Are you born to lose? Many a punter has made this crack against himself. Probably you have in a moment of utter despair, triggered by the defeat of yet another 'good thing'.

Your first aim should be to get out of this 'born to lose' mould and this can be done only if you lay down a strict set of betting rules - and adhere to them. It's difficult to give you a set of rules because each punter is a different species. What would suit one punter could be completely useless to another.

Racing is not mechanical. We have electronic gadgets to open the barrier gates, work the tote and the photo finish but we are all at the mercy of horses and humans in the end. We can assume that not all humans involved in the racing game are completely honest, but even if they were the majority of racegoers would still lose more often than they won.

This is because most punters make their selections haphazardly, and more so today when there is a great deal more racing available to bet on than there was 20 years ago (even 10 years ago). It's the unthinking bettor who is the one most likely to make mistakes, so the only way he can improve his prospects of winning is to be self-critical, acknowledge his faults, and try to start afresh.

A big fault is backing poorly performed horses and riders. When you come to any race you should be guided by what I call the 'three P's of racing' Past Performances, Playability and Postillion. If you go against all three of these factors then 99 times out of 100 you'll lose. For a horse to be backable it must have sound past performances, some evidence that it possesses the ability to beat the other horses in a race.

There must also be firm evidence the postillion - the jockey - will be of assistance and not a hindrance. In this respect, you have to take great care in not paying too much of a compliment to young apprentices, especially female apprentices (sorry, girls!).

If your past performances chart shows clearly that a horse is a consistently poor performer always promising but rarely delivering- there can be no logic in supporting it.

By the same reasoning, you should eliminate any jockey who you believe is below-average. Be ruthless in this regard. Don't give too much of the benefit of the doubt.

Applying these basic rules, you can avoid many losers. Elimination is the name of the game (see Take Note, p. 12 for another angle on this factor). If you're the sort of punter who attends the racetrack you really should take time out to have a look at the runners in the mounting yard. It only takes five minutes to study the runners before you bet.

Be wary about those who are sweating badly or are fractious and stubborn. Some horses may have a listless, jaded look, head hanging. The sharp types will be keen, alert, on their toes, without being jumpy and nervy.

All of this I am saying now may be 'normal stuff' to some punters, but I know there's an army of racegoers out there to whom the little niceties of betting life have not yet been learned. These niceties are the rules of what should govern your betting life.

Get the selection process right, and then turn your attention to the betting side of things. You have to have the staking right as well. This is all part of the 'learn to bet' process, where you attempt to stop yourself being an unthinking punter who makes too many silly mistakes.

The simple facts and figures of staking must be understood. It's no use going through your betting life without a full understanding of the financial task that confronts you in trying to win money.

Many people say that the percentages of the game, and the limits of human capability seem to limit long-range profits to something like 40 cents in the dollar maximum, with probably a more attainable rate being 20 per cent. A successful punter has to aim for at least a 30 per cent win strike rate with selections to be confident of securing such a profit.

Take a look at the following figures:


  1. Win half of all his bets at average odds of not lower than 7/5, or
  2. Win 40 per cent of his bets at average odds of 2/1, or
  3. Win a third of his bets at average odds of 13/5, or
  4. Win 30 per cent of his bets at average odds of 3/1.

Pretty sobering stuff, isn't it? And this is to make only 20 cents on every dollar. Turnover of $50,000 a year would yield a profit of $10,000. But what if you wanted to earn 40 cents on the invested dollar? Just how good would you need to be to pick enough winners at the right prices to earn such a profit?


  1. Win half of all his bets at average odds of 9/5, or
  2. Win 40 per cent of all his bets at average odds of 5/2, or
  3. Win 30 per cent of all his bets at average odds exceeding 7/2.

If making 20 per cent seemed sobering, what about this enormous demand? Could you select enough 5/2 winners to make that 40 per cent profit? Four out of 10 - it might not seem all that tough, but just try it!

A first-class professional I know very well tells me he wins four bets in 10, but only if he is extremely conservative in his approach, betting on formful races and favouring horses whose odds are around the 2/1 mark. This level of approach brings him a profit of about 20 cents in the dollar, enough to keep him happy.

This is one aspect, then, of the financial side of racing - knowing what you have to achieve in order to be on the right side of the ledger. Don't go into battle without realising what your own position is. For instance, if you back horses at average odds of 10/1, and get a winner every 20 bets, you're facing a tough task indeed.

At level stakes, you are outlaying 20 units and betting a return of 11 units for that one 10/1 winner. You need to strike two 10/1 winners to be in profit. Then your ledger would read Bet 20, Return 22, profit 2 units which equals 10 per cent on outlay. If you wanted a 20 per cent return, you'd need to be even more successful with your selections.

Three winners at 10/1 in 20 bets would see you making a profit of 13 units -.a healthy 65 per cent, but could you actually strike with three 10/1 Winners m every 20 bets? If you struck with three of them every 30 bets, you'd end up making 3 units profit, or that 10 per cent again.

But how good are you at finding such juicy winners and, put to the test, could you maintain a consistency level that would enable you to make even 10 per cent profit? Think about it.

Set your sights conservatively. If you want to back longshots, then make them a separate component from your mainstream betting attack. Then stick rigorously to what you are doing, to what you have planned. Adherence to some of the following rules - drawn up by my colleague Martin Dowling should keep you on the right track:

  1. HAPHAZARD BETTING: Popping into your TAB agency and scanning the fields just for the sake of having a bet.
  2. SCATTERGUN SELECTION: Betting on horses whose names you had never heard about before seeing them pinned up on the TAB agency wall.
  3. WINNING, THEN LOSING: Don't finish up a loser after having been a winner. Always slip half of any winnings in your pocket as a dividend and, if you have to, bet with the rest.
  4. BETTING ON EVERY RACE: Don't do it. Most consistent losers do.
  5. BETTING WITH SCARED MONEY: Never bet with money you cannot afford to lose.
  6. CHASING LOSSES: Don't wildly chase losses. Stay calm. There's always another race meeting.
  7. BETTING WITHOUT CAREFUL STUDY: Picking winners is a tough assignment. Closely investigate every race.
  8. BACKING HUNCHES AND GUESSES: Once or twice you'll win. Most times you won't.
  9. POOR MONEY MANAGEMENT: You might be the best selector around but unless you bet the right way you'll end up losing, or not winning what you should. Sound money management is essential.
  10. SEEKING THE IMPOSSIBLE: Longshots arrive infrequently. Be most careful when placing too much faith in outsiders.
  11. ODDS-ON, LOOK ON: Small punters too often rush in blindly to back odds-on favourites. Only when you can detect a true favourite from a false favourite should you consider joining the rush.
  12. BACKING ONE HORSE A RACE: Why not play a safer game and back two horses per race? You reduce the chance of striking long losing runs and all your eggs are not in the one basket.

Martin Dowling first published these points back in a 1987 issue of P.P.M., and they remain as true today as when he wrote them. Study them carefully, and note the logicality. They hold the key to unlocking you from the straitjacket of your current poor betting position.

But you must listen to what he has said. You have to let it sink in, and you must make yourself follow the reasoning - without any 'outs' of saying 'Oh, well, just this once, I'll have a tenner on this and that'.

Learning to bet is somewhat like being in a schoolroom as a kid. Learning the alphabet. You have to understand  each letter and then, when words come into play, you have to place the letters in the correct positions. There is no room for error.

The same goes with betting. It's your task to bring all the little pieces of the puzzle together to make a successful whole. There is little room for error. Judgement needs to be as precise as you can make it.

NEXT MONTH: More about the intricacies of being a successful punter. Richard Hartley Jnr discusses multiple betting in all its various forms.

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

By Richard Hartley Jnr