Off we go for a new year of betting! Will it be a successful year for most punters? Alas, the answer to that question is no. But that's not a reason to feel despondent.

A little bit of clear thinking and sensible analysis can help you to boost your betting and do one of two things - (a) slash your losses to an acceptable level or (b) pitchfork you into a nice profit situation.

Let's consider first the bookie versus punter conflict. Why do most bookmakers prosper (despite their protestations, most of them do make a good living from racing!)? Be they treat racing as a business, whereas the average punter regards it as purely a sport or a hobby.

The average punter, let's face it gives his spare cash a fling and that's it. He would do much, much better if he adopted a more sound financial approach, perhaps starting out with a small bank with the aim of making a steady capital gain.

English professional punter Charlie Wingmore has this to say on the subject: "It is possible, with care, to begin with a bank of $100 and make around $5 a week, but the little punter isn't content to do this. He doesn't understand that the annual profit with this approach would be around $250 - and this money can be used to kick off the following year's betting.

"By going carefully for a few years the punter would have the chance of making some decent money from the turf, remembering always that little fish are sweet, and big trees grow from small acorns."

There are punters around who just don't bet on any but the major races on the calendar. Some restrict themselves to Group One races. They are happy with this because they know that these races are the most 'formful' and offer the punter a fighting chance to come out with the winner.

We are friends with a Sydney punter who operates only on races run at Set Weights or at Weight For Age. He ignores handicaps completely, and any form of restricted race, explaining his approach like this: "Early in my career I found it was terribly hard to take on the bookmakers without also taking on the club handicappers.

"My main rules are to find a horse which is proven at the distance, and is meeting his rivals at level or special weights which give him some advantage. This can happen when Classics are run or when you have quality weight-for-age races.

"These are the races where you back your Naturalisms, and Veandercrosses, and Schillacis - you are supporting top-class horses from top-class stables and in top-class races."

The Sydney punter admits that most bettors lack the discipline required for such a betting approach - but he warns that if you are serious about making a profit you must be prepared to put some sort of a 'stopper' on your betting.

"I seek profit not action," he says. "I don't care if I only have a dozen or two dozen bets a season, as long as I can make a profit."

Why does he refuse to come in on handicap races? He explains: "The handicappers are just as much the enemy as the bookies. They set out to weight the horses so as to give them all, in theory, an equal chance of winning.

"Once they have done this, the only hope the punter has got is to find where the handicapper has made a mistake, if any. By concentrating on Set Weights and WFA races you have a lot less worry.

"It is far easier to examine the handicaps with a view to then looking at the Set Weights and WFA races, because you can easily spot horses who are well off at the weights compared with their handicap position. A fit, in-form horse with a weight advantage, and ridden by a good jockey at the right distance, all adds up to a sensible and strong bet.
"What I do, in short, is to grapple with the races over which the handicapper has no control."

Confirming the 'mind games'

  • There are various psychological requirements if a punter is to give himself a chance to win on a consistent basis. Clear, logical thinking is required. Stick to your guns!
  • The ability to concentrate and show great thoroughness for small details, especially when studying form.
  • A disciplined, logical approach, coupled with a patience to wait for the right race and the right horse.
  • Refusal to be on every race, no matter how 'demanding' the urge may be.
  • The willpower to never come in on tough races.
  • The skill to bet your selections properly, with an objective in mind, and the motivation to stick to your chosen staking plan once your year's action has begun.
  • The wisdom to never 'lose your head' in trying to chase losses, or to wildly cash in on a winning streak.

With 1994 in mind, we asked a number of professional punters in Sydney and Melbourne to outline their ideas for helping small punters to 'beat the punt' and blitz the bookies. Each man had different angles on betting, but all basically adopted a similar approach - not too many bets, nothing too short, and get out when you're on top.

Pro punter No. 1 says: "I'm a believer in frequent play. You might have a bloke who bets $50 a race, five times a day, six days a week. That's $1500 a week. If he shows a 25 per cent profit he nets $375 a week. Another punter might brag about his higher profit per bet but he makes only one bet a week.

"If we assume that he produces a 50 per cent profit for each dollar wagered it still means he has to bet $750 a race in order to equal the first punter's profit of $375 a week. The catch to this second approach is that most punters cannot afford to risk $750 on one race, because even with a 50 per cent winning average the potential to hit four or five consecutive losers still exists.

"In my opinion, any sensible punter would start worrying after a loss of $3750. So I reckon it's better to wager the least amount you can per bet that will enable you to produce the overall profit you want.

"The first approach I mentioned needs only $50 to start, while the second approach requires $750. If we assume neither punter was obliged to dig deeper we can see that at week's end the cautious punter made only 50 per cent on his INITIAL investment, while the frequent punter earned 750 per cent with his."

This punter's approach is to restrict his selections to horses which at post time are at odds of 9/2 ($5.50) or less. This, he says, is a vitally important part of his formula.

"I regard myself as an astute, controlled punter but I feel it is the ultimate in vanity to think it is possible to consistently pick winning longshots," he says. "There are times when horses at longer than 5/1 are good betting propositions, but I would prefer not to go looking for them.

"By keeping under that 5/1 level, you can help yourself to avoid long losing runs. This is most important."
A second professional says: "My prescription is simple: Knowhow, operating capital of an amount sufficient to accomplishment of the profit objective, patience with a capital P, and self-control as it pertains to ceasing action when the profit has been gained.

"As far as I am concerned, adequate knowhow embraces far more than merely having a sound knowledge of the basic principles of so-called handicapping. You have to know which races should be passed up, and which are playable, and you have to know how to wager to attain the highest possible degree of safety consistent with a price that is big enough to get that profit objective.

"My view is that you should consider only two betting methods: The first is the one win-three place bet, and the second is level stakes place betting.

"The most successful bettors I have known have all played the 1-3 approach. The punter who uses this scale of betting can cash in the win components of his bets and get a nice place bonus, but if his win bet fails he can still reach his profit objective with the place bet.

"To gain a 25 per cent profit with a placegetters, all the punter needs is a horse to run 2nd or 3rd and pay $1.65. This returns him close enough to 5 units for his outlay of 4. Imagine this with a punter betting, say, $1000, broken up into $250 the win and $750 the place. His return is $1237 - a profit of $237."

But, says this punter, there is still a lot to be said in favour of the place only bettor. He explains: "For example, if the bet is $50 to win and $150 to place, the operator will net a profit of $100 if the horse fails to win but runs a place at even money.

"The bettor who places the entire $200 on for the place will earn the same net profit if the horse places at a price of only $1.50."

Now, although this pro is talking in terms of bets of a high unit, that doesn't mean the small punter cannot adopt the same approach. If a punter is satisfied with a net gain of $10 he need bet only $20 to place, knowing that if the selection pays $1.50 he will have achieved his financial objective.

"If he wants to shoot for an average net gain of $20 a day then he must make level $40 place bets. It's that simple - and not very difficult. If your selection approach is sensible, and it should be, then you should not have much trouble at all finding a place bet return each day.

"You could even adopt the target betting method. If your first bet loses, add the loss to the objective for the second bet, and bet accordingly. As soon as you strike a placer you recoup losses and go into profit."

Our next professional punter, the noted English authority Peter Braddock, is a man who weighs up the prices of his main chances before deciding how much to bet, and what sort of limit to impose on his selections.

He says: "A fair price for a horse in a race in which there is no foreseeable competition is even money. Odds-on is not acceptable because the profit for the backer is reduced to unacceptable levels. If there is a serious danger to a selection the backer must look for longer odds to compensate for the additional risk - so 2/1 is the least acceptable odds.

"Two serious rivals, the backer must look for 3/1 or more; three serious rivals warrants 4/1 and so on. It's considered, though, that a race comprising three or more serious rivals to a selection is too competitive to contemplate and any betting in these circumstances is likely to be most injudicious."

Essential elements of staking theory

  • In any approach to betting, a compromise has to be struck between overbetting and under-betting. Chain-betting on every race is a no-no.
  • Professionals say an average of 3 to 4 bets per day should be enough.
  • If you are confused about which staking approach to adopt, then settle for the conservative and safe level-stakes method, with the same amount being wagered on each selection.
  • If operating a progression staking plan, always have a built-in 'safety brake' clause, to prevent stakes rising too sharply in the event of a losing run.
  • Decide on a 'minimum' price to be accepted on a selection - and ignore the bet if you cannot obtain a value price.
  • If you can manage it psychologically, stop betting for the day once you have obtained a profit (say 20 per cent or more).
  • If you're a cautious player, then stick to level stakes place betting. Alternatively, use the 1 unit win-3 units place formula (some professionals use a 1 to 4 ratio).
  • Never bet more than you can afford.

Braddock says that 'favourable conditions' - such as weight and/or going - required the reduction of odds by a fraction of a point (thus you could accept 7/4 rather than 2/1 with favourable conditions for your selection; or 11/4 for 3/1, 15/4 for 4/1 and so on). In the same way, though, fractions should be added to the limit price if there are elements weighing against your selection.

Says Braddock: "By this method, the backer can calculate odds that are fair and equivalent to the practical elements influencing the winning chances of a selection. The backer with this informed and detached assessment of the odds can readily make a reasoned comparison with the actual odds offered by the bookmaker, and not be unknowingly beguiled to accepting less than fair value."

On the size of bank, Braddock recommends your 'bank' be split into 20 equal parts, to represent 20 bets at level stakes.

This, he contends, enables you to start without any financial pressure or looming insolvency!

"Level stakes may appear a cautious, mundane method of betting, but results testify to its effectiveness and sound economic basis," says Braddock. He does, however, concede that in some instances an increase in bet size should be made, particularly when a horse is being sent out a big overlay.

He explains: "The amount of increase can only be left to the personal judgement of the backer; the guiding factor being 'the greater the value the greater the increase in the stake'.

''The occasions when bookmakers generously err in the odds offered is extremely rare, but only enforce the wisdom of maintaining level stakes at most times."

Summing up, then, our professionals point out a number of avenues by which you can 'stake your claim' to profits in the weeks and months ahead for 1994.

Let's look at them:

  • Start with a $100 bank, and seek $5 profit per week. Cease betting for the week once the profit is obtained. Accrue profits, then begin the next year with a bigger bank and bigger objective.
  • Ignore handicap races and concentrate on Set Weight classics and Weight-for-Age races.
  • Level stakes win or place bets.
  • Restrict your bets to horses at 9/2 and under in the betting, while refusing to back any which are at odds-on.
  • Bet one unit to win and three units to place, and stop once you have gained a reasonable profit (say 20 per cent).
  • Seek a 50 per cent profit with place bets, beginning with a $10 objective and betting $20 the place (using a $1.50 dividend as an average return).
  • In races in which your selection appears to have no serious rivals, regard even money as a fair price. If there is one serious challenger, set a limit of 2/1. If two serious challengers, then 3/1 limit and so on.
  • If betting level stakes, increase your bet if you believe your selection is at big overlay odds (that is, at least DOUBLE what you estimate its true price should be; your price 2/1, if 4/1 or better then increase your bet).

By Martin Dowling and Jon Hudson