly people behave on a racetrack. He concluded that it must be the action and excitement of the races which hypnotised and dazzled such punters.

Naturally, then, Pittsburgh Phil placed great emphasis on what he called  'character and attitude' in successful bettors. He explained: "The successful punters are orderly, decent and quiet. They go about their business without bluster. They are calm no matter how much excitement there may be around them.

"For they are only there for business. They would have succeeded, I believe, if they had turned their talents in some other direction than towards racing. When you have analysed their mental force, you win have found men who are cool, deliberate in action, men of strong willpower and of a philosophical nature.

"They'll be exceedingly quick in sizing up a situation and just as quick to take advantage of it. It doesn't matter where their breeding may be, their birth or training afterwards; if they have these talents, they are almost certain to be men of success."

Pittsburgh Phil knew that if a punter lacked the qualities he talked about, or was not willing to develop them, the punter would find the racetrack a place of financial ruin. He reasoned that the only way losers can change their 'condition' is by analysing and studying the methods of winners.

The winners, he pointed out, found out more than anyone else about each low horse. They knew their jockeys, their trainers, their tracks, and they knew all about money management. Today, in the 'computer-driven 90s, there is no reason why every punter should not be an informed punter, because there is so much material available for the eve day punter i the way of formguide videos and computerised ratings.

Alas, the vast majority of punters remain W-informed and continue to fly by the seat of their pants! Phil had some sage words of advice for all punters. He advised the bettor to be philosophical, and never to be overawed or thrown off balance by the inevitable long losing runs.

"The minute a man loses his balance on a racecourse, he is like a horse that is trying to run away. He gets rattled. He throws discretion to the wind.

"If he is winning, he simply believes that he cannot lose, and immediately afterwards gets a bump that may put him out of business. If he is losing, he becomes the prey of every kind of information and influence."

In the end, then, Phil's philosophy came down to two words: Hard Work. Added to this was Common Sense. He never chased fantastic goals; he wag content to make 5 to 10 per cent profit on his betting turnover investment, just like a stockbroker or a banker. Punting was not a gamble but a legitimate business operation. Reason and logic were more important than Lady Luck.

Success came only through intelligence, skill, patience, study and hard work. As Don Scott has said: "I can recommend no better philosophy to punters."

Let's finally sum up Pittsburgh Phil's maxims:

  1. Regard racing purely as a business.
  2. Always seek value for money.
  3. Have total confidence in your selection method.
  4. Study closely everything connected with racing.
  5. If you can, watch the horses parade before a race.
  6. Know when and how to bet.
  7. Do not panic in the midst of a losing run.
  8. Beat the handicapper at his own game by taking into account all the factors you can lay your hands on.
  9. Watch closely each horse's condition. Look for improvers.
  10. Make sure the right jockey is riding your selection.
  11. Watch closely horses resuming from a spell. Check their past performances for 'first-up wins'.

By Alan Jacobs