I started off putting this article together as a sort of homage to the British form analyst and author Nick Mordin, but as I progressed through my research I realised that for a broader picture, a more helpful picture, I needed to embrace other well known professionals.

Blokes like Alex Bird, Phil Bull, Barney Curley, Clive Holt, Sydney Harris to name a few. And as the series progresses (yes, there will be at least one more article), I’ll talk about other “legends”, including Jack Ramsden and Paul Cooper, as well as Jon Gibby, author of a best-seller called Betting on Flat Handicaps.

What can these professionals tell us? How can they guide the way? What angles did they use in their successful betting adventures?

Alex Bird is a name that some readers will know. Back in the 1940s he was turning over some TWO MILLION POUNDS a year! He made a fortune from betting on photo-finishes when the film took five minutes to develop. Bird discovered a way of standing at the finishing line and by keeping his head perfectly still and closing one eye he could, with astonishing accuracy, predict the outcome.

When he believed the unfavoured and longer-priced near side had won he would back it. Rapid film development, of course, torpedoed this approach eventually but by that time Bird had amassed a fortune with his photo-finish bets.

But he had an all-round knowledge of racing and some of the principles he adhered to are worth noting today, some 60 years after he began his stunningly successful betting life.

In fact, Bird was still landing plunges until close to his death in 1990. One of his last plunges was on a horse called Final Shot which he backed at 40/1 when it won the Ayr Gold Cup, starting at 12/1.


  1. Don’t bet when the going changes. If the going changes from firm to soft, keep your money in your pocket. Nothing upsets form more than a major change in ground conditions.
  2. Follow up-and-coming jockeys. Look out for promising apprentices.
  3. Bet each way in non-handicaps with 8-10 runners. Pick races where there are a limited number of form horses, oppose the favourite and combine your second and third fancies in each way combination bets.
  4. Don’t bet “first show”. The bookmakers’ profit is higher when they are “shadow boxing” for an opening. Almost all runners increase in price, especially when the market is weak. Second show prices usually give you an extra 10 per cent on your winnings over a season.

Another British pro with whom we are well acquainted in Australia is Phil Bull, the man who founded Timeform and made an absolute FORTUNE as a punter.

He was a lesson in having the right temperament to be a punter, something which many punters lack. They have the skills to pick winners but lack the temperament to back them properly.

Bull regarded all races as being the same. Each race was an entity and required examination. If after his study he reckoned there was no standout, then so be it. There was no bet. He treated each race on its individual merits.
Here are some of his sage pieces of advice:


  1. Don’t bet unless the odds are good value . . . a matter of individual judgement. Bull said: “If I’m offered only evens about what I judge to be a 6/4 chance, I do not bet. If I can get 2/1, I bet. And 3/1 about the same horse is a bet with a capital B.”
  2. Don’t bet beyond your means or try to make your fortune in a day.
  3. Don’t bet each way in handicaps or other races with big fields.

Paul Cooper is a British professional who specialises in “miracle bets” like Yankees, accumulators and one called Lucky 15, a Yankee with four win singles where the punter can secure double the odds if only one of the four wins.

Cooper says that studying trainers underpins his whole business operation.

He says: “There are certainly some trainers I much prefer to back . . . what I really look for is someone who is perhaps underestimated and as a result their horses start at bigger prices than they should do.”


  1. Stay cool, calm and collected when making a selection and don’t go in head-down. Weigh up all the possibilities and then have the nerve to go through with it.
  2. Bet only when you are getting good value . . . shop around for the best early prices.
  3. Back horses that have winning form. Keep away from maidens – the form is unpredictable.
  4. Bet in sprints. The form is usually more reliable than in longer distance races.
  5. Find a small, well-run stable to follow; because it isn’t a glamour yard, you’ll mostly get a value price on their horses.
  6. Bet within your means. Reduce your bets when you strike a bad run and increase them when things are going well.
  7. Don’t back short-priced favourites. The returns simply are not good enough, and most of them lose anyway.
  8. Don’t chase your losses. There’s always another day.
  9. Don’t bet heavily when there’s been a sudden change in the track condition.
  10. Don’t back out of form trainers or jockeys.

Clive Holt is a UK professional who reckons “caution” is his watchword.

Not that it’s stopped him earning a very good living by backing racehorses. This is what he says:

“Early on I saw that betting in singles was the way forward. This was the first business principle I learned. By March 1975, I was ready to earn my living as a full-time punter. I started betting simply because I needed more money to go along with all the commitments one takes on with getting married and having a family.

“Initially, I used to bet in doubles, trebles and it was a haphazard approach dictated by my pocket but nevertheless I was sure I was well in front. In the beginning I had no proper record of my bets. I worked on a week to week basis; that is, being paid weekly and having regular outgoings and I was left with about the same amount every week to bet with.

“There was no way I could work out what sort of percentage return I was achieving, so I decided to do the job properly and record all my bets. This was the first application of a business technique to my emerging betting enterprise and it was to point me in the right direction.

“Looking back, it probably had the greatest influence on my future success. As the figures and the percentages built up before me, it was clear I was becoming more and more analytical. Having the figures before me allowed the easy calculation that betting in multiples had yielded me nearly 50 per cent clear profit on total outlay, whilst betting in singles would have yielded slightly over 60 per cent profit.

“As there were fewer single bets compared with doubles, trebles and so on, increasing the outlay on single bets seemed a more lucrative and less time consuming option. Importantly, the losing runs were shorter and I was more in control of my money.

“Setting up a betting bank was the second business technique that I applied to my betting that made a real difference to profits. Seven years on from the first day that I stepped inside Haydock Park, I eventually felt confident enough to go full time and gave my notice to quit my day job.

“My first bet was £67 to £30 on Western Jewel and it won by two lengths and was never in any danger. That good start got even better and I made more money in six weeks than I would have earned in a year working with the Electricity Board.

“Betting has been a rewarding career for me. I’ve never been a big hitter; even now I rarely win more than £1,000 at one go, but from the modest start I’ve derived enormous satisfaction from being successful in such a high risk occupation. The trappings of success seem almost incidental to that, but hard work has to be rewarded. After all, why work in the first place – you only have one go at life and it’s a short one.

“The betting game has provided me with the pick of fast, luxury cars, Lotus, Jaguar, De Tomaso, Pantera, BMWs ... winter holidays in the Caribbean, Africa, Australia, America, Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Canaries, plus the Mediterranean, of course. It has provided my wife and four children with a Listed Georgian Country House complete with Coach House and stables, set in acres of parkland, close to the north’s major training centre.

“None of that would have come my way if I was still jointing electricity cables for a living. This is much harder work obviously, but first past the post, predicted in advance still gives me a buzz and easily outweighs the disappointments that are part and parcel of the operation.

“I’ve never felt the urge to bet purely to have an interest in a race per say. I bet purely for profit only when that’s possible and it wouldn’t bother me one bit if I never had another bet – provided I found another suitably rewarding challenge.

“What advice can I give my fellow punters? Well, one vital ingredient for successful punting is that you’ve got to be confident that your selection can win. Horses with good recent form, preferably winning form, running against limited opposition within their class, when at their peak, progressing or improving, do win most races, all year round.

“They are a constant source of winners for anyone to exploit. Almost every winner worth backing falls into this category which is broadened even further by the four pros: PROVEN, PROGRESSIVE, PROMISING and PROFITABLE.”

Nick Mordin has built up a big name for himself with several books which have sold well. One of them is Winning Without Thinking, in which he explains in some detail his betting philosophy.

He is keen on correct money management, something he says seems to occur to very few people.

Mordin writes: “I have to confess that, for a long time, I personally never bothered even to think about it. I figured that the whole point of betting was to try and pick winners. If you picked enough winners, you’d make money. End of story.

“In reality, picking winners is only half the equation; and, somewhat grudgingly, I have to concede it is the least important half. The other half, picking winners which start at longer odds than their chance seems to represent, is much more important.

“Without it, profits are much harder to come by. US professional gambler Frank Romano summed up the situation in a quote published in the book The New Expert Handicapper. He said: PICKING WINNERS IS EASY, MAKING MONEY IS HARD.”

Mordin’s book contains an interesting staking angle from one of his pals. It’s a simplification of the Kelly Criterion.

  1. Work out the chance, in percentage terms, that you think the horse has of winning.
  2. Multiply this by the horse’s actual odds.
  3. Subtract the probability, again in percentage terms, you believe the horse has of losing.
  4. Divide the result of the above by the horse’s actual odds. The answer is the percentage of your betting capital you should risk.

Mordin’s example: Let’s say you think a horse has a 25 per cent (3/1) chance of winning and its actual odds are 4/1. That’s all you need to know to work out the Kelly Criterion.

Firstly, you multiply the chance you think the horse has (25 per cent) by its actual odds, in this case 4/1.  That is, 25 per cent multiplied by four equals 100 per cent.

Now you must deduct from this the probability you think the horse has of losing. This is 755. So you deduct this figure from the 100 and you are left with 25 per cent. The final step is to divide this by the horse’s actual odds, which are 4/1.  So, 25 per cent divided by four equals 6.25 per cent. Therefore, that is the correct percentage if your bankroll to bet.

Mordin is also keen on the idea that you must bet AGAINST the crowd to be able to win.

He writes: “It follows that if you want to avoid betting with the crowd, you need to avoid thinking like the crowd. It’s not easy but I think I have one rather obvious idea on how to go about pursuing this ideal. My suggestion is very simple: don’t tell anyone what you’re betting.

“One important advantage you’ll gain by keeping your opinion to yourself is that you’ll be free to change it.”

NEXT MONTH: More angles and ideas from some of the world’s leading professional bettors.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Martin Dowling