What can we learn from our betting counterparts overseas? Do they have cautionary tales from which we can benefit? How do they avoid the betting traps that afflict Australian and New Zealand punters? In this article, Denton Jardine brings you the views of a range of American experts.

Scott Finley knows all about losing. Also, he knows %5 about winning. In the 1980s he was regarded as one of America's most flamboyant international bettors, often crisscrossing the country following the tracks.

But Finley wants other punters to know that it can all go wrong. After a long run of success, his betting took on a losing turn. In an interview in the book The New Expert Handicappers he related the battle: "The irony of my play is that I won consistently during the initial years, betting win or place on solid low-priced horses.

"Even then I had an intuitive feel for biases and trips. My strength is visualising how races will be run: which horses will be on the lead, which will be head to head, which are likely to be wide, which should shoot up the rail.

"But somewhere along the way, I just went wrong. I'm not sure exactly what happened. I became erratic, I know, and didn't learn how to manage money. I began to chase the exotics, and I never had any real success with them.

"My main weakness today is breaking my own money management rules. I also become lazy as a handicapper, especially when I'm on a roll. There's no free lunch at the track. . . "

The lessons from Scott Finley, then, are these:

  • Maintain strict money management (staking) rules and stick to them.
  • Don't avoid doing your form analysis.
  • Don't bet the exotics unless you are confident you can win by doing so. Stay with the win and place if it suits you best.

Paul Braseth, a Seattle-based professional, believes that longterm data can prove the undoing of many serious punters. He believes in short-term data being the most important.

"I update my trainer records every day," he says in The New Expert Handicappers.

"Handicappers need to know what is happening now. The 5-year statistics indicate general strengths and weaknesses, perhaps, but it's the short-term data that helps the most."

The latest data, he contends, tells you who is hot, who's cold, and whether a winning cycle is heating up or cooling off.

Braseth maintains that the best bet at the track is an improving horse that fits a winning trainer pattern. On two other factors he places enormous importance: Money management and the psychology of winning.

The trick with money management, he says, is to develop strategies that are sensible and which can be implemented, with the bettor having full control not only over bet size but over the value aspect, and whether to bet at all.

"My favourite bet is the exacta," Braseth says. "That is where the handicapper enjoys leverage. You get the most value from the smallest risk in exactas." He demands a minimum 10/1 return on investment on his preferred combination.

On daily doubles, the strategy is much the same: He wants a minimum double price of 15/1. The cardinal sin, according to Braseth, is to win a best combination bet and not achieve the desired value.

As for the psychological aspect of the betting game, he offers the following observations: "The psychological aspects of losing cannot be dealt with on the basis of better handicapping.

Handicapping is strictly an intellectual exercise. Playing the races well is not.

"Identifying the contenders is easy. Playing the winners is not. The key to success is effective decision-making, and that skill contains highly psychological and emotional components.

"The psychology of winning means finding answers to the question, How can I become a good player (punter)? It does not ask, How can I become a good handicapper. Good handicappers and good players are very different species."

Braseth says punters must understand themselves as punters, and know their strengths and weaknesses, then play to the strengths and improve the weaknesses.

Professional Tom Hambleton admits his major weakness is a lack of courage when making larger than normal bets. But his overall record, when last publicly listed in the late '80s, shows that he is a formidable handicapper.

Betting two horses a race, he showed a win percentage of 69.5 and in one spring meeting he began with a $200 bank, invested 10 per cent of the bank each bettable race, and came out almost $10,000 ahead.

But he also confesses that at certain types of betting he is hopeless - like exactas. He will now only bet an exacta if the favourite can be eliminated from contention. He plays about a dozen exactas a month and expects a 40 per cent strike rate.

"My money management advice is to bet two horses a race, bet within your comfort zone and never bet more than 20 per cent of the bank on any single race," he says.

Bill Brackenrauer, a Chicago professional, says the best warning he can give to any bettor, anywhere in the world, is to stop and think carefully when any horse LOOKS GOOD.

"Any horse that stands out as a real good thing will also look that good to the average bettor as well," he says. "This can spell overbetting to the point of diminishing return.

"Bet those horses that are going to offer you value. The main point I have made my credo is to have good organisation, founded on good thought and research. Most race players are totally disorganised, they just wish for some luck, and they make snap decisions.

"Get it through your head that this business of race betting is a serious profession requiring correct tactics. Most casino and racetrack bettors play with their money like a 4th grade schoolboy would. It's just plain mental laziness.

"The bettor has to be realistic in what he demands or expects. If he wants to double his money every day at the races, he can go on taking desperate chances and get away with it for a while, but he won't stay in business very long.

"Push when winning, but do so with a definite plan. Play a fixed amount, one well within your financial reserves. Once you get ahead, increase the plateau and continue to move it up while you are winning. Increase your stakes gradually and never increase by more than 50 per cent, probably less.

"If you are betting to a percentage of your bank, then don't go beyond about 2 or 3 per cent. This allows room for lots of mistakes."

Click here to read Part 3.
Click here to read Part 1.
Click here to read Part 2.

By Denton Jardine