Thousands of punters dream of giving up their jobs to become 'professional punters' and yet only a handful make the dream come true.

Why? The simple fact is that only a few amongst millions have the temperament and skill to win consistently at the races. For the main body of punters, professional punting is in the realms of a 'fantasy life' and even winning becomes an insurmountable mountain.

Each of us has the capacity to be a winner, a true professional, but we remain gamblers, numbers players, mugs. Mortgages, families, security fears mean that only a tiny proportion of us will even make a serious attempt to play the races on a professional basis. Many do it and fail. There are always a few, though, that make it.

They rely on betting to make a living and they treat it as a business. Their daily work is form study - checking video tapes of races, combing through racing newspapers, checking track gallops, doing weight-ratings -and ensuring they get value for money at the races. Few professionals can make it using a hit-and-miss approach. In the main, professionals these days are 'betting to prices' in the Don Scott fashion, never backing a horse unless they can get their assessed price or longer.

Some professionals stick to multiple bets in the one race, or multiple doubles, quinellas and trifectas. Whatever they do, they employ consistency and logic in their approach. What they have is a predetermined plan of action - unlike the vast majority of punters, who simply attack their betting with a scattergun approach, hoping to score a bullseye every now and then.

Okay, then, let's assume you have made a decision to throw in your job and become a professional punter. You have enough faith in yourself to take the plunge. What should you do to survive in the betting jungle?

Your first requirement is a bank. A big bank. It is useless, I believe, to set out on a professional path without having sufficient funds. By doing this, you will force yourself into making bets to achieve large gains and this will place you in a defensive, invidious position.

A substantial betting bank is a key requirement because as you enter the nether world of pro punting you cannot have at the back of the mind the thought that your bank isn't large enough to give you peace of mind.

It depends on how much you wish to make from your betting as to how large your bank needs to be. Now, the best you should be hoping for over 12 months is to make a profit of 10 per cent of your actual betting turnover.

This is the margin most pro punters operate on, and any profit above that percentage is a bonus. Of course, some of these punters turn over a million dollars and more a year, so 10 per cent profit means an annual income of some $100,000 plus.

Your betting figures are more than likely to be far more modest. Let's assume you have a bank of $5000 (and this is the very minimum you will need!) and your weekly turnover of bets totals $2500. Over a year, then, your 'business' turnover will be 52 times $2500, equalling $130,000. If you could make 10 per cent on that you would have an annual income $13,000, or $250 a week (on which, as a professional punter, you would have to pay some sort of income tax!). You can see from these figures, that even on such a largish turnover, you should only reasonably look forward to make less than the average wage per week (assuming you can only make 10 per cent profit). To get a liveable wage, you would have to be good enough to lift your profit level to 20 per cent. A tough job, given the vagaries of the racing world where betting is concerned.

To give yourself the very best chance of making it as a pro punter, you would need to draw yourself up a set of rules. These would govern your entire approach to life, and to your betting. They would require discipline, intelligence and probably a lot of personal courage.

Once you have decided which betting approach you are going to take, you must bring in your rules of survival. They will enable you to compete in the betting ring when others about you are failing.

The following are the professional rules that I suggest you follow:

  1. Forget all about 'gambling' - concentrate on betting as an investment and a strict business.
  2. Learn self-control and discipline and never bet just for the sake of having a bet.
  3. Don't follow hunches, dreams, or tips.
  4. Never bet on every race.
  5. Organise your staking in a logical and methodical manner.
  6. Never bet more money than you can afford to lose.
  7. Look for small, sensible returns on your capital - never chase pie-in-the-sky dreams.
  8. When the chance arises, do not be afraid to back more than one horse in a race in order to show a profit.
  9. Restrict your betting to those races in which the complete form is exposed, and which are safely to be rated assound betting races. Be wary with restricted class racing.
  10. Always have a sound reason for backing a particular horse and never back it unless you are satisfied you are obtaining value.
  11. Never punt professionally unless you have a solid betting bank. Always bet to a safe percentage of your bank (10 per cent or less is recommended).

 The late Eric Connolly, one of the world's greatest professionals, handed out a lot of advice in his time. He once warned: "Have patience, learn when to bet and when to watch. Remember, you can beat a race but you cannot beat the races.”

With those words, Connolly was clearly setting out a pattern of thought which should be followed by anyone pro or amateur - who indulges in a bet. Isn't it true that we could all be more successful if only we followed this piece of advice? How many times a year do you toss money away by trying to pick the winners in races in which your inner commonsense tells you are beyond logical approach?

The 'new boy' professional punter has to carefully watch himself when he is at the races. The temptation will be great to throw caution to the wind, and divert from your planned betting approach. This can happen when (a) you suffer a run of losses or (b) when your confidence is cockily high after a win or two.

Such mindless changing of direction will prove your downfall. Racing is not for the haphazard guesser, or the punter who takes money to the track in the desperate hope of turning it into a fortune. All punters -and particularly those with professional aspirations - must hold a long-term view. There is no such thing as the last race until the time comes when you decide never to bet again.

The successful pro punter thinks in terms of a year of betting, and not a single afternoon. If you lose one day, you accept it, but you know that you have a full year to recoup the lost cash. You do not need to wildly try to win it back the same afternoon.

Big betting 'gamblers' with their day-by-day onslaughts often enjoy spectacular results, but over a period of time they end up losing. There is, remember, no such thing as easy money. In any walk of life, you cannot succeed without trying hard.

The punter who thinks there is an easy way to select winners and beat the races should give up betting and forget the whole thing. He will lose.

A professional punter worth his salt will never listen to people with 'tips' and 'inside information' on racetracks. It is always best for the pro punter to steer clear of close friendships or relationships with jockeys, trainers and owners. You have to rely on your own opinion to be a success, an opinion gained from the study of form and weights and class.

In his great book, Winning More, the professional 'king' Don Scott says: "Although I have attended thousands of race meetings in the last 32 years, I still regard as friends only a few owners and one or two trainers and jockeys. I have remained remote, almost aloof some may say, from the real racing world and its scores of personalities. I have asked no questions, sought no opinions, pleaded for no information.

"I have relied entirely on my study of objective facts - the handicappers' weights, race photos and films, and form cards - to shape my judgement."

Don's wise words should be carefully noted. He also has something to say about confidence and the long-term prospects of beating the races. In Winning More, he has this to say about what can happen when a punter is hit for six by a terrible losing run:

"No matter how skilful you are in calculating future ratings or forecasting true odds, you must have losing runs when everything goes against you ... Your calculations are right but, because luck has deserted you, you think your calculations are wrong ... Instead of thinking rationally, you react irrationally to every fresh setback ... You start betting with frightened money and end up with terrified money, or no money at all. Drunk with disasters, you stagger from one losing race to the next.

"Your nerve goes, your money goes, and finally you go, too."

Don says that to be a winner you must be firm and resolute and stay cool when losses are mounting, even if it means taking a few weeks' holiday. You should never bet, he warns, when your nerve is shaken or your balance upset.

Anyone contemplating life as a professional punter must, of course, read Don's book, Winning More. It contains so much wisdom that anyone who fails to read it is doing himself a disservice.

These, then, are some thoughts of professional punting. As you will have realised, it will not be easy. Like any real business, it has its enormous pressures and you can expect to feel these stresses and strains all the time. You will only survive if, like any good businessman, you read the market correctly and make the right decisions under fire.

By Richard Hartley Jnr.