Betting should be enjoyable,” says UK professional punter Alan Potts, but he’s quick to add that it can be “a miserable experience if you are losing and have no idea when the next winner will appear.”

Potts is right. This is a great game, but it’s a cruel one that exposes weakness and cowardice, and can punish risk-taking while at the same time rewarding it.

A chap I know has bet all his life and he recently confided to me: “Do you know, Richard, I spend more time worrying about how to handle a losing run than I do about enjoying success.”

Never a truer word spoken. Fact is that when it comes to losing, the average Joe Public will go into panic mode. He will flail around grasping at anything to get that next winner in order to break the vicious cycle of losers.

Potts says in his book The Inside Track: “We’ve all said, or at least thought, what an easy game this is when you’re winning, but I’m of the opinion that punters are just as likely to go wrong during a winning run as during a losing one.

“Both bring their own pressures, and I think it pays to have thought about how you will handle either situation.”

We all realise we are going to lose at some point or other. Our aim, or our wish, is to emerge a winner after discounting the losses. That’s the tough part. If you, as most punters do, lose eight times out of 10, then how can you manage your betting to ensure a profit after 12 months?

The Mug Punter will probably never find a way. He bets like mad, he really doesn’t take it too seriously, he doesn’t keep count of his bets, he enjoys a win but conveniently forgets the losses, he won’t study the form, he’s as likely to put $20 on a horse whose name he likes as to put it on a well thought out selection…and so it goes on.

I know I don’t need to rattle the cage too much on this area of things.

Alan Potts suggests we talk in a positive frame of mind about our betting, and that’s as good a start as any. Don’t just HOPE you’ll win, EXPECT to win.

Dealing with the losing runs is one of the many problems you’ll experience in your punting life. Even the hardened professionals go into a trough. Getting out of it requires skill and a strong mind.
Potts’s suggestions are:

Keep all your betting records and look back at profitable periods from the past to check that you are still working to the same standards.

Keep a scrapbook with cuttings about your best wins, and get as many videos as you can of races (TVN service provides Victorian meetings and Sydney metropolitans).

Take a break from betting for at least one week to clear your mind of constant thoughts about recent losses and start afresh when you return.

Potts explains: “All these ideas are aimed at reminding you of your own ability to make a profit and to concentrate attention on the things that have worked for you in the past.”

The Mug Punter usually wants lots of action and heaps of collects. He hates losers but backs too many of them. But what should you be looking at in terms of progress to be made on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis?

Potts says his experience of full-time punting is that the most common experience is a “gentle, plodding progress” in which he neither wins much or loses much.

“This can go on for two or three months at a time, but is then followed by dramatic periods of a few days or weeks in which the account moves rapidly one way or the other.

“The profit and loss figure at the end of the year can be massively influenced by the outcome of a single bet. But that will never be apparent at the time. I’ve never placed a bet with the thought that this will decide my year.”

What happens when you actually strike a winning streak? The Mug Punter will go nuts; he’ll spray bets all over the place, he’ll plunge bigger than he’s ever done, and he’ll probably blow the lot in a short space of time.

The advice from Alan Potts is this: “When the winning runs arrive, it is just as important to handle them as correctly as the losing spells. Once again, it’s essential to maintain control of the staking and not to start betting more and more profits.

“Never, ever, refer to winnings as the bookmaker’s money. Never assume you’ve got the game cracked and can’t be beaten, just because you’ve backed a few winners in succession.

“I’m actually more likely to cut back my betting when I’m winning than vice-versa. If I have a good win on the racecourse, I prefer to pass on the next race and let the adrenalin settle before getting involved again.

“And if I put together a run of success over two or three weeks, I’ll be quite content to take a break for up to a week, just as I would during a losing run. It’s too easy to fall prey to the Messiah complex and start making bets because you don’t want to risk missing another winner.”

Potts thinks along much the same lines as myself. I tend to emerge from the ruck, so to speak, to take a breather after a period when the winners seem to arrive non-stop from betting nirvana.

Potts “treats” members of his family when he is giddy with success. He says: “Whether winning or losing, it will pay to have thought in advance about how to handle your emotions. Unfortunately, most punters tend to attribute such runs to the one thing that has no influence on their betting at all, and that’s luck.”

Well, there is luck in the running, isn’t there? How many punters have you heard crying over it? Yourself, too!

But Potts has a distinct view about luck and the role it plays, or rather doesn’t play, in his own betting.

He says: “In my time I have responded to hundreds of people wishing me good luck and I usually point out that luck has nothing to do with it. Profitable betting is a matter of skill, judgement and hard work.

“I accept that luck in the sense of good fortune or misfortune can decide the outcome of a single bet, but it won’t make any difference in the long term. If I back a steeplechaser who falls at the last when it’s 10 lengths clear, that’s a misfortune.

“But I remember the occasions when I’ve backed a winner who might have been beaten but for the falls of other horses during the race.? If I back a horse who fails to get a clear run in a flat race, I could claim that was bad luck, but I prefer to analyse whether I should have foreseen the trouble before I made the bet.”

Potts is outlining here the professionalism that divides him from he Mug Punters, who might just kick the cat after bad luck in the running. He is prepared to question his own judgement. Why did he not foresee that his horse could strike trouble? Was it possible to do so?

Self-analysis, in a critical sense, is important to you as a punter. If you keep on backing losers it is time you looked at what you are doing. Why are your selections losing? Why are the other horses beating them? Where are you going wrong?

Potts says: “Too many punters remember all their apparent bad luck but regard every winner as their just reward and never admit that they benefit from good fortune as well as bad.”

So, if it isn’t all to do with luck, what does constitute a winning bet, or a winning streak? What turns a loser into a winner, and what exactly is the quality that achieves this transformation?

According to Potts, it’s a mixture of experience and effort.

“It isn’t hard work in the physical sense, nor in my case do I spend long hours sweating over a hot form book. But it is necessary to put time into research, reading, watching and thinking about racing and betting,” says Potts.

“The American authors are very hot on the mental approach to their betting and some of the books include reams of psychobabble about the power of positive thinking, visualisation etc.

“Once you’ve gained enough experience to be able to analyse races with sufficient accuracy to find a decent percentage of winners, it’s only attitude that can prevent you from making profits.

“As with golf, it’s the six inches between your ears that will ultimately decide whether you can win or lose.”

Mark Nelson, one of Britain’s leading form analysts, advises punters (and especially Mug Punters!) to search for the logic behind each winner. Eddie Fremantle, of The Observer newspaper, reckons there’s no substitute for doing your homework.

He says: “It means that I spend a lot of time with the form book and I dabble with various ratings. I follow some speed figures and I keep my eye on my own ratings for juvenile handicappers.

“I know some people say you should specialise and stick to one particular kind of race but I’ve never agreed with that. You should bet on any race in which you can win.”

The best philosophy for any punter, says Fremantle in the book Counter Attack, is to bet against the crowd. Do something different.

“If you follow the same pattern as everyone else, you’re very unlikely to succeed. Looking for value is certainly important, though a lot of rubbish is talked about value.

“I’m more interested in anti-value, finding favourites at artificially short prices and taking them on. I’ll back two or more to beat a false fav and sometimes I’ll fall on a winner.”

Fremantle admits the psychological side of gambling is massive and he’s struggled with it.

“The best punters I know don’t worry about losing,” he says. “They have an arrogance that helps them keep going.”

So, there’s some advice for all you Mug Punters out there from some gamblers who know the business and have proven themselves clever enough to make betting pay off.

Take in and consider carefully what they’ve said and you are sure to emerge a better bettor.

** The Inside Track by Alan Potts (Aesculus Press, UK).
** Counter Attack from Raceform

By Richard Hartley Jnr