America’s greatest betting professional reveals his ‘RISK’ approach to winning.

Andrew 'Andy' Beyer is recognised as perhaps America's greatest modern-day punter. The author of several best-selling books - including My $50,000 Year At The Races and The Winning Horseplayer - his views on betting, and selection, have to be taken seriously.

He has given speeches, and answered questions, at a host of what the Americans call 'handicapping seminars' and the advice he has handed out has been helping U.S. punters for years. The advice has a particular relevance for Australian and New Zealand punters, too.

Beyer has experienced all the 'knocks' that long-term betting can hand out the close photos that never go your way, the changes of mind, the split second wrong decisions, the coattuggers, the fear ...

He says: "Anyone who plays the horses knows it's one thing to sit down and plan your neat betting strategy for the day, and formulate some money management system, but when you get to the track and you're subjected to all the incredible distractions and pressures and second-guessing, that whole emotive atmosphere of the track, nine times out of 10 all your good intentions go right out the window."

Beyer's hit the nail on the head, hasn't he? This is exactly what happens to so many punters. The best-laid plans come unstuck as soon as you are hit by the heady, uncontrolled atmosphere of the betting ring or the TAB agency. So what are Beyer's more in-depth thoughts about the way in which the average punter should approach his betting?

"I don't believe the majority of horse players have really thought about betting," he says. "Knowing HOW to bet is 50 per cent of the battle in trying to beat the races. And yet I would guess that the average bettor, when he studies a race, probably puts about 98 per cent of his attention to making his selection, and the other two per cent on what he's going to do with his conclusion. That aspect of the game is something that for most of us usually takes a back seat.

"It happens to all of us - we lose because our betting skills let us down. The way I've formulated my own approach to betting strategy is to do something I'd recommend to everyone - keep an accurate record of all your bets. You have to be honest with yourself and be able to evaluate your own performance. Am I a really good gambler? Am I losing? These are the questions you have to ask yourself and, even more specifically, how am I winning, or how am I losing?"

Beyer believes a punter should sit down after each meeting and sincerely evaluate his day's betting performance. A few years ago, he did this over an extended period and learned a great deal about himself and his weaknesses and strengths.

He explains: "At that time I was a pretty orthodox punter. I believed in the solid maxims of Tom Ainslie (another U. S. handicapping expert) that the way to play the game was to identify those occasional solid horses, bet them to win when they were overlays, at good prices, and grind out a sound profit.

"Well, I reviewed my performance over a long period and I found something that was really amazing. The bets that I was making on the kinds of horses that we've been told all our lives are the foundation of success at the track - you know, those solid 3/1 overlays that you wait for every two or three days - these were the horses I wasn't making money on!

"If I had a good year and I looked back on those types of bets, they were not the source of my profit. The money I was winning in a good year was from the more adventuresome type of betting - exactas, trebles - aggressive plays rather than good, solid, conservative

Beyer says the major part of his betting was on what he always thought was ‘proper'. If he was betting $300 to win on a solid 3 / 1 shot, he might be putting $50 or $100 into the race where he was boxing three horses in an exacta or something like that.

"I realised I was making more money from these gimmick-type bets, or the sucker bait as Ainslie terms it, so I decided to shift my emphasis. I began putting' more money on what might be described as the riskier situations and bet less money on the conservative-type situations, where I was told I was supposed to bet! It changed my life as a gambler."

Beyer met many professional punters in the ensuing years and asked them about their betting techniques. He discovered his experience was not unique.

"The idea that you beat this game by grinding out a steady, day-to-day accumulation of profits sounds great. Let's say you go to the track to win a fixed amount, say $100 a day, that's your objective, grind it out. Most people embrace this kind of conservative philosophy. They don't want to take great gambles and subject themselves to risks.

"Professional gamblers I know experience something totally different. If you ask someone who may have made $50,000 in a year 'how did you do it?', they'd probably respond, 'well, I hit this one and that big one - that was my year'.

"The profits a bettor makes in the course of a year do not come from those conservative plays, but from those few big windfalls. It's maybe not what you want to hear. Obviously to be oriented in that direction is a lot riskier than approaching this betting game from the idea that 'well, I'm going to seek out a sound. steady profit'. I really believe that people who are looking for a conservative and safe return in this game are really misguided. This is a gambling game. If you want a conservative, safe income . . . get a job! "

Beyer's philosophy, then, is that big plays are the way to win at the track. The name of the game, he stresses, is to win money, and it doesn't matter if you are picking 72 per cent winners, the question still has to be asked: How much did you win?

He says: "If you're in this game, that should be your objective and if it is your objective then you have to fashion some kind of style and philosophy of play that will enable you to achieve maximum results. I try to do this largely by approaching a race from the standpoint of 'How can I make a killing here?'

"If I have an opinion - whether it's the fact I like a 6/4 favourite, or that I hate the favourite, and it happens to be an exacta race, if I happen to think there are four evenly-matched horses - I want to analyse that race from the standpoint of how I can use my opinion to make a lot of money.

"I choose my spots where I'm going to bet serious money. Not so much on the strength of my handicapping opinion but on the opportunity the race offers for profit. You can probably guess that I'm a great proponent and lover of exotic bets, and I believe that the proliferation of exotic, or multiple bets, far from being a development that has tainted the game, is probably the greatest thing that has happened to horse bettors ever; it's changed the very nature of the game, altering the definition of what is a good bet.

"Back in the days when we had only win and place, when I began betting, there was, in fact, only one way to play the horses; you had to look for that good, solid 3/1 shot and bet him. So it was the only way to go, to grind it out. Betting that way, you had to get a high percentage of winners over a period of time, especially if you were a bettor with moderate capital.

"But the whole game's changed now. Let's look at what might have happened years ago. Let's say there is a 4/5 favourite who looks pretty unbeatable, but you think the competition is coming from a 20 /1 shot in which you see some virtues. In the old days, this would have been a frustrating situation. You would have had to bet the 4/5 shot to win, the 20/1 shot to place and either way you wouldn't collect very much. You might have bet the 20/1 chance to win and he'd run 2nd and you'd beat your head against the wall.

"Now it's all different, you can bet the exacta and make a tremendous amount of money from that situation."

Beyer says he doesn't have any strict formula for betting. If a horse is a longshot, his inclination is not to fool around.

He explains: "If I'm getting 10/1 on a horse I like, then there's no need to be too greedy. But if the price is 5/2or 3 / 1, then my inclination is to try to look at the entire race and see if I can find the other contenders and to use my opinion on that 5 / 2 shot in a way that I can play the exactas and trifecta in such a fashion that I'll get a big return.

"You might properly argue that this kind of approach has a point t of obvious risk. If you're betting in more adventuresome-type situations you run the risk of suffering through a long losing streak that can really undermine your self-confidence, not to mention your bankroll. That's true.

" That's the reason I believe when you're playing a race in an aggressive fashion you should not just go to the window and bet a cold exacta on just one combination, but rather analyse the race and determine other likely results, the ones that might bust you, and then you have to protect against them.

"It's very possible to fashion bets in races in which you are simultaneously taking a shot for the 'big score' but at the same time you are betting enough 'saver' type combinations, hopefully, to shield you from risk."

Beyer says that if he fancies an exacta bet in a race, he might take his top horse with two or three others in a way that will allow him to break even or make a small profit if his top horse gets beaten by his second fancy. Around 30 to 40 per cent of his investment will be used to 'spread the play' while at the same time the remaining money is used going for the big kill.

"We all get carried away and sometimes we avoid taking hedges even when they are cheap," he admits. " Once I did this at Gulfstream Park, and it was one of the many times in my career I felt like an idiot. I bet a cold $400 exacta and my horses ran the wrong way around, and if I had bet only a $20 saver on the other combination I would have protected my entire investment.

"So it was a lesson to me never to get too carried away by your strength on one opinion. There's nothing wrong with using a certain amount of capital to protect yourself, but at the same time you must never lose sight of the objective of this game, and that's to win big!"

Beyer has firm views on whether to allow yourself a certain 'fixed' amount to bet on each race. The difficulty with this approach, he says, is that you tend to assume a betting situation is black and whit-e, either you play or you don't.

"Instead of the fixed percentage system of betting, I favour a different orientation, which I think adapts itself better to the realities of life at the track, and to the psychology of horseplayers. MY starting point is this: When you see what strikes you as the perfect situation - you've got a horse with a big rating, a big trip, the right jockey, the right price - you're flush, and you really want to make your maximum bet, the question remains how much do you bet?' What is the largest amount of money you are Willing to risk in a situation like this?

"Using that figure as a point of reference, I think you can then realistically scale down your other plays and keep things in proportion. The real key to good betting is not having some elaborate betting formula, but simply to keep the right proportion of money between your stronger opinions and your lesser opinions.

"If you are going to bet $100 on an absolute blockbuster then later on if you find yourself betting $90 on what might be termed a marginal situation only, then you are doing wrong.

"The key to good money management is to bet the most when you have the strongest opinion on the best situation. That sounds elementary, I know, but unfortunately most punters don't do it. How many times have we all comeback from the track and. when things cool down, and we look at the wreckage of the day, we note the horse we really, really liked and it was the one you'd had your fifth largest bet of the day on!

"So if you keep this top amount in mind when you are deciding how much to invest in a race, you should know how to proportion your other bets in keeping with your varying opinions." 1 Andy Beyer realises that in different punters there will be varying forms of what he calls 'courage' in placing money on horses.

He says: "The theoretical systems which tell you to bet X dollars on a race and escalate when you're really rolling, are fine, except that we all have a choking point, and there's a point that comes where you're going to bet a certain amount of money when your judgement will be impaired.

"Years ago, when I used something called The Percentage System, at one point my maximum bet was $300. I was really in the groove. I was hitting up and down according to the formula and now I was required to move the maximum bet to $400. I froze. I went into a terrible slump because all my $400 bets were on over-cautious, overconservative 6/5 shots.

"I was letting the really profitable situations go by. So I think all of us have a point where judgement becomes impaired and where you can't really handle the financial pressure at a certain level. So just by establishing for openers your maximum bet and working downwards from there, I think you can improve your approach to betting better and dealing with the psychological realities of the betting game.

"Further, starting with your maximum bet as an orientation point, and scaling down everything, is also a good way of helping deal with a key question of money management and this is 'how many races a day should we bet?'.

"How often should a bettor go to the windows? We've all had selectivity preached at us ... well, one meeting at Saratoga my friends jibed me for being too unrestrained, so I went back over my results for that season in 1982 just to see if indeed I had had little restraint.

"Of 216 races at that meeting, I bet 195! Of 24 trifecta races I bet 23 and the only reason I missed that one was because I had to leave 'early for the airport! But - I had a meeting like I would never have dreamed of!!"

NEXT MONTH: More words of wisdom from the great Andy Beyer on how to cope with the risk factor. Also we'll have the views of several other international handicapping experts, all of them proven professionals in their field.

Click here to read Part 3.
Click here to read Part 1.

By Jon Hudson