Bet like a pro and you'll win, some hardened punters might tell you. And you'll nod your head and agree, and wonder again that professionals do exist in the world of betting, and they do make money.

Well, it's not as crystal clear as all that! Let me assure you that pro punters in the 90s, despite all their computer gadgetry, find it just as hard to make a profit as did their counterparts of 20, 30, 40, even 100 years ago.

Betting for a living is an onerous, daunting assignment. Some men, not many, are born to do it. Others are not - and that means most of us. But the keen amateur is still in there with a chance. A fighting chance - if he is prepared to listen closely to those who have made the grade, and if he is prepared to bet sensibly, with caution and yet some risk, and if he is prepared to adopt a disciplined approach that waits for the right bets at the right prices.

The idea of this series is to pass on to you some of the views and ideas of successful bettors, those of the present day and those of the past. All have something sensible to say, and words of warning to pass on.

Our own Don Scott makes as much sense as anyone else. He blazed a trail for small-bet punters in the 70s and 80s, and in 1990 he was warning that the 'successful punters of tomorrow' were going to need 'high quality computerised assistance' if they were to have any chance of making a profit.

In his book Winning In The 90s, Don wrote: "The successful punters of tomorrow must be able to rate accurately a horse's performance based on class and weight. They must be acute observers of what actually happens in a race, and must know the exact compensations to give a horse for a difficult trip.

". . . And having analysed all these factors, and more, they must be able to assess a horse's true value."

Don has always pursued the 'value' theory and many thousands of punters have attempted to follow his lead, with varying results. Finding that correct 'true value' price is harder than it seems!

British expert Alan Potts, a fulltime pro punter, has much to say about serious betting in his excellent book Against The Crowd. He writes: "The crux is that winning punters do not take their profits from the bookies, but from losing punters.

". . . I need losing punters, just as surely as the bookies do. Every time I leave the racecourse at the end of a day's work, with a profit tucked into my zipped pocket, I offer a silent thank you to the mugs who made it possible, my fellow punters."

Potts talks of the four C's in successful betting - confidence, capital, calculation and cynicism. He writes: "Four essential weapons in the armoury of a successful backer. Form your own opinions and take those of others with a grain of salt, decide how to act on the results of your analysis, with the resources available, and, above all, have confidence in your ultimate success."

Losing punters also come under scrutiny by Philip Mallowes, a professional who bet with great success in Sydney and Melbourne in the 1950s and early 1960s. In one of a number of diary entries he left behind following his death, Mallowes wrote: "The main reason bookies win at the expense of the punter is that the latter cannot resist betting on every race.

Everyone betting on every race MUST lose in the end.

"To win, the punter should know when to bet and when to watch. Make a business of racing and treat it as such."

Mallowes then went on to describe how he made his money. It's a system of operation that still bears thinking about today. He wrote: "I've found that favourites in the price range of 5/2,11/4, 3/1, 13/4 and 7/2, have the same average winners as the favourites at lower prices, including those at odds-on.

"Therefore, I take the favourite starting at these prices only - and I ignore the others. A flat stake will always show a profit. My approach is to wait until a minute before a race starts and then decide what to do.

"I'll back any favourite between 5/2 and 7/2 - if there are equal favourites I don't bet.

"You may have two, three or four bets a meeting but they will average at least one winner in every three bets."

Other professionals, naturally, would abhor this rather systematic approach, though we do know that it worked for Philip Mallowes some 30 years ago. He probably used a target system of betting to achieve his ultimate aims, though in his writings he says little on this subject, except to mention flat stakes.

An expert with the nom-deplume Spectator has provided a sound basis for serious punters in a small booklet called How To Win At Racing, put out by the Raceform organisation in Britain. Spectator stresses that if you are serious about betting, then it is essential to bet methodically.

"For a start, this means keeping a precise record which will reveal at once the state of profit or loss," he writes. "Surprisingly, few punters take the trouble to do this and, as a result, many are under the illusion that they are winning when in fact they may be showing a sizeable loss."

Spectator's advice is not to be too greedy, to bet only a small portion of your bank, and to avoid silly type betting systems (though he does advocate a systematic approach). On staking, he backs level stakes, or the 'variable approach' where bets are made according to a horse's price ($10 on an even money chance, $1 on a 10/1 chance).

Then he writes: "The backer's one great advantage over the bookmaker is that he can choose when to bet. As far as possible, every race should be regarded as a prospective betting medium but the backer should strike only when he considers that he is getting good value for money.

"Patience is essential and never let it be forgotten that to miss backing a loser is as good as backing an even money winner."

Glendon Jones is an American expert we have mentioned before in 'E.R with P.P.M.'. He has written a special guide for the serious horse player, called Horse Racing Logic. In it, he writes fluently and intelligently about aspects of racing like betting principles, handicapping tools, finding the bets, money management and what he calls the 'inner struggle'.

On this factor of the battle, he writes: "It does not take a genius to beat the races, but it does require a mind able to work through a puzzle or problem in a reasonably unbiased and logical way While logical thinking is largely an inborn characteristic, it can be developed through intelligent practice and a wish to understand why a handicapping analysis may have failed.

"Judgement at the track refers to the ability to mentally weight and compare several interrelated tangible and intangible factors and make decisions that, on the average, are correct.

"Racetrack judgement can most rapidly be acquired by cultivating a habit of making mental projections about the horses and races, even when bets are not made.

"In my own case, I like to make predictions and observations for every race about (a) the way the race will be run, (b) the chances of specific contenders and (c) the overlay-underlay makeup of the betting line."

Glendon Jones stresses that a serious punter has to be prepared to put in at least three hours study on a race program because "the results that a horse player achieves are only as good as the amount of time spent studying form."

What about profit expectations? All pro punters have differing ideas on this important subject. Some are happy to get out with 10 per cent on their turnover, others seek and get more.

Glendon Jones says you have to think in terms of months and years rather than days and weeks.

"A player may win 35 per cent of all bets, but the sequence of winners and losers is unpredictable," he says. "During the course of a year, it is entirely possible that, say, 20 out of the first 100 bets will be winners, while 50 or more of the last 100 might win, thereby keeping the winning average over the first and last bets at 35 per cent. Such a variation can reasonably be expected during the course of a long season."

Jones says fear and greed are your biggest threats.

"Greed is one of the motivating reasons for nearly all monetary pursuits, including racetrack betting," he writes.

"Fear is an emotion that can hold a player back from committing moneyto an opinion. A horse player can only achieve maximally while these two emotions are kept in check.

In next month's magazine, I'll be bringing you more views from the professionals around the world, including big names like Andy Beyer, the late Rem Plante, and our own team of The Optimist, Martin Dowling and Richard Hartley Jnr.


  • HOW TO WIN AT RACING (published by Raceform Ltd, Compton, Newbury, Berkshire RG20 6NL, England). More than 120,000 copies of this 50 page booklet have been sold since 1962.
  • HORSE RACING LOGIC, by Glendon Jones, published by Liberty Publishing Company, Deerfield Beach, Florida, USA. This 150-page book is available from the Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas.
  • AGAINST THE CROWD, by Alan Potts, published by Aesculus Press, RO. Box 10, Oswestry, Shropshire SY10, 70R, England.
  • WINNING IN THE 90s, by Don Scott, published by Horwitz Grahame Pty Ltd, Cammeray, Sydney. Available at racing bookshops like Mittys and Horseman's Bookshop.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Philip Roy