Most punters will, by habit, bet more on their shorter-priced selections than on the ones at bigger prices.

It’s part of the psychological aspect of the game. We fear our conclusions if others do not agree.

In his new book The Best Of Thoroughbred Handicapping, the noted US authority James Quinn raises this issue and says: “Having been conditioned forever to bet more on shorter-priced horses, handi­cappers (punters) have diffi­culty extinguishing that baseless approach and learning to bet more when the risk goes up.”

That just about sums it up. But Quinn gives some fact-based backing to his theory. He says the records of professional punters have taught them how to make seasonal profits, and these result from betting to win but not so often at odds below 3/1.

Horses at, say, 8/5 might represent outstanding overlays, he says, and they can be bet confidently. Yet the records show that punters will earn their profits from bets on better priced horses.

Quinn writes: “The dividing line is reported at 2/1. Above that, punters’ win percentages may drop but not enough to alter the profit picture.

“Students of win-loss ratios above and below odds of approximately 3/1 report that punters win frequently enough at the higher odds to concentrate the highest bets there.”

Quinn says “various experts” have recommended the following escalation of bets:

At 3/1 or below, ONE unit
At 7/2 or 4/1, TWO units
At 9/2 or 5/1, THREE units
At 6/1, FOUR units
At 7/1 or above, FIVE units.

Quinn maintains that punters win enough at the higher odds to justify the higher wagers.

He adds: “At the same time, unit wagering at 3/1 or below amounts to little more than spinning wheels. Neither the profits nor the horses become significant.

“If unit bets correlate with size of the odds, a $20 bettor will bet $100 when his selection goes at 7/1 or greater.

“If he is the kind of handicapper that wins 40 per cent on the dollar, raising the bets as odds grow will improve the rate of return.”

Tom Ainslie, who has advocated fixed percentage betting for a long time, advises that unit wagering in ratio to the odds should not be tried with 5 per cent of capital as the basic unit.

Otherwise, punters bet 25 per cent of capital when a 10/1 horse arrives. Theoretically, this works but few of us have the temperament for the bets.

Ainslie recommends 1 per cent as the base, thus 5 per cent on the longshots.

Quinn adds: “To sustain profits that are not seasonal, perhaps weekly or monthly, unit wagering in this manner can include place bets. The pros tolerate place bets when (a) the horses stand out at 7/2 or greater; and (b) the favourite figures to lose.

“If both conditions prevail, handicappers can bet one unit to win and two units to place when their selection is (a) 7/2 or better in a field of seven or more; and (b) 3/1 in a six-horse field; and (c) 5/2 in a field of fewer than six.

“To repeat, the race favourite must smell like a loser.”

Quinn admits that the psychological aspect of such unit wagering is the main problem.

My belief is that if you are betting within your means, and you are fully satisfied with your selection approach, then you should WELCOME the chance to bet more on those selections being offered at overlay prices.

My own philosophy is that any horse I pick has, according to my analysis, a true price of no more than 3/1.

My assessments will range between 4/6 and 3/1.

It reasons then that if any selection of mine is over 3/1 then it is an overlay. The bigger the overlay the better.

I think Quinn is on the right path with his graded staking for the various price levels.

It means if that if a horse I have selected, and assessed at 2/1, is available at, say, 6/1 then I will bet four units on it (my usual unit is $25). This means a $100 bet. A win will earn me $600 profit.

If you’re the sort of punter who wants to get away from level stakes then this unit wagering should be what you are looking for.

Once you know the price available on your selection you can bet accordingly.

Nothing could be easier, nothing could be simpler. Yet every week at the races I meet punters who torture themselves over how much to bet on their selections.

They waver, they change their minds, they bet too small, they take savers, and so on.

Much easier, and more profitable in the long run, would be to adopt the plan that’s been outlined here…and stick to it.

The Best of Thoroughbred Handicapping, Leading Ideas & Methods, by James Quinn, is published by Daily Racing Form in the USA ( It’s a comprehensive and absorbing overview of betting and has met with wide acclaim.

By Alan Jacobs