Alf Sorbillo, an American punter who made a fortune betting on the Californian races in the 50s and 60s, used to tell anyone who asked for the secret of his success: "I made my own luck.

By this, Sorbillo meant that he worked so hard at making his betting pay that Lady Luck just happened to flow along with the blood, sweat and tears. Today's punters of the 90s would do well to heed Sorbillo's dictum.

Hard work in punting, as in business, tends to make its own luck. Few millionaires got that much money by luck alone. To get the luck they had to position themselves to take advantage of it.

English expert Mark Coton, author of a number of popular books on racing betting, says: "The life of the professional gambler has been unduly romanticised." Coton's point is that most people have a silly idea of what it's like to bet for a living.

He says they fantasise about lying around an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a glass of vintage champagne in hand, an expensive sports car in the drive - and the need only to pick up the phone and place a few winning bets.

Alas, as Coton points out, the reality is far different. He says: "In Britain ... the hours spent studying form the arduous travelling to the races (nobody can make it pay betting purely off-course, not least because the bookies would soon close you down), the need to be constantly alert, and the stress, let alone the financial risks - these make betting a business strictly for the thick-skinned and highly motivated."

For the professional, Coton says, betting becomes a job, like any other, albeit probably more interesting and less mundanely stressful than many.

Barney Curley is another British professional. His father, a grocer, went for the bet of his life on a dog he owned and at the first bend the dog fell and broke its neck. The sight of his father walking back up the track, cradling the dead dog, haunted Barney from that fateful night.

The Curley family went to live in Manchester where father and son toiled on double shifts in a plastics factory for 15 months until enough money had been earned to pay off the gambling debts.

Now, Barney sees every winning bet as a form of retribution for the way bookies made his father suffer. In Britain, he is said to have more 'closed accounts' than any other punter.

Seven years ago the giant William Hill bookmaker group decided it no longer wanted his business after he had snipped more than $450,000 from it in the previous two years.

Barney Curley is a well-known figure on British racetracks. He wears a large, distinctive fedora and possesses what has been called a 'menacing countenance' - somewhat like a gangster from the old Al Capone days!

But he makes money. He says you have to control your emotions and never chase your losses. There is, he says, always another day. You have to believe, as he does, that in the end your judgment and knowledge of form will pay off.

"I only ever bet one horse in a race - it's the whole duck or no dinner," he says.

Paul Cooper is a professional in his late 30s. He has clear-cut rules for making his own luck, and winning, at betting. - Stay cool, calm and collected when making a selection and don't go in head down. Weigh up all the possibilities and then have the nerve to go through with it. 9 Bet only when you are getting value.

  • Back horses with winning form.
  • Don't bet on maidens.
  • Bet on sprint races - the form is more reliable than in distance races.
  • Always try to check that your selection has recorded good times.
  • Follow small, successful stables.
  • Bet within your means. Reduce stakes when you are having a bad run.
  • Don't get drunk when you're betting.
  • Don't bet heavily when there has been a sudden change in track conditions.

In 1994, Cooper switched his betting to the United States. He said the UK recession forced him to make the move.

Jack Ramsden, another very successful punter, says punters should avoid each-way bets.

"I analysed my betting a couple of years back and found that if I had doubled my win stakes instead of having each-way bets I would have been much better off," he says. "I think every punter would benefit by cutting out all each-way bets."

These, then, are the thoughts of a few of Britain's leading professionals. In the next two issues of P.P.M. (October and November) I'll be bringing you the thoughts of some American bettors. These will include Andy Beyer, James Quinn, William Quirin, Tom Ainslie and Dan Fogel.

Britain's John White is another expert who has acquired a glowing reputation for his turf writings. He too, will be featured in the series.

Click here to read Part 3.
Click here to read Part 1.

By Richard Hartley Jnr