Don Scott Punter

This is Part 1 of a two-part exclusive interview with Australia's greatest professional punter, the late Don Scott, by PPM's Brian Blackwell. Scott discusses his lifestyle, his approach to punting, why most punters lose, and how they can win if they really want to.

Back in 1987, I interviewed professional punter Don Scott. He was hailed as the 'greatest' ratings guru of them all. His books were best-sellers. At the time, Don had more or less given up going to the races, preferring to bet from home via computer. His forte was multiple trifectas, each combination assessed for value and bet accordingly. 

 

Much of what Don had to say all those years ago holds the same relevance for today's punters. Perhaps even more so. I thought it would be informative to reprint some of the interview.

You'd think by talking to a professional punter like Don Scott that he would make it all sound easy - punting, making oodles of cash, the sweet life without a 9-to-5 routine.

After all, isn't he the man who has been there and done that? His exploits are legend, his intimate knowledge of racing revealed in his three magnificent books, Winning, Winning Ways and Winning More? Surely, we would think, Don has found the easy answer to the conundrums of betting and making that betting pay?

Well, yes he has found the answers, but - believe me - they aren't easy answers and Don doesn't have, can't have, the sweet life we all think accompanies the punting princes of the turf. His recipe for success is a mixture of incredible hard work, intense concentration and a fierce desire to get everything right, to the point of obsession, if he doesn't mind me saying so. But, the point is, he does get it right. Not all the time, he's the first to admit, but enough times to make it all worthwhile.

Later in this series I'll tell you about Don's losing runs - the losing runs he KNOWS he must get - and his approach to handling them, but first something about the man himself. He's a loner, a real individualist who believes in one essential aspect of life - HIMSELF.

He has few friends in the racing game. There have been no back-slapping days and nights among racing's toffs for him. Instead, for the most part it's been Don Scott, seeking perfection, in concentrated battle, an academic in a world usually populated by those who think a university is the school of hard knocks.

Even today, when he doesn't bet in the huge amounts he used to in his heyday with the Legal Eagles Syndicate, he works 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, to keep on top.

Punting is his business and like all good businessmen he is prepared to work like crazy to make the business succeed. Each day sees him immersed in form study, watching videos, examining race finish photos - doing all the detailed work required if he is to beat the percentages stacked against him. His aim is to make the percentages swing in his favour and he continues to make that happen.

The days of the Legal Eagles - a small punting squad which included lawyer Clive Evatt and racing aficionado Bob Charley - are gone. For Don, so is the method of betting he used when masterminding their attacks, the bet-to-value win plunges. These days, Don concentrates on trifectas, quinellas and doubles but mainly on trifectas. He feels the real value is gone from win betting. Now, with so much 'uneducated' money in the trifecta pools, his life is devoted to that exotic area.

He is now 51 years old and lives in North Sydney with his wife, Judith, and their teenage daughters, Helen and Arm (both girls ride horses but show no inclination to punt on them, thus following their mother's example). His education came at North Sydney Boys' High School, where he was Dux in 1948. At the University of Sydney, he studied arts for two years, changed over to law but gave it all away before completing his degree. He and Judith met at the races in Melbourne and they were married in 1962.

She has watched her husband go through the highs and lows of his betting journey and cheerfully admits that it's always better when he's winning, because some months could be 'miserable' otherwise.

She maintained her faith in him. 'I always assumed he would make at least a healthy number of dollars a year; sometimes we might have to wait until the last week of the year but he always won in the end. I was never in any doubt. '

The Legal, Eagles gave it away around 1974. Don Scott had had enough of the pressures and the attendant worries of deciding the bets week in, week out. He wrote plays for a while yet it was inevitable he'd return to the punt.

He began writing his punting books, first Winning (13,000 copies sold), then Winning Ways (10,000 sold) and finally the masterpiece Winning More (8000 copies sold in the last 12 months). He also returned to the solo punt. For two years in the early 1980s, he jetted from Sydney to Melbourne so he could bet, and obtain better value, at the Melbourne tracks.

These days, though, with a change of approach to the exotic forms of betting, he has become an off-course punter. His approach now is so complex in many ways that he has to handle everything himself on racedays, as each race on which he operates can demand a long series of different staked trifecta and quinella bets.

As he explains in Winning More, you don't just pick out a handful of horses and couple them up in trifectas. No, no ' no. There is much more to it than that. Much more.


You must work out the'true'value of each combination and bet according to that. The rules are clearcut, simple, bold:

ELIMINATE ALL RACES WITH FEWER THAN 10 RUNNERS.

ELIMINATE ALL BAD VALUE CHANCES, INCLUSIVE OF LONGPRICED AND SHORT-PRICED HORSES

COMBINE THE THREE OR FOUR BEST VALUE CHANCES IN TRIFECTAS ACCORDING TO THEIR TRUE TRIFECTA ODDS.

 

These rules are at the heart of what Don Scott's punting of 1987 is all about. They are the corner-stone on which everything revolves. AND IT WORKS.

But can it work for you, the ordinary punter, the bloke with $50 or $100 to spend on a Saturday? We would all like to think that it could, that we could dream those great dreams and, like Scott, make them all come true, and all on the 'smell of an oily rag'. Unfortunately, says Don, you can't tackle the trifecta business with any hope of success if you're a small punter - and by small he is talking about the average punter with his $10 and $20 bets.

His advice if you're a punter with $100 to bet on a raceday? Go to the track and bet like he used to do - to value prices. Doing that, he says, if the punter's prices are accurate he will, in the long run, come out ahead with a 5 to 10 per cent profit on turnover every year.

So, if your full betting turnover on that basic $100 a week, amounts to about $20,000 you can look forward to making a profit of around $2,000, or about $40 a week. I guess you are saying right now, well, that's a heck of a lot of work for $40 a week, and you'd be right. The alternative is that you put in very little work and lose the $100 a week you stake, a total of $5,000 a year. Don's way, you get to keep your own money and make a couple of thousand as well.

But how many people will heed the professional's advice? He agrees with me that only a few will do so. The others - well, most people can't afford the time for too much form study, can't afford to buy the turn-and-finish photos and the videos and the specialised services that the professionals have at their disposal. They lack the temperament for what they should be doing. Don says most punters are too emotional.

And what about the stress oyi himself? Does he have recurring nightmares that one day it's all going to end, that the golden touch will leave him and never return? He answers: 'There are pressures but they are pressures I set up myself. I study photos and films myself and I don't have to talk to jockeys and trainers or owners. I can remain independent and aloof, which suits my personality. It is less stressful than being a salesman or a journalist.'

Punting to Don Scott is an enormous challenge. An intellectual challenge. Even his move into trifecta and quinella betting was the result of his own belief that it would be a titanic challenge to him. He set about confronting the challenge in his usual way alone, grittily determined, seeking always perfection.

He worked for more than a year, and towards the end of 1986 was still streamlining, a computer program for the trifecta betting and selection process. He hires an expert to actually formulate the program but it all comes from his head and he knows enough about computers now to 'fiddle around a bit' himself.

He loves the excitement of the punt. Although he remains at home these days, he still feels the anticipatory rush of blood that all of us feels in varying degrees. Punting has been described as being a bit like lovemaking - sometimes it's good, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes a disappointment, and that certainly sums up betting, doesn't it?

Punting, then, is a business for Don Scott. He has an office at his home and it's there he will lock himself away for 12 to 14 hours a day, poring over every possible scrap of information, making the decisions that will determine his future punting. No, there's nothing glamorous about it; there are no crowds, no public adulation, just one man, alone, working away.

'It's a very simple business,' he says. 'When you lose, you pay up. When you win, the money is there. Bookmakers settle on Monday morning. The TAB cheque will come in the mail. All cash. No waiting for your money. No bad debts. It's very simple, as long as you make profits.'

AS LONG AS YOU MAKE PROFITS. The understatement of the year.


Don Scott has some sensible advice for punters throughout Australia and the following are some of his pertinent points:

He formulated three theories about horseracing. The first was that a horse's form could actually be stated in a figure, or a rating. Secondly, that comparative form would show which horses had realistic chances of winning. Thirdly, that those chances could be expressed in percentages, or betting odds. So, if you knew which three or four horses were likely to win, and if you could accurately value their chances, you could easily decide when to back them - only when they were at the right prices.

If you really want to win, exotic betting is the way to go.

Back in 1957, the value revolution was new and devastating. Today, it has the disadvantage of being fashionable and popular, but it is still extraordinarily effective.

When a punter is losing, he too often tries to recover all his losses in one single wager on the last race of the day. This temptation to get out on the last is irresistible to many punters, who invariably compound their losses in one reckless gamble. The winner of the last is no easier to find than the winner of the first. It may he much harder. A punter who is losing his money also loses reason and judgement.

 

Click here to read Part 2.

By Brian Blackwell

PRACTICAL PUNTING