Richard Hartley Jnr (R.H.): To introduce this' feature article, I must first introduce our three forum experts. One of them, Rick Roberts, is well known to P.P.M. readers, but the other two gentlemen, Kevin R. and Jack L. have not contributed to the magazine before.

They are, in fact, professional punters who have agreed to take part in this debate in order to pass on some of their intimate knowledge about betting and how they turn the racetracks into their own personal 'killing' fields, in the strict monetary sense that is, of making a killing on the punt!

Kevin has been punting professionally for eight years, being in accountancy before that; Jack has been at the punting game on a full-time basis on and off for the past 25 years. So both men know what it's all about. Rick, of course, is an expert on harness racing but also dabbles heavily in betting on horseracing. To kick off, I'll ask Rick to explain how he bets.

Rick Roberts (R.R.): I've always tried to maintain a simplistic approach, Richard, though since developing my Striker harness racing system I have to confess to getting deeply into the exotics. I find there is still some decent value around, especially where the Striker selections are concerned. Basically, though, I have been successful in betting overlays on good 'true' markets, drawn up not only by myself but by other computer experts and the like, and I have also added profits to the win betting by linking my selections in doubles. I don't overbet, and I think it's my own innate cautiousness that has enabled me to keep in front. What about you, Kevin? Are you on the same lines as myself?

Kevin R (K.R.): Not really I suppose my betting is much more figure-oriented. In selecting my bets I am heavily swayed by prize-money earnings and win strike consistency. Once I am satisfied about my selection, I then assess how much a win could be worth to me. That means I do put a price on the horse-that is, I estimate what I think his true chance represents - and then I go a step further and analyse the chance against the risk. I am very cautious and I often will not bet at all unless I am totally convinced I have an excellent chance of winning. I do concentrate on short-priced horses.

For example, at Flemington recently, I had Shiva's Revenge up at about a 4/6 chance, and I decided to bet him after looking closely at the other runners. The one I feared most, because of her sectional times' ability, was Shavano Miss but even given her speed I still felt 100 per cent confident about Shiva's Revenge, so I was happy to obtain 5/4. That was enough for me for the day. One bet and shut up shop, and this is how I operate most of the time. As a friend of Jack's for some time I know that he has a totally different approach to mine.

Jack L (J.L.): Absolutely, old son! I couldn't display the sort of patience you show. I've seen you go several meetings without a bet, and then have a plonk on an even money chance. I'm much more of an action man and I guess I go against the general line of thinking in that I am not afraid to bet what you'd label the underlays. In fact, I go looking for horses whose odds fall substantially. It doesn't worry me at all if I don't secure top odds; as long as I'm confident of backing a winner I'll hoe in. I go seeking out the action; I've always been aggressive in that regard.

R.H.: Don't you have a set list of horses to back when you go to the track, Jack?

J.L.: Sometimes I might jot down the names of a few ponies I fancy but sometimes I might end up backing none of them. I'm an information man; I have a lot of contacts at various stables and they hand me tips and I sling them a bit in return. Usually, I'll put $50 or $100 on for them, depending on how well they have tipped for me in the past. So it's very much catch as catch can with me. I've never had a clearly established bank, I've never bet just level stakes and I've never used a progression staking plan! I simply bet a horse on how I rate its chances. If someone I trust has given me a strong tip I'll go in hard, no matter what the price.

R.R.: Your problem, as I see it Jack, will always be managing to back enough winners to make a profit. Am I right?

J.L.: That's everyone's problem, mate! But you're right. I have to strike effectively and I suppose it's my good judgement that enables me to get away with good profits each year. I doubt, though, that punters with less courage, yes, courage - could do the same as me. Even though I might bet a lot I never bet unless I am satisfied with the horse.

K.R.: All professional, punters face the same problems as anyone else when they bet. The racetrack odds are heavily against the punter, so you have to bet cleverly to make any money. What I find stymies most losing punters is that they come up with the same piece of 'winning' information as everyone else. You see, if the betting market is efficient your relevant piece of information will not be confined only to you. Others will have noticed what you noticed and they will act on this observation. so the odds on the horse you have chosen will be driven down.

The average punter overbets so he probably cashes 35 to 40 per cent of his tickets but still ends up losing. My point is that the best bets of all in racing are those horses which are substantially underestimated by the betting public.

R.R.: Yes, betting gets back to the old theory that you must pick the winners that very few others spot. The trouble is it's difficult to do this in the betting marketplace, especially if the market is efficient.

R.H.: Perhaps we should explain exactly what we mean by this efficient betting market, Rick.

R.R.: Okay, what it means is that in an efficient market, all information with a bearing on the profitability of an investment is already accounted for in the price of that investment opportunity, so that no above-average profits can be obtained from it. In other words, there's no, value in it.

K.R.: What we have to worry about, though, is whether the betting market's efficiency or lack of it is worth bothering about from the aspect of personal gain and profit! That's the big question. What I think we are really talking about is how much value is left in the betting market. Can we secure value? Is there, in fact, any real value left?

F-H.: In my view, the punter has a simple task but a difficult one (!) in that he has to find, say, 2/1 chances and bet them at 3/1 in order to make a profit. That's one example, anyway, and you can extend it as far as you like.

J.L.: You blokes can talk all you like about value and what-have-you but I'll stick by my judgement. I don't need a computer to tell me if a certain horse is at a value price. All my experience on the racetrack allows me to make that judgement myself. I can look at a horse's form and then look at its price and I know in a flash whether the bookies are offering a good price or a dud price.

I can estimate in my mind what a horse is worth. You can offer some horses to me at 20/1 and I wouldn't touch them. When I'm given information and I know that information is good, I can go into the betting ring with confidence and decide there and then whether to bet. A computer might say that a horse is a 3/1 chance but if I've been given strong information and I see evens about it then I'll back it, no worries. You see, based on my information, the horse is a 10s-on chance, so evens is overs!

R.R.: Jack, you're in an enviable situation because you have eyes and ears all over Sydney! The average punter doesn't have access to this inside mail on racedays, so you have a distinct advantage in that respect. But, seriously, how much do you bet per meeting and how do you recoup losses?

J.L.: I usually go to the track with $5,000 but I'll rarely bet that much. I go in with bets of $200 upwards, never more than $3,000; in fact, my last $3,000 bet was on Let's Elope when she won the Orr Stakes and, by jingo, she only just got home! Over a year I suppose my actual turnover is about $750,000 or perhaps a bit more and I'm happy if I can make 15 to 20 per cent on that.

R.R.: Enough to keep you in a new suit every year, Jack. In my case, I wouldn't turn over as much as that, more in the range of $500,000 with the same expected percentage return. I think to expect any more would be wishful thinking.

K.R.: My bets are large but as I've said I don't put on as many bets as you other blokes. My bets are usually in the $1,000 to $2,000 range. I divide all the races on a programme into A and B grades and immediately discard the B races. This usually leaves me with about two races on which to operate. I restrict myself to Sydney and Melbourne, though I do bet on Brisbane during the winter carnival, provided the tracks provide firm going.

R.H.: Do you set yourself a target at the beginning of the year, Kevin?

K.R.: My aim, every year, is to make perhaps $2,000 a week. I don't manage this every week, but I expect to be able to manage it over a 12-month period. You have to be confident, you have to be cautious and you certainly have to be patient. Like a lot of other pros, I imagine, I am often losing money at some stages of the year but I always manage to get in front. When you bet sensibly you know inside yourself that the winners will arrive.

R.H.: Rick, tell us something about your approach on the exotic pools.

R.R.: Well, it's very simple. With quinellas, I choose a Banker and link it with up to half a dozen others, but I always put a price on each horse and bet the quinellas accordingly, usually about $100 to $150 a race. Each quinella, then, has its price. The Banker I could estimate at 2/1, then the others at varying prices. I work out what the quinella should pay and back accordingly.

For instance, a 2/1 with a 4/1 I would estimate to pay around $8 for $1. I might back this combination to return me, say, $500, meaning a bet of say $65. With trifectas, I like the multiples but not too many horses. I usually go all-out for the winner with one Banker and then link it into three or four, never more than five, others. The cost is relatively cheap but you get a good run for your money, especially with value runners for the placings, which the Striker provides a lot of times.

K.R.: It's funny but the exotics have never made much appeal for me, even though I know there is a great amount of what we might call 'mug' money loose in the pools. To me, there is too much hit-and-miss with the exotics; I think Don Scott said in an interview some years ago that he experienced long losing runs and that most punters would not be able to cope with these. I tend to agree. I avoid losing runs like the plague!

J.L.: Although I don't have a steady annual objective, I do feel that the average punter should try to set himself a target. This should be in line with the degree of risk involved, but it would be stupid to set an unreachable target. Better, I feel, to establish a gettable figure; if you reach it quickly all well and good, you can then go on and try for more. But if you set too high a target you establish a sense of desperation in yourself and your bets are likely to suffer.

R.R.: I find that my doubles betting returns me a lot of money. I'm not talking here about TAB doubles, but ongoing race-to-race or meeting-to-meeting doubles. What I do is pick out one horse at a meeting as a prime bet; this forms part of a double. I have a special double bet, say $100, on this horse, apart from any win bet on it. If it wins, the double component is carried forward to a second horse, sometimes the same day, sometimes on another day. I might back a 2/1 winner, so I have $300 riding on the next leg of the double.

Another winner at 2/1 means a collect of $900 for my initial $100 outlay. I recommend this play to any punter whether he bets in $5 or $10. You can secure some excellent returns, but don't overbet.

R.H.: Do we all agree that for safety sake a $10 punter should stick with level stakes betting?

R.R.: Well, I suppose we can consider this form of betting the best for novice punters. You know what your outlay is going to be, no matter how many selections you have, and you know precisely how many bets you can afford without striking a winner. So, in those respects, it's okay, but the punter always has to remember that the longer the losing run the higher the price the winner has to be to recoup losses and make you a profit. I think Alan Jacobs pointed this out in his Pro-Power series. If you go five races without a winner at $1 a race, you then bet another $1, so that makes $6 you've invested so you'll need a 5/1 winner just to break even.

K.R.: Level stakes is okay, but I feel you have to increase your outlay at some stages. I mean, you might start off with $10 bets, but if you improve your bank from $100 to $150 you should then increase bets to $15. Otherwise, you are never going to get anywhere. Also, it doesn't matter what you bet if you are not securing value. You have to get the right price.

J.L.: Old Eric Connolly had the right idea. Begin with an operating capital of 80 units, split it into two halves of 40 units, and then bet level stakes, say $2 a time, on two horses per race. You can then go 10 races without a win before you've blown your first $40, and then you bring in the second bank. When the bank increases, you declare yourself a profit dividend, maybe 20 per cent, and with the rest you increase your bets. Look, it's not the way I operate but for small punters it could be a way to control their staking. If the bank grew to say $120 you could hook out a dividend of 20 per cent ($24) and split the rest into two again, with banks of $48 each. Your bets would then be say $5 each. And so it goes.

R.H.: Yes, Connolly had some bright ideas. By betting on two horses a race you are lessening considerably the chance of hitting a long losing run.

K.R.: I think I'd like to end this forum with a warning to punters about losing control when they are losing. The most common betting mistakes occur when the punter is losing.

A high proportion of punters tend to bet the price and not the horse when they get behind. They play the odds and ignore the horse they think is likely to win the race.

I've seen it so many times. I was standing next to a chap the other week at Randwick, and we got talking, and it was the last race, and he said he liked the look of the favourite 'but the price was too short' so he had decided to back another horse at a bigger quote. Well, the script is written, isn't it? The favourite won and the guy's choice went down the drain, along with his money.

NEXT MONTH: Jon Hudson, Martin Dowling and Richard Hartley Jnr continue the betting forum, and give their views on all aspects of multiple and exotic betting. Don't miss this fabulous article.

By Richard Hartley Jnr