Steve Ahern was one of Britain’s greatest punters. He won a massive fortune and rose from being a penniless schoolboy to living a life of luxury in a mansion on the island of Majorca. This is our second extract from his book Riches From Horses, published in 1964 (now out of print).

Not for nothing do gamblers sing: "Luck be my lady tonight". It is no washer­woman’s tale that you can be in luck or out of luck in racing.

It happens to everyone. And the periods of bad luck always seem to last much longer than the runs of success. My experience is that they last about the same length of time, but I suppose we all tend to take the good things in life for granted.

One of the most difficult skills I have had to learn as a pro gambler has been to weather the bad luck periods in such a way as to be strong and sure, financially and temperamentally, when the good times come.

Good luck is not sufficient to take a man to the top of the tree, any more than bad luck can keep a man forever at the bottom.

But the shrewd man will always make the best use of his favourable spells and minimise his operation and his risks in a bad run. This is what I always tried to do, and I am in good company in this respect.

I once saw the great jockey Gordon Richards, when he was the tops, but out of luck, ride 67 losers on the trot. He could do nothing right. I remember him riding an odds-on stone bonker in the first race at Brighton, doing everything right, and still getting beaten.

And in the next race another favourite he was riding fell over going down the hill, for no reason, and broke his leg.

But Gordon never gave up and he returned to the saddle the next season to become champion jockey.

I once went 14 months without a bit of luck. But taking the long view of my many years of racing I see clearly that the ebb and flow of luck merely reflects the ebb and flow of luck in life itself.

I learned that when I was in form and in luck, backing a string of winners in a season, I must not get big-headed and think I had the game wrapped up.

Being conceited or taking luck for granted could have suddenly ruined me in a week. It’s possible to do more damage on a racecourse when you allow your mind to go into a skid than a tank could do in a china shop.

The only way to survive is to take your hiding when you have to, wait for the day you know you’re okay, and then hand back the hiding in a clean way.

When Gordon Richards won the Lincoln Handicap with Dramatic, although I knew this was an absolute sure thing, I had been out of luck for so long that I only had 16 quid on it, a very low bet indeed. And despite this modest success (I won 200 pounds) in a sea of failures my period of bad luck continued to such an extent that I began to go to meetings without placing a single bet.

Then came my big plunge on Prince Simon. A chap who had done me one or two good turns came over and told me that Captain Boyd-Rochfort, the Queen’s trainer, had a horse that could beat a top type named Donore by 10 lengths.

I knew that if he was telling the truth this would be a potential Derby winner and yet I had never heard of it. I got hold of the pre-post betting lists and the horse hadn’t even been priced.

The horse was Prince Simon and I was intrigued. I wrote to three people, sending them two quid each, to make inquiries about the horse. Much the same reply came from each of them – that it was a really good horse but nobody yet knew how good it was as he had never been galloped.

The plot was thickening. I had another look at the betting lists and judged that there was not a horse in the first six in the betting that had any real pretensions to winning the Derby. The winner had to come from the as yet unknown brigade, or from France.

As I went into the matter more deeply I knew that if my assumptions were correct it was a million to one against them finding any "unknown" better than this.

And although I was terribly out of form I knew I had to have a real go here. I took all the 66/1 I could possibly get, which was not every much. Bookies do not lay much at 66s, even to lunatics.

I went on to take 40/1, 33/1, 20/1 and then 16/1. I had him to win me 10,000 pounds in the Derby. I also took 14/1 and the odds for a place for him to win the Guineas, to return me 3800 pounds.

Prince Simon duly won his first race at Newmarket and I knew I had been right. He was now made a 3/1 chance to win the Guineas and he came down to 6/1 to win the Derby.

Prince Simon was beaten in a photo-finish in the Guineas. After the first flush of disappointment I realised that at least I had won a few hundred in place money and that my very big Derby bets now looked home and dry.

I knew in my heart that my luck had to change soon. Those bookies could not keep ducking. One day soon I would connect again.

Everyone I was friendly with, plus nearly the whole population of Northampton, now followed my lead and backed Prince Simon to win the Derby. As the day approached, I could see less and less danger to the horse.

The only place I could not check was France, so at Hurst Park I asked a French trainer friend how good the French horses were. He assured me that if what I told him was correct, there was nothing good enough to beat Prince Simon.

On the strength of this I put some more money on until I stood to win over 14,000 pounds. The odds were now 5/2, a big change from 66/1.

On Derby Day I went to Epsom with a fairly light heart, although the little nagging worry about luck was still burning somewhere inside me. I was at the same time nervous and excited. (Note: In 2004 terms, Ahern stood to win the equivalent of some $850,000.)

From whatever angle I looked at it, Prince Simon could not lose. He behaved perfectly in the paddock and in the canter down to the off.

In the early stages of the race he was always in a good position and was nearly in front downhill to Tattenham Corner.

When they went into the straight he immediately hit the front by two or three lengths, with Harry Carr sitting up there with all the confidence in the world.

Then, as they hit the dip, Rae Johnstone came through like a bullet on a French horse, Galcador, and in an instant they were heading for the post neck and neck.

Johnstone (an Aussie jockey) managed to push the French horse half a neck in front and they both sat down to ride it out at a terrific pace. I steadied my glasses and saw that Carr was recovering inch by inch in the last spurt and as they passed the post it seemed a dead heat.

Again no-one could say for sure who had won. I saw Harry Carr’s face. It looked disappointed. I was sure then that the verdict would go against me for the simple reason that I was still out of luck.

Unfortunately, I was right. It was Galcador by a short head. It was a terrible thing to happen twice with the same horse. I had made about 1500 pounds from the place money but it certainly should have been 14,000 pounds!

It was galling but I had to learn to take my medicine. People who only moan about their bad luck might as well lie down at the first hurdle.

Click here to read Part 3.
Click here to read Part 4.
Click here to read Part 1.

By Steve Ahern