There’s a time to play and a time to take a break. This is the advice I was given a long time ago in regards to punting.

The man who passed on the words of wisdom knew what he was talking about. He’d had several tries at betting on a professional basis and after going “under” a couple of times, he finally got it right, and when I chatted with him he was traveling strongly and making plenty.

The secret, he told me, was to know when to bet and when to stand aside and just watch. The problem with his betting when he failed was that he tried to bet all the time, never gave himself a break, and as a result put too much pressure on himself. The dam eventually cracked.

Loss of confidence followed. Money losses arrived. Defeat. Simple as that.

Perhaps the hardest thing for any punter to do is NOT to have a bet, especially on Saturdays when the big, exciting action takes place. You can feel like your week is missing something when there is no betting action. Remember the crisis time when EI struck and most racing was called off. That was ugly.

There should be two distinct betting sections in your racing life. I call them the ACTION and LAYOFF times. Or maybe you’d like to think in terms of RESERVE or RESTRICTED instead of layoff?  Doesn’t really matter as long as you take on board the concept.

My friend Ian MacArthur and I were discussing this aspect of betting a few weeks ago. He’s even penned an essay or two on the subject.

“When you think you have a better chance of winning, you make your ACTION bets,” he says. “These are your bets about which you are very confident, the ones where you know all about the horse or horses concerned. These action bets might happen during a certain period of the year, say the spring carnival time. When that period ends you go into LAYOFF mode. It’s a concept that most punters should think about. You hit when the time is ripe and you ease off when the time is not right.”

Ian has his own approach. From the start of the year until near the end of February, he hardly bets. It’s a layoff time for him. When he doesn’t bet he throws his usual stake into his “reserve pot” to be used for when the action time arrives.

When the autumn racing gets underway (March and April mostly), Ian unloads. He enjoys this period of the year. He is likely to miss much of the Adelaide and Brisbane racing in May and June. Too difficult, he says, so he has a layoff time, though going into action if he spots a good mark.

The new season arrives in August but it’s still layoff time until the end of September when he swings into action for some heavy betting in October and most of November. When that’s over, he retreats again to begin the new year again.

So, all in all, Ian is betting heavy “action” for some two to three months. For another three months he is on half-speed, just looking around for the odd slice of value and for half the year he’s in strict layoff mode.

What does he do when he’s betting is in action mode? He bets anything up to $1,000 a day. In half-layoff mode he’s down to the occasional $100 or $200 bet, but it has to be a real good thing at a decent price to put him into action.

Ian told me: “Each punter has his own style of betting, and you are the only person who knows your own betting style. My approach won’t suit everyone because the urge to bet is hard to resist.  What I’m recommending, if we alter the approach a little, is that you up the ante when the occasion is right, and when it isn’t you drop back.

“There’s nothing sensationally new in it. I think the small-bet punter should think about investing $40 a week, save $10, and look to losing no more than 10 per cent on outlay every year.  You might win 10 per cent, of course.

“So that’s $40 a week 52 times a year equaling $2,080. If we say we lost 10 per cent you are left with $1,872 but you’ve been putting away $10 a week so you still have a bank of $2,400. You could bet $209 a week in layoff periods and raise the stake to $60 when you reckon you are in action mode.”

So, as Ian points out, your betting approach can go up and down. Your task is to choose when the time is right to beef up the bets and when it is time to cut them back.

The top racing periods of the year would seem the obvious ones to choose for the action bets, although there are punters who firmly believe that the winter can be the best time to rip into big betting mode.

My old pal Des Green used to love winter meetings. His reasoning was simple: It is usually plainly revealed in the formguides which runners are winners on rain-affected ground.

Wet tracks’ winning form usually stands up well, and repeats itself, Des told me. And I agree. I’ve had some of my biggest successes on winter tracks, simply by following horses which have proven themselves on slow and heavy tracks.

In fact, I prefer heavy tracks more than anything else. Horses that can win on such conditions will stand out like a beacon light. They will most times live up to their previous wet tracks’ wins.

So while an ACTION time is more than likely to be when all the top races are run in the autumn and spring, some punters may well find that the winter and wet tracks suit them better and give them steady profits.

PPM writer Philip Roy is another “true believer” when it comes to the roller-coaster aspect of betting. Philip was in bank investing for many years so he knows a bit about strategies for making money.

He says: “The best investors I know are those who pick their moments very carefully. Some blokes can sit back for months on end until they find the right investment, and then they will go in hard.

“It’s just like betting on the races. The same thinking applies. You choose your moments. Bet big when you have as much in your favour as possible, and ease up on the throttle when you know the waters are a bit murky. A simple philosophy but it beats the hell out of forcing yourself to bet day in and day out, on all sorts of scrubbers.

“Being a winning investor, whether it’s stocks and shares or bonds or betting on horses, is all about the right timing and having a cool head and lots of clever intuition; there’s as much intuition required for knowing the best times to bet as there are about picking which horses to back.”

By Jon Hudson