In this exclusive interview, Tasmanian-based contributor Steve Wood concludes his interview with James Quinn, regarded as one of the great modern-day handicappers in the world. Quinn - America's equivalent of Australia's ratings guru Don Scott - reveals all about his life in racing and unveils his highly successful approach to betting.

SW: What are the fundamentals of handicapping? In the debate between fundamentals and 'guerrilla" or "kinky" or "eclectic" handicapping, where do you sit?

JQ: The fundamentals are speed, class, pace and form, because they deal directly with the abilities of horses and are always important. The several other factors are hardly unimportant, but their relevance and importance depends upon the circumstances of races. Sometimes they are important, even decisive, but often they are irrelevant.

As to the fundamental approach vis-a-vis a "kinky" approach, as you term it, there is no debate as to which is better. The different approaches complement one another, or should. The "kinky" approach, looking for unconventional and unfamiliar patterns that figure well and will pay well, unlocks more overlays and longshots, but can suffer unusually long losing runs too, and the fundamental approach gets more winners, but depends upon grinding it out for its success.

The approaches have varying appeal to different players but both are relevant and can be successful. The best "kinky" handicapper of my acquaintance is Mark Cramer, who wrote the book, and now lives in Paris, where, he tells me, a "kinky" kind of play is early-speed horses, lone frontrunners, especially at the trots. Apparently, the French do not put an emphasis on early speed, so Cramer does.

It's also important to note that Cramer may prefer "kinky" handicapping, but the reason he does it so well is that he is a sound fundamental handicapper to begin with. He is particularly aware when a "kinky" play is not at a disadvantage against horses that may shape up as fundamentally sound, and that's when he is more likely to make his scores.

I'm much more of a fundamental handicapper, a grinder, and I have found that when I do abandon a fundamental kind of analysis, I usually pay the price.

SW: Any thoughts on "mechanical" selection methods?

JQ: Not many. It seems most of them work for a time, and none of them work for the duration. An exception may be Bill Quirin's "speed points," a systematic method that identifies horses having an advantage on speed at the first call. Quirin reported that his method tossed profits at all tracks, mainly because horses that go wire to wire in the US on average pay 9/2 and they win a large number of races. That data is 20 years old and I have no idea how it would work in Australia, although Cramer's devotion to early-speed horses in Paris suggests it might be worth a long Iook.

SW: A lot of handicappers are great at picking the right contenders. They get plenty of winners up but never seem to beat the game. Discouragement sets in, and so it goes. What do you think is the cause of this, and is there any help/solution for a handicapper in this position?

JQ: Handicappers everywhere find lots of ways to sabotage their best efforts. One is to bet more on the losers and less on the winners. Few handicappers can distinguish the eventual winners from the losers and should not try.

Another is to bet more on low-priced horses and less on higher-priced horses, which is a mistake.

Another is to run out of betting capital too early on the card, thereby failing to capitalise on later winners. One of the worst is to chase losses. A variation of that is to try to catch up by stabbing at longshots. Don't do those things.

Handicappers have no control over bad trips, jockey mistakes and form reversals, but they do have control over their money and betting habits. Erase the bad habits. When betting to win, bet flat, or bet a small percentage (3 per cent) of a larger bankroll on each key bet. If you must vary the size, bet more when the odds are greater, and less when the odds are lower.

Probably the most prevalent reason why good handicappers lose, or win less than they should, is that they grow impatient with the economics of the game. They want to win important money, not small money. Over time, they learn the only way to win big money is to make bigger bets. That increases the risk and pulls many players beyond their financial comfort zones. So they turn to the exotics, looking to make scores.

Exotic bets are low probability bets without exception and, over time, losing runs can be lengthy and painful. It's possible to make real money in the exotic pools during any season or year but, for the most part, players who live and die in the exotic pools will hit a wall and die. The best of the exotic bettors may make annual profits, but it's extremely difficult and requires a sizeable capital.

SW: Money management is a big area, something that every handicapper thinks about eventually. We all come across staking systems of various kinds, target betting, dutch betting, Kelly betting, etc. It's easy to get a bit confused by it all. How do you handle this area?

JQ: Money management at the races is cut and dried, or should be for good handicappers. The confusion results from human behaviour, not from the intricacies of money management, which are not that intricate at all. When betting to win, bet 3 per cent of a large bankroll for the season. Take profit monthly or periodically, if you prefer.

The 3 per cent is not plucked from mid-air, but is representative of the edge most good handicappers can anticipate. That is, the approach says to bet your edge. If you do that, and you can pick 35 per cent winners at 5/2 average odds, you have a 22.5 per cent edge on the game. You should earn $1.22 for every dollar you bet, or thereabouts. The larger the bankroll and the longer the season, the more you will make on your key horses to win.

That's a good way to play. Flat betting is almost as good during shorter periods of a few months or several months.

As for the exotics, learn the dos and don'ts of exotic wagering. Eliminate the ineffective strategies and implement the effective strategies. The basic principle of exotic wagering favours most racegoers: bet small - win big. Too aggressive betting is ruinous in horseracing, both in the straight pools and the exotic pools.

Dutch betting is difficult in parimutuel wagering, because the odds are constantly shifting. But 1 like the idea of betting two horses to win, when both horses are overlays. Split the win bet 50-50, or 60-40, with the higher percentage on the higher priced horse.

One additional comment on money management. Many experienced handicappers say they are interested in improving their money-management habits, but most are not really very interested. Bettors retain the inalienable right to do exactly what they want with their money. They prefer to bet the way they like to bet, regardless of whether the habits are effective or not. So be it. And for that large, large crowd of recreational handicappers, money management methods intended to yield seasonal profits are meaningless.

SW: There are also a lot of bet types available. Have you a preference for wilt, place, show, exactas, trifectas, etc.? What should a beginner focus on?

JQ: Handicappers should back their key horses at fair odds to win. When backed at all, odds on horses should usually be bet to place. My preference is for a mixture of win betting and exotic wagering, and that's what everybody does every day at the races.

The advantage of the large menu of exotic bets is that handicappers can tailor their bets to the situations at hand. We should always ask whether the exacta, or the trifecta, or the Pick 3, or any other exotic combination, should be the bet of choice in this particular situation. In other words, let the situation dictate the bet.

Players who insist they like the exactas, or only play trifectas, or only roll the Pick-3, or just want the Pick6, are probably missing a number of advantageous opportunities. I don't like that narrow approach to the betting menu.

Beginners should focus on improving their handicapping until they can demonstrate an ability to make consistent profits with flat bets to win. A good way for beginners to dabble in the exotics is to link key horses to win in exactas and trifectas; that is, key a horse to win and box the other contenders in the exactas and trifectas. That's lots of action for beginners and gives them a chance to convert their key horses into more meaningful profits.

SW: At the handicapping expo in Las Vegas last year, you did a presentation on the "rolling Pick-3". Would you care to elaborate a bit? Could a similar strategy be applied to daily doubles, a very popular bet in Australia?

JQ: For good handicappers, the rolling Pick-3 makes sense because the bet overpays so much of the time and handicappers only must pick the winners. For handicappers who can identify the main contenders and spot overlays with a decent chance, the bet frequently makes sense. The trick is to give yourself a 50 per cent chance to hit each leg. That usually means covering two, three, or four horses in each leg. If you give yourself a 50 per cent chance to win each leg, the probability of hitting all three legs is .50 x .50 x .50, which is .125, or a 12 per cent chance to win the bet, which is much better odds than in most exotic combinations.

With a 12 per cent chance to win, the fair-value odds against you is 7.5/1 (100 divided by 12, minus 1). The payoff must be eight times as large as the bet-size to break even, and the Pick-3 frequently will pay significantly more than 8/1 on your investment.

In the US, the strategy could not be applied effectively to the daily doubles, because the field size is typically too small and the payoffs too small. Australia has large fields, and although the dynamics of the rolling doubles would be quite different, it might work well enough, at least on several of your races. If you give yourself a 50 per cent chance to win each end of the double, .50 x .50 is a .25 chance, or just 3/1 against. The payoff must be four times your bet-size to make a profit.

SW. In closing, what is the most important principle you have learned, that you would pass on to handicappers wanting to take their game to the next level?

JQ: Respect the game and it will treat you well. When fighting the doldrums of a losing run, stick more closely to the fundamentals, and don't cave in mentally; no chasing, no stabbing at longshots. When winning, play more aggressively than usual, and trust your intuition on key horses. In other words, minimise your losses during losing runs and maximise your profits during winning runs.

Collect the information you need to gain an edge, and keep good records.

Most important of all, continue to develop your knowledge and skill in handicapping. Never imagine you're the expert who has conquered the game. Great games cannot be mastered; they only can be played especially well. And handicapping the horses is a great game.

Good luck.

James Quinn is the president of - a new website for racegoers and handicappers. The site is under development and will be for several more months, but currently contains several hundred pages of instructional information for playing the races in the United States. Go to the site and click on Welcome To The Races and Playing The Races at the left menu. The site also provides columns by Quinn and handicappers Tom Brohamer, Mark Cramer, Steve Roman and Bill Hoge, with others to come aboard.

Click here to read Part 1.

By Steve Wood