As we swagger brightly into a new year, full of new resolutions, perhaps it's time to ponder on yester-year in order to try to make sense of what is to come.

At the start of each year, I always review my betting activities of the past 12 months, seeking to pinpoint where I got it right and where I got it hopelessly wrong. As the old saying goes, you learn from your mistakes (well, at least, you should!).

Many wise words have been spoken about racing selection and betting in the last 100 years or so. From Pittsburgh Phil through to Don Scott and the modern-day handicappers, there are many gems of wisdom to be had from studying all that's been said.

I've spent some time leafing through back issues of PPM, and through the pages of countless excellent racing books and magazines, to compile what I believe is an absorbing 'fresh' look at so-called 'old' material. It may emerge from the past - near and distant - yet it still holds true for today's punters.

Let's look firstly at different approaches to money management - or safety versus risk. American speed ratings guru Andy Beyer believes that serious punters need to be high-risk players in the game.

Back in 1992, in an interview in PPM, he said: "The idea that you beat this game by grinding out steady, day to day accumulation of profits sounds great . . . Professional gamblers I know experience something totally different.

"If you ask someone who may have made $50,000 in a year how he did it, they'd probably respond by saying they hit this one and that big one, that was their year.

"The profits a bettor makes in the course of a year do not come from those conservative plays but from those few big windfalls. It's maybe not what you want to hear ... but if you want a conservative, safe income, then get a job. Big plays are the way to win at the track.

"The key to good money management is to be the most daring when you have the strongest opinion on the best situation. That sounds elementary, but unfortunately most punters don't do it. How many times have we all come back from the track and, when things cool down, and we look at the wreckage of the day, we note the horse we really, really liked won, and it was the one you had the fifth largest bet of the day on!"

The famed Pittsburgh Phil didn't preach exactly the same philosophy but he did advocate betting more when you are winning and less when you're losing.

In an article in 1992, Alan Jacobs summed up Pittsburgh Phil's approach like this:

"In a nutshell, his staking advice is this:

  1. cut your bets in a losing streak and increase them when winning,
  2. doubling your bets when losing is fatal,
  3. double your bets when you are playing with the bookmaker's money,
  4. if your judgement is accurate, and if you back selections which appear to be outstanding, you have the chance to win a fortune,
  5. bet only when you can secure the best value, otherwise don't bet, wait for another race."

In other words, said Alan, Phil's philosophy came down to two maxims - Hard Work and Common sense.

"He never chased fantastic goals, he was content to make to 10 per cent profit on his betting turnover, just like a stockbroker or a banker. Punting was not a gamble but a legitimate business operation. Reason and logic were considered more important than Lady Luck.


UK pro punter Jack Ramsden says he's always on the lookout for the 311 chance that starts at 811. Each year he reckons there are about 30 to 40 of them. At those prices, Jack points out, you don't have to be right all the time.

"One of the great disciplines the pro backer must learn is to stand back and watch when those shortpriced horses win. In the long run, you can't make money from 614 chances."

The late Don Scott was interviewed by Brian Blackwell in our January 1987 issue, and had this advice for punters: "My advice to the punter with $100 to bet on a raceday is to go to the track and bet like I used to do - to value prices. Doing that, if your prices are accurate, you will, in the long run, come out ahead with a 5 to 10 per cent profit on turnover a year.

"So if your full betting turnover on that basic $100 a week amounts to $20,000 you can look forward to making a profit of around $2000, or $40 a week. The alternative is that you put in very little work and lose the $100 a week, a total of $5200."

Our own champion systems creator Statsman adopts an approach which clashes with pro's like Andy Beyer. In an article in the December 1993 issue of PPM, Statsman wrote: "The average fan must take a page from the true professional punter's handbook: Avoid excessive risk. Secondly, don't panic when caught in a losing run.

"My prescription for success has always been this: Find yourself a good system, get together sufficient capital to carry the play over the worst possible losing streak, then play every selection as the system demands for one solid year, come hell or high water.

Can progression betting stand up against level stakes? Much depends on the way the winners fall in any sequence of bets. If they fall the wrong way, you can lose, but if they arrive at other points in the progression, you can win.
If you must bet progression, then choose one that returns you all your money and a profit whenever a winner comes along. Average out the price of your winners, and adjust your progression bet accordingly.

That way, you can't get into much trouble, even if a losing streak arrives.

"If you are one of the majority of punters who find they cannot follow a system, or simply prefer to work out the form and pick your own selections, then that's fine. If you apply guidelines to what you are doing you have a bold chance of being successful.

"If you don't overbet, if you pick the right races, and if you concentrate on good horses, the percentages will swing your way. That is, do it right, and the right things will happen, and hopefully often enough and at such prices to make it all financially viable."

Decades ago, Eric Connolly was regarded as the shrewdest, often most daring, punter in Australia. But Connolly generally adopted a cautious approach (except when he masterminded massive plunges on big races!). He reckoned that if a race had one standout horse, then the punter should give himself two or three chances of collecting.

Opinion is divided on target betting. Some say it's a no-no, but others say all betting is target oriented, even level stakes betting. There are ways to handle target betting sensibly, and one of them is the 6-Point Divisor Plan, which has been featured before in PPM.

Thus, he would bet for a place. In another race, with, say, two chances, there could be a level stake investment on each, or they could be backed to win the same amount.

My own views have been well represented in PPM in the last 12 years but I guess they can be summed up in the words I used a few years ago. I wrote: "Betting is all about confidence. Not only in the selections you bet but confidence in yourself.

"It's also about individuality. Each bettor is different. Each bettor has what I call a choking point the point he reaches when his FEAR is at odds with the size of his bet. In other words, a sensible punter will not allow himself to drift into a financial area where he is betting too much for his own personal psyche to cope with. Unfortunately, some punters do try to bet in amounts that are too large.

"The effect of this is that they choke and their judgement is negatively affected."

My point was that you could be quite happy and comfortable betting in $10 units, but when you go to a higher level, say $20 or $50, you go beyond the choking point. You become a little concerned at the size of the bet, you worry about losing, you become unsettled and undecided.

Suddenly, you realise, betting isn't much fun any longer! There's too much at risk. So the advice here is to always bet within your means. Keep a level head.

Finally, advice from the late Alex Bird, perhaps Britain's most splendidly successful professional punter, a man who lived a life of luxury from his racetrack winnings.

Alex said: "Don't bet when the going changes, follow up-and-coming jockeys, never bet when the bookies post an unfair margin, bet eachway in non-handicaps with 8 to 10 runners, never bet on the first show of prices in the ring, and never bet Maiden races for 3yos."

Bird knew what he was talking about: He owned a fifteenth century moated manor house in Cheshire, he had a string of plush cars and successful racehorses, his own private plane, a riverside suite at the Savoy - and he lived on a diet of oysters, caviar and champagne.

Not bad for a coal merchant's son!

Over the years there has been a wide-ranging debate on the benefits of level stakes against all other forms of staking. British pro Nigel McMahon says: "Level stakes is for the safe, plodding punter. To make big profits and to put yourself in a position to win big money, you will need to step outside level stakes betting and into greater risk territory. Some horses will have such chances they absolutely demand a bigger bet than another horse. It's as simple as that. Better the chance, put more on."

By Jon Hudson