Last year we ran a popular series of articles, in which leading international professional punters and form analysts gave' their views on racehorse selection and betting. In this new series, we present the views of more of the world's leading 'form fanatics.

Ask any expert anywhere in the world and he or she is likely to tell you that it's the way you bet, rather than the way you select, which will, in the end, determine how successful you are at the races.

In other words, if you have a rational and sensible selection method then the only other question you have to answer is when to bet and how to bet. English expert Peter Braddock, author of the excellent book Braddock's Complete Guide to Horse Race Selection and Betting, believes that betting technique is basically simple.

It revolves, he says, around one question that must always be asked: "To bet or not to bet?" Even with a confident, reasoned selection this question has to be asked, says Braddock, because the factor still to be considered that will limit successful betting is 'the odds'.

Braddock adds: "Not to bet until the odds be considered fair, reasonable or completely in the favour of the backer is an advantage which must never be surrendered. The bookmaker has to lay odds all the time for each and every race - but the backer can choose if and when to bet."

Braddock explains in his book - one of the British turf's best sellers of recent years - that the punter has to ask himself 'What can I win?' or more specifically, 'How will the money returned be comparable to the money risked?'

Money used for betting, he says, is very high risk capital and his suggestion is that a punter should never accept less than an even-money return on his outlay. Odds less than this are unacceptable.

Braddock's theme is based upon three main factors, which he outlines as follows:

  1. Selecting winners: Selections formulated without prejudice or enticement to bet, based upon factors of reasoned probability, are selections that hold the most likelihood of winning.
  2. Betting at fair and reasonable odds: Only betting at odds where gain is appropriate or favourable to the amount of money risked.
  3. Staking system: One which places no undue emphasis on one particular but to the detriment or enhancement of the previous betting record.

On the selection process itself, Braddock believes in the usual key factors: Form, Fitness, Class, Conditions (distance, going, weight, track, draw, jockey-ship) plus what he calls 'sundry factors' like the importance or otherwise of blinkers, a trainer's record, a stable's current form, breeding and ownership.

On form, he says this is the major consideration when selecting, because form is 'the indisputable record of  performance, a record of what a horse has or has not achieved, the sole means of reliably assessing and comparing ability'.

Braddock says 'top-class form' is extremely reliable and evokes the statement 'form beats everything'.

Joseph Love is an American form analyst, and a most successful punter in the Chicago area. He agrees with Braddock that a punter should never play a horse at less than even money to win.

He says: "I have quite a few maxims, just like Pittsburgh Phil, and they go something like this:

  1. Because you have had 10 straight losers it is no more likely that you will win the 11th bet than the 10th. There is nothing in the old theory of the maturity of chances.
  2. If you have just had three straight winners it has no effect on the next play. You have the same chance to win as before.
  3. A point I always make is that a bettor should never expect every day to be a winning day. It can't be done. There must be some losing days. But the bettor has to try to ensure he loses as little as possible on these days."

Love has some pertinent advice for those punters who are forever swearing about their bad luck. He says they should never think there is something wrong with their personal luck - it is merely the laws of chance operating and these laws are totally indifferent to any particular player.

Regarding the selection process itself, Love is adamant that a rigid routine is required if the punter is to have a long-term chance of financial survival and gain.

He explains: "Be consistent - do the same thing every day in your selecting method. If you jump in and out you can depend on nothing. With the use of a definite method of play you will get all the good there is in that method as long as you follow it consistently."

Tom Hambleton is an American professional who believes strongly in the intricate methodology of the Sartin school of betting in the United States. Yet he admits that he was assailed by doubts in the early stages of his work.

"I had always thought of myself as a loser," says Hambleton in an interview in James Quinn's book The New Expert Handicappers. "Even when I would do well at something, I would try to sabotage the results by saying I was lucky, or that I had benefited from circumstances. I could never give myself full credit for anything.

"I tried to do the same thing with Dr Sartin's computer programs. When I first began to win, I told myself it wouldn't last. That I couldn't do it again. I tried to set up an expectation of losing.

"I fought my success all the way, because I felt I was supposed to lose. But Dr Sartin and his group would not let me get away with it. Sartin told me I was a winner, and that my results proved it. He encouraged me to keep playing, and keep winning, and I did."

Hambleton is so positive these days that he has the attitude that he knows he is going to win. But he admits that he has failed some battles, particularly one he has fought with exacta betting.

He says: "I have never been a good exacta player. I'm improved now, but I will only play the exacta if the favourite can be eliminated. I only play about a dozen exactas a month and I try to maintain a 40 per cent win ratio in exactas. I prefer to key a nonfavourite to two other non-favourites, or box two non-favourites, or even three non-favourites, depending on the way the race shapes up."

Ron Cox is another top-class bettor interviewed in James Quinn's book. He has definite views on all aspects of racing and has some pertinent points to make about losing streaks.

He explains: "The important point about losing runs is to understand them. Know the reasons why you're losing. Try to correct any repetitive mistakes. That leads to improving your play. Normal losing runs do not bother me or lower my confidence, unless I don't understand them that's the most difficult time of all."

He has cautious advice for anybody wanting to make money out of racetrack betting, particularly newcomers, stressing that "experience is ultimately the best teacher". He advises punters to

(a) associate with winners or skilful bettors,

(b) pay the small expenses associated with obtaining extra information from reliable services,

(c) be vigilant for special information that few customers possess,

(d) keep accurate records.

Erika Holderith is one of America's most admired female bettors. A computer expert, she admits to making the mistake of discounting money management for many years. She then believed that handicapping prowess counted most. The bitter lesson she learned was that inappropriate bet size contributed to inconsistent results, lowering longterm profits.

Says Erica: "Only recently have I begun to keep wagering records ... I do believe now that money management strategy is indispensable. I like the idea behind the Kelly technique, betting more when your chance to win is higher and your chance to get a higher return is there."

Carl Owen, an American professional, is a great believer in the 1 specialisation' approach. It's something he insists most punters ignore, to their peril.

Says Carl: "It doesn't matter where in the world you bet, you have to specialise. It's the motto of almost every successful person and it seems to be a rule not easy to ignore. Perhaps as a racehorse bettor you feel it doesn't apply to you, but I think you'd be mistaken.

"I've found that betting on young horses is more reliable than wagering on older horses, if only because of the soundness factor. I do better backing 2yos which have shown a tendency to more than 1200m than I do with the usual handicap races for the older horses.

"My strong recommendation to any punter who wants to get ahead is to specialise in certain types of races, be they races for 2yos, 3yos, or older horses. Pick out the types of races you feel safe with and study them diligently. Once you concentrate and specialise you will find your betting returns will automatically pick up."

Joe Conte advises that punters have to realise it is them against the masses! The only hope for the ordinary punter, he says, is for them to learn how to handicap correctly, which is another way of saying 'learning how to assess probability better than the collective mind'.

That, says Conte, is what it all comes down to in the end. He says: "It's you against them. Two out of three favourites are false favourites; they lose. One of three is a true favourite. Which is which? You can't know for sure until the race is over.

"But the favourites are always overbet. The public cuts its own throat by identifying Horse A as the animal with the greatest probability on paper; their mistake consists of driving the odds on that horse below the point of profitability. They do it time and time again, in nearly every race.

"The bettor has to learn to reliably handicap a race so the overlays can be discovered. Your job is to find that overlay. It might be a second choice at 7/2 who you have assessed at 5/2, or it might be a fourth choice at 11/1 which you have assessed at no higher than 5/1.

"But whoever it is, look for it! The question of whether you'll find it or not depends on whether or not you have taken the trouble to establish your own probability estimates. Whether you make money in the long run depends upon the accuracy of your probability estimates."

** The New Expert Handicappers by James Quinn (published by William Morrow, New York).

**Braddock's Complete Guide to Horse Race Selection and Betting, by Peter Braddock (published by Longman, London).

NEXT MONTH. More views from some of the great professional punters from around the world, including William E. McBride and Tom Ainslie.

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 3.

By Jon Hudson