I wonder if we will ever discover what really happened to Don Scott? The great professional punter was found dead in his bed last year amid rumours that he had killed himself with a massive overdose. As far as I know, there has yet to be an inquest.

I ask the question only because I happened to be leafing through his books the other day. It struck me what an astonishing achievement it was for him to have written such fine, detailed books about racing and betting.

They are, without a doubt, the towering achievement of Australian racing writing of the modern era, equalled perhaps only by Banjo Paterson and, to a lesser extent, the late Rem Plante.

Scott, in fact, took up the weight ratings cudgel first wielded so admirably by Rem Plante in his ground-breaking book The Australian Horse Racing and Punters' Guide (out of print now).

In his latter years, Don Scott sadly went into a sort of personal decline, overcome by depression and the apparent loss of his money-making gift at the races. His marriage had broken up and even a close circle of loyal friends failed to lift his spirits.

Some years ago I interviewed Don Scott and he was disarmingly open about his betting approach and quite free with his advice for other punters. The fact that he wrote his books indicates that unlike many professionals in the betting game he was quite ready to share his 'secrets' and to pass them on.

Today, his views on weight and class are coming under mounting attack from critics who say the formula is outdated and that now it's speed that counts, and the use of computers, and that’ simple' weight ratings are not as all-powerful as they once were.

The argument surprises me. Racing is much the same now in its fabric and makeup as it was when Don ruled the roost. Granted, the chance of securing value may be a little harder due to the surfeit of information now available in the public area, but basically I believe Don Scott's theories are as relevant today as they were 10 or 20 years ago.

The mystery of Don's life is why it went so wrong. Here was a man of high intelligence and one who had proved that you could be a winner at the races. With best-selling books to his name, TV credits and profits on the races, we all believed he was the ultimate success story.

Yet behind the mask there was a tortured soul, too intense for his own good, who would lock himself away for days on end when he struck a losing run, who eventually found that he had built for himself a 'monster' that finally overcame him.

How do we know what it would have been like to have been Don Scott, super punter, always expected to win? How could we know the problems such a reclusive, obsessive man would have in keeping the fabric of his personal life together?

That he failed in this is not too much of a surprise. My own wife says she sometimes has trouble coping with my racing-oriented lifestyle, with its piles of Sportsmans, Wizzards, Best Bets and books from America and England, and faxes, and my hours spent poring over formlines on the computer, and the maintenance of a popular Internet site!

Punters, serious ones anyway, are a breed of their own, filled with anxieties, self-doubts, overconfidence, depression, fear and loathing. It's not an easy business to be in. The overheads are not that much, and you can establish yourself in 'business' for next to nothing . . . but it's the daily mountain you have to climb that becomes the problem.

I met Don regularly when he was jetting from Sydney to Melbourne in his betting heyday in the early '80s. Chatting in the betting ring at Flemington, he confessed that he was having a hard time of it. He looked tense and strained (but don't we all mid-afternoon at the races?).

He was a man of few words. But he did say something that has stuck with me. "You're lucky to have a regular job," he said as we talked about the problems in getting value from the bookies.

And, of course, a regular job is exactly what Don didn't have. He lived by his wits, his intelligence as a punter, and unlike the majority of us there was no guarantee of a pay packet at the end of the week.

Maybe, in the end, it was the constant nagging doubts that did him in. Pressures of all descriptions mounted. Maybe his heart just gave out, in more ways than one.

By Brian Blackwell