What does 1997 hold for you as an investor? Did you win in 1996? I hope so, but what does that say about the coming year?

Does a plan exist whereby you can be as sure as any genuine investor that, long term, you will be a winner? Anyone who invests money has certain expectations. He expects to make a profit, over and above what he can earn in the bank and above the rate of inflation.

A dollar now may be worth 96 cents at the end of 1997, so to break even you have to be able to earn around 4 per cent interest. Your $104 will be worth roughly what $100 is worth now, so you will have made nothing.

You just haven't lost.

If you want to be reasonably profitable, you will have to make about $107 or $108 for every $100 invested, minimum. This is a rule of thumb used widely, meaning that you try to make double the inflation rate.

So the question arises: how many punters are satisfied with 8 per cent? I don't know of any. I have read all the nonsense over the years about making a small profit and being happy with it, but I have also panned the self-praise of ideas which go into ecstasies when they make a few dollars (occasionally even 100 per cent on the day) and overlook the many complete blowouts. You have to make BIG money on the good days to overcompensate for the losing days. Any plan that doesn't have this as its number one objective is, in my view, a loser.

So, what is a fair thing for 1997?

First, set a target. Second, buy a notebook and pen. Don't laugh; it's amazing how many punters don't even bother to make a note of their betting activities, nor the little snippets that make all the difference. If I told you how many times in every year I ask the same question - do you keep a record? And am told "not really", or something like that, you'd probably be amazed. Do you keep a record of your other exes? Do you check your bank balance each week or fortnight? Then why not check your betting?

Many punters simply take what they can get from their weekly or fortnightly pay packets and bet it, then do the same next period. A winning day means a present for the spouse or kids, maybe a meal out, a few extra expenses met (the phone bill or something like that) and then back to the drawing board for the next weekend.

That's a typical gambler at work. No long-term strategies, no plans in place, and certainly NO RECORDS. Why no records? Because there are too many losing days and they don't want to know about them. It may be that they don't want the spouse, or a mate, to see the figures, but the greater likelihood is that they don't want to look at the figures themselves. I hope this doesn't sound like anyone you know, but since it applies to around eight of every ten people I come into contact with in racing, there is an 80 per cent chance you are one of them. So, if you can truthfully say you keep accurate records, go on reading. If not, you may as well make a decision now:

Get a notebook, or resign yourself to probably losing in 1997.

If you are still going to avoid this advice, in a year from now you'll be living in hope and amongst the great majority who lose. Has it occurred to you that when a large divvy is declared, most investors on that particular kind of bet lost? When the TAB paid a big divvy for the trifecta in the 1996 Melbourne Cup in NSW, there were 300 winning tickets. A quick bit of maths says the winners shared a pool in excess of $12,000,000. So there were more than eleven million losing tickets.

When a horse pays $10 for a win, more than 90 per cent of punters have lost on that race.  You could argue that 90 per cent of the money invested was lost, but that's not quite true. That money went to finance the winners (and, of course, the government). When you bet on the TAB, you are betting against your mates, against thousands of human beings you have never met or even imagined are out there; against, in fact, all the other punters who invest on that race.

It's their money you are trying to take home.

If you feel bad about that, if the morality gets in the road of your desire to win, then stop betting. But while ever you bet, you are trying to take my money, Brian's money, Martin's money, or maybe share the win with us (if we are all lucky). Someone, however, is paying for this, and it is the bloke next to you at the TAB. The loser. The one who makes those weird "sssst" noises when the caller mentions his horse.

When he wins you know about it, how clever he was, how he told everyone before the race, and it can be galling when you know he put in five minutes' work and you studied the race for hours. What you have to tell yourself is the subject of our next major point:

Serious punters regard only longterm investment as relevant.

I have said elsewhere in this issue, and I have told you for years that when you look at your notebook at the end of a set period (say six months minimum) you can say something relevant about your bank. After a week or so, you can only say that things are going well, or not so well, at present. You will make your money on a handful of great days each year.

In 1996, I made my money on the following days:

Golden Slipper Day, Sydney Cup Day, Stradbroke Day, Caulfield Cup Day, Cox Plate Day, VRC Derby Day, and Melbourne Cup Day.

August is a disaster month for most punters. Remember that there will be new champions every winter and spring (Anthems is a case in point; a very good horse but he cost people dearly when he returned because he had been labelled a champion, better than Octagonal, by those who seem to have no idea of contained journalism). Do not bet in August or early September in Sydney or Melbourne, unless you have either excellent notes to help you remember, or you use someone who does as a reliable source. Use my stable if you prefer for that difficult period - but you won't find winter wonders in it.

If you have to bet every week, then bet on venues that are reliable for the period. The other states are usually OK for August, and Adelaide and Brisbane are the places to be in late autumn/early winter. From mid-October to early December most Sydney races are pretty hopeless to pick.

Favourites are shorter than they should be because they tend to stand out in smaller fields (this doesn't mean their win rate goes up though!)

Higher weighted horses can win in the summer season, because they are often much better than the opposition. This is particularly true of sprints to about 1400 metres or even 1500 metres.

Also, as much as I like the track, I simply do not bet at Rosehill any more except for the big carnival. If one of my stable horses is racing there, then of course I identify it for callers, but I won't be on it. The draw for sprinters is too hard to analyse, and the chances of coming home wide-out seem forlorn.

I do not bet on straight tracks. If you kept your race photos from the Melbourne carnival, look at the stupid racing that occurred over the sprints at Flemington. It's no secret. Wrong side, no hope.

The final point for this issue is the question of the bank. I wrote some time back that you need to establish what you can comfortably outlay OVER THE YEAR, then divide it by, say, 52. Your average weekly investment is then 1/52 of the annual bank.

What you do now is to identify the best times for you. Unless you are a new chum you'll know when they are, or when you may want to spend more to win more. Say you can spend $50 a week. That's $2600 per year. You can eliminate August, so the average for 48 weeks might be $54 per week.

Let's take this a step further. Expect that you will want to spend more on the four major carnivals, plus Melbourne Cup Day. Say there are twelve such days (use your Miller's Guide). Allot, say, $20 per weekend for the other 36 weeks, making $720, and you have still $1880 in your bank for 1997. As a rough guide, divide this by the twelve special days and Melbourne Cup Day (thirteen in all) and you'll get $145 for each of the thirteen days.

So on the days you expect to do well, you have seven times the basic money to play with. And by putting aside $50 per week, you will always have the necessary betting money, unless you manage to lose everything all year up to the October/ November Melbourne festival. Should that happen, you may be a little short. It's a horrible thought, but if it happens you'll have to either supplement it, or drop back a little.

And don't forget to BANK the stake returns and winnings each week!

By The Optimist