In this article I shall attempt to outline some basic mathematical requirements which may help those punters contemplating the Holy Grail of horse-race betting ... the brutal game of professional punting.

I'll be making decisions as if I were the 'potential professional punter' and these may differ from your own. Some readers will be adamant that one form of betting should not be discarded while another should be eliminated. It's all in the eye of the beholder, which is YOU. The idea of this article is to foster thought about the first, faltering steps towards professional punting.

There would hardly be a serious punter in the world who did not at some stage dream of becoming a professional punter. After all, it's the pinnacle of punting. No longer would the dreaded alarm clock command a slavish obedience. In its place would materialise an idyllic existence reminiscent of the wanderings of the perennial beachcomber.

That's the dream, but behind every dream there exists a harsh reality which must be penetrated and beaten into submission. The 'harsh reality' that needs defeating is known in some racing parlances as the 'Pumpkin Head' theory, which decrees that the moment a normal, sane person walks inside the gates of a racetrack a dramatic change in personality takes place and rational decision-making ceases.

This person, who usually is very careful with a dollar in his or her day-to-day activities, decides that commonsense can be safely forsaken and monetary caution thrown to the wind, with bets of all types embraced with reckless abandon.

What 'Pumpkin Head' must realise is that horse-race betting is governed by percentages and the punter who  defies such mathematics does so at a major, if not certain, risk of losing their betting bank.

The first requirement is one that is flaunted by most punters and that is accumulating a betting bank which is as far removed from their daily spending needs as is possible. This bank MUST be for betting ONLY.

Each "little" non-betting dip from this account will marginally increase the chance of those amounts being needed when the inevitable bad run occurs and this is a risk that should be avoided at all costs.

Let's assume that a betting bank has been saved and that the amount is indeed a bank worthy of a serious punting attempt, say, $10,000. The issue of racetrack expenses must be considered, as racetrack entry and form supplements add up, and a figure of $1500 would not be unreasonable for one year's betting. Thus, the starting bank should be $11,500.

The Potential Professional Punter (PPP) is a person who decides that the risk of $11,500 demands a thorough investigation into the major betting opportunities in their state, a study of the percentages involved and decisions made on a sensible course of attack.

In the state of Victoria there are nine major bet types worthy of consideration:

  1. win only,
  2. place only,
  3. eachway,
  4. quinellas,
  5. exactas,
  6. doubles,
  7. quadrellas,
  8. trifectas, and
  9. the Straight Six.

The PPP decides from the beginning that tackling nine bet types might be stretching the friendship a fraction and decides to drop the Straight Six (well, six winners in a row is a big ask: if all six A selections were 3/1, the odds are 4095/1 which is formidable, to say the least).

He also axes place betting (prices are too short: THIS is one bet type open to deep discussion the prices might be short but there are more collects and thus less strain mentally and on the betting bank).

Out go quadrellas (four winners in a row is also a big ask at 255/1 for all winners at 3/1).

Away, too, with eachway betting (the place side still worries the PPP).

So, the PPP will concentrate on the remaining five bet types.

The PPP is a person who studies form astutely, likes well-fancied runners, not just roughies, and it eventuates that, on average, his A selection is 3/1 (25 per cent), the B selection is 4/1 (20 per cent) and the C selection is 6/1 (14 per cent).

In mathematical racetrack percentages this equates to a total of about 60 per cent, which is another way of saying that in the PPP's first three selections the average odds show that, in every 100 races, the winner will be selected 60 times.

The PPP may not actually back 60 winners, as some will be considered poor value and not be backed but will still count as a winner overall.

The big question to start with is:

"What percentage of the betting bank should be wagered on each type of bet?" It's not only a big question, it is THE question, and failure to understand the ramifications of violating the percentages involved is paramount to becoming the legendary Pumpkin Head and thus ensuring racetrack failure.

Statisticians will tell you there is a mathematical formula which calculates the likely runs of outs you can expect of any odds. A run of outs of 22 can be expected over 500 bets on the PPP's A selection at 3/1; over 1000 bets a run of 24 outs is predicted; and over a lifetime-and-a-half of 10,000 bets, a run of 32 outs can be expected.

Let's assume that our punter is only going to back the A selection, as that selection, on average, represents the least risk. A little later, you, the reader, can determine whether the B and C selections can be backed as well.

In most racing articles or books on how to win at betting, and in discussions with serious bettors, it's generally agreed that to bet more than 2 per cent of your bank on a win selection is starting to court disaster, so a sensible 1 per cent allows for 100 losing bets at $100 while 2 per cent allows 50 losers with a betting bank of $10,000.

As explained above, over a period of 10,000 bets, on AVERAGE a run of outs of 32 can be expected on 3/1 chances, but if we are cautious and double that to 64, then betting 1.5 per cent of the betting bank on 3/1 chances can be expected to be reasonably safe.

This approach is ultraconservative and assumes the worst scenario but it's better to be safe than sorry. (If the dreaded 64 outs did occur at $150 a time, a loss of $9600 would result.)

The PPP has decided to use the A selection as a fulcrum and this leads to quinella betting. The odds of the average A (at 3 / 1) and B (at 4/1) quinella is 6.74/1, or about 13/2. The statistics show that at 13/2 a run of outs of 64 can occur.

Using the previous 'safe' method of doubling the expected risk and assuming 128 outs, the bet on the quinella can be $80.

The quinella is the half-brother of the exacta so the PPP decides to add this bet type to the arsenal. The odds of the AB exacta equate to 14/1, which means $35 is invested on the exacta. As all punters know, the quinella and exacta are closely related to the trifecta so why not add this bet type as well!

The odds of the ABC trifecta in order is 56.75/1, which equates to an expected run of outs of about 510, which when doubled equals 1020. This means a bet of about $10 on the ABC trifecta but what about the ACB trifecta? Pop it in, too, for another $10.

The last bet type on the list is a double. Assuming the average again, a 3/1 x 3/1 double is equal to odds of 15/1, which means a run of outs of 143 can be expected, or 286 when doubled. The bet, then, is $35 per double.

It's now time to take stock. The brutal figures show that if the A selection runs 3rd or worse, then $150 is lost on the win bet, $80 on the quinella, $35 on the exacta, $20 on the trifectas and $35 on the double, a total of $320.

It's clear that a crucial time has arrived for our intrepid PPP, because the total loss is not 1.5 per cent of the bank but actually 3.2 per cent and that WILL be testing the waters just a little too much.

Something has to go. Eliminating the double reduces the race outlay to 2.85 per cent: still too much. Eliminating the trifectas and the quinella reduces the race outlay by $100 (1 per cent) and reduces the overall race risk to an acceptable 1.85 per cent.

At this stage each punter will have their own preferences and strategies but so long as the race risk is around 1.5 per cent a comfortable medium between conservatism and real risk will be settled on.

By dividing 185 into $10,000, a run of outs of 54 races is needed to wipe out the betting bank. A super-conservative PPP may even decide that 54 races causes some concern; therefore, some recalculations are needed where perhaps 108 races is the desired safety net.

It needs to be stated that a betting bank of $10,000 will NOT be sufficient to actually become a professional punter but is only a starting point. Once again the brutal mathematics of horse-race betting need to be considered as to what can safely be called a realistic professional punting bank.

It is generally acknowledged that most professional punters consider 5 per cent profit on turnover (POT) to be attainable and that 10 per cent may, in the long run, be stretching expectations. If the PPP requires a basic type of wage of $600 per week, the outlay per week must be 20 times that figure, using the 5 per cent scenario, which is
$12,000 per week or $6,000 on the 10 per cent POT.

The answer lies in between the two weekly outlays. If we adhere to the principles of never betting any more than 2 per cent of the betting bank on a race, we can see the enormity of attempting to live off the punt with just $10,000: it just won't work.

If the PPP is careful in selecting bets and bets on 10 races per week (is that careful??), the bets must be between $600 and $1200 which requires a betting bank of a minimum 50 times those amounts, or $30,000 to $60,000! Phew!

"Damn those percentages," mutters the PPP but, as mentioned earlier, there is a harsh reality in horse-race betting which must be considered very, very carefully and it has just been presented.

The PPP sits back and reflects. Working through these few calculations has shown how easy it is to become a 'Pumpkin Head' and overbet in relation to the betting bank and that the racetrack percentages alluded to earlier are indeed sobering. THE question asked earlier has now been answered with the force of a thousand hammers.

The figures have shown the PPP the path to that beachcomber existence is a tough course to chart but, as we all have learned through this exercise, at least some semblance of reality has been considered.

* My acknowledgements to Ausracers Denis Moroney, for his considerable mathematical assistance, and to Nick Aubrey, for allowing me to use his 'Runs of Outs' calculations.

By Roman Koz