There is a lot written about punting off course these days that is absolute nonsense. Most punting is conducted off course, and, unless the tracks have a sudden rush of blood and do something really radical, things will stay that way for about 47 weeks in every year. Maybe more.

There is a golden rule about betting on the TAB - don't bet for a place blindfold. This means that you do not ever bet place, or each way, when you don't know what the tote is paying for the place component.

The win dividend is often fairly predicted by the prepost johnnies who give you their ideas of the odds. They might be out a bit but they will be quite correct most of the time, and will certainly have the betting order reasonably accurate.

A sudden betting plunge can occasionally undo the best market, and a deluge of rain can upset the betting for the whole day. But, in general, you can be confident, from the morning line and what follows, about the approximate odds for the win. There are one or two exceptions and we will look at them quickly.

You can be sure that if a horse is listed at sevens or eights, and you think it ought to be fours, and it starts getting a few tips, it will start at fours. Murphy's Law again.

Also, a horse that is listed at fours, but gets no attention at all, will frequently open at sixes or sevens and start at tens.

However, a place success can pay $3.20 or $1.04 for a $5 winner. And it can pay between $2 and $5 for an $11 winner, and you can't usually pick it!

I tried for a long time to estimate how the public would support horses to place. I tried to get a line on it week in, week out, and I gave up in total frustration. I do not believe it can be done.

Still, there are clues for us all. Big races often provide a chance for a place overlay. The Cups will have horses at, say, 15/1 the win and tens the place. An amazing overlay but it will be there. What did we say about not supporting longshots each way? Yes, but that was at a quarter the odds. When you can get two-thirds, or a half (and you can!), things change. I have been known to skip the win bet in favour of the safer place bet in really big races, where there is in excess of a million dollars in the pool.

Let me pose this one for you. If you fancy a horse in the big race this year which is $9 the win on Monday night with, say, two million in the win pool, and $6.50 the place with a million-plus in the pool (and 24 runners), and you realise you can have 8/1 the win or 11/2 the place, well, what will you do?

Yes, it could firm a bit in the place pool. Even down to $5 when you're at work on Tuesday morning. In my experience that rarely happens, and it happens even less to the place pool than it does to the win pool. So there is a chance to make a killing here at odds that are generously in your favour.

There's more to this than meets the eye. The big race attracts once-a-year punters who make sure everything is backed to win, and so the place pools seem to have a more even spread than they would normally. You find your 8/1 shot and a 20/1 shot both paying fives-plus the place. There are even instances where a horse is 4/1 (or thereabouts) the win and threes the place. It is an astoundingly rewarding race for the committed each-way punter who can resist impulse betting, and it goes all the way back to the old method of betting for value. Once a year isn't all that often, I agree . . . but it's coming up.

Off course, each-way or place betting is only viable if you are pretty sure of your place returns, and confident they won't be eroded by a last-minute strike. My suggestion is that the place pool should be above half a million dollars at least, before you trust it.

All in all, the oldest question is still unanswered for the TAB bettor, except that there is a safe rule: Unless the pool is going to be very large, don't bet for a place if you can't be near the TAB when the race is due to be run. If you ignore this, you will surely lose overall, because not knowing is akin to not caring. If you CARE about winning overall, you won't bet for a place blindly on the TAB.

What are the chances for the place bettor who can watch the TAB market? The table below outlines the basics, so at least we have something concrete to work from. For five, six and seven runners I have assumed that "place" means first or second. For large fields, place means 1,2,3.

We assume all horses are equal, as there is no other way of looking at this.

So you see, from the above table, THE VERY WORST ACCEPTABLE SITUATION for a 12/1 horse is for it to pay 3/1. That is the break-even point.

But the bookie will happily pay you 3/1. He knows your horse does NOT have the same place chance as some of the shorter ones, in fact it probably has one chance in six or seven, not three in twelve. So he gets his edge. He knows that more than 75 per cent of the horses at 12/1 or more won't place. (And so, less than 25 per cent WILL place.) The other thing to remember is that he is cutting you back on your WIN bet by paying 3/1 place, as well (see last month). He won't just bet you the place.

What about the TAB? They'll bet place, of course. You just have to be sure the value is there. Even if it's only theory, perhaps the easiest way is to accept nothing less than the theoretical bottom line. And that means the chances your horse has in an "all things equal" event.

The Cup? Twenty-four runners, three chances in 24 to place. One in eight. The odds are seven to one in a race where the theoretical odds of any horse winning are 23/1. Note that this is better than the quarter the bookie offers. He offers 5.75, when the true odds are almost 7/1 ' There are almost thirteen place chances in a hundred. A dividend of $8 minimum is required to cut even, all other things being equal.

It's all theory, of course ... but it makes you think. And it makes you wary of taking unders the place. At least you know now what's a fair thing, and as to "other things being equal" . . . they are never so, but there may be times now when you will look at the TAB place pool and consider a place bet, where you never even thought of backing that horse for a win.

Runners True Odds True Return($) Bookies Odds
5 1 in 2.5 $2.50
(40 in 100)
usually tote,
or 1/3 the win odds
first or second

So with two chances in five, we have a 40% chance of collecting. We therefore have to get a dividend of $2.50 to cut even (as we expect to strike it forty times in every hundred bets). The win price is 411 (five equal chances). The bookie is offering us two chances in six (or one in three), one-third of four in odds ($2.33) (this is not theoretical value). We would get (for our 40 places) $93.20 for every $100 bet.

Runners True Odds True Return($) Bookies Odds
6 1 in 3
(33 in 100)
$3.05 113

The bookie will again pay unders. We have to get an average of $3.05 the place for our 33 in a hundred places. The bookie's odds are 1.6511 ($2.65 x 33= $87).

Runners True Odds True Return($) Bookies Odds
7 1 in 3.5
(28 in 100)
$3.55 113

Here the bookie is offering one chance in three against one in three and a half. The bookie's place odds are 211 ($3) but we still cannot make square. We need 512.

Runners True Odds True Return($) Bookies Odds
83 in 8 $2.701/4 the odds
first three

Our bookie is offering acceptable odds. Three chances in eight is 0.375 or 37.5% chance of placing. He is offering you two chances in eight, or 25%, plus your stake. At 711 his odds are 714 (with stake, $2.75) and we cut even here.

Runners True Odds True Return($) Bookies Odds
103 in 10
(1 in 3.3)

Things are worse now, although they may look OK. We need 512 the place to cut even, and our bookie is offering 512. Just cut even (why bother?).

Runners True Odds True Return($) Bookies Odds
12 3 in 12
(1 in 4)
$4.00 1/4

Here the bookie is paying you back 3/1, or one in four Exactly right? Yes, in theory. Of course, the longshots only have an equal chance IN THEORY In practice they run fewer places. 3/1 is paltry!

Click here to link to Part 1.

By The Optimist