It is often said that there is a narrow band between winning and losing at the races. Get on the right side of that band, even by just a few percentage points, and you can make a good living.

Slip off the other side, and you’ll wind up a loser. Stay in the narrow band and you might battle out with an even settling. Professionals know all about the narrow band.

Some can operate on just a 1 or 2 per cent profit because their turnover is enormous. The average punter would be lucky to make a few percentage points profit but his turnover is low so his profit at that level would hardly keep him in clover.

UK pro Alan Potts is one man who’s been there and done that for many years, and survives as a successful punter. His personal method, as far as staking is concerned, is to operate in that “narrow band” either side of his desired average bet.

He sticks to a minimum stake of $600 and a normal maximum of $1,000. This produces the right sort of total turnover for him.

But before I get further into Alan’s betting approach, let’s go back to the basics of what makes him tick, and how he goes about what he does. What can we learn from him, and how can we put his ideas into real-life practice here in Australia and New Zealand?

The aim of this series of articles is to draw together the Potts Maxims to show exactly how a professional operates. Most people reading these articles will never become pro punters but I would hazard a guess that most hunger for success at racing, even if it’s only in a small way. Hopefully, Alan Potts can provide some sort of beacon light.

Let’s start with his “four C’s” and they are CONFIDENCE, CAPITAL, CALCULATION and CYNICISM.

Confidence is something a lot of punters are lacking. What Alan Potts says is that you need to make yourself better informed than everyone else and then the confidence will come.

To put it simply, you need to work hard because if you don’t the end result is that you will lack the confidence to make the big decisions.

Potts says: “Faced with an imaginary crowd of 10,000 I expect to win, because I am confident I know more than they do about racing, confident I know more than they do about betting, and confident I can use my knowledge to extract a profit from their ignorance.

“Faced with a losing run, I am confident that if I continue to apply my methods consistently, and stick to my rules, things will eventually turn in my favour. In the midst of a winning run, I am confident I can take maximum advantage and generate maximum revenue from my successes.”

This may sound like arrogance, as Potts himself admits, but it’s not so much arrogance as the words of a man comfortable with what he does and assured within himself that he can play the game better than most others.

Can you say that about yourself? How much swagger is in your step when you play your $10 or $20 through the machine or hand it to a bookie? Do those nagging doubts eat away at you?

Take this first tip from Alan Potts, then, and do what you need to do to inform yourself about racing. In a particular race, make sure you know as much as you can about each runner, not just the one you’ve chosen.

Confidence will build and develop the more work you put into your betting activity.

Capital speaks for itself. Potts, addressing those who really want to take betting seriously and perhaps attempt to make a living from it, says a sizeable capital stake is necessary, at least five times the annual profit you hope to generate.

So there’s a simple slice of advice but a most important slice. Money, money, money…It’s what this betting game is all about and one of the no-no’s is to try to beat the game with NOT ENOUGH money. It won’t work.

Alan Potts says: “Apart from acting as a safety net in bad times, this capital can generate an income via investments, which will help to offset your racing expenses.”

If you are not at such a high level, the advice from Potts is that you keep your betting money separate from all your other cash. Never, he says, take your cheque book or credit card to the races or the TAB!

Calculation seems an odd word to use in betting because there can be many interpretations. What Potts means is that you assess very carefully the following:

“How much am I going to stake?”

“What is the price I am going to take?”

His point is that a punter needs to know the odds, he needs to know how to assess what the bet should be, how much he’ll win and how much he should actually bet.

Grasp the intricacies of staking and you have an edge.

Now to cynicism. Potts reckons it’s the most important of the four C’s. You need to be cynical of so many things and the opinions of jockeys and trainers are top of the list. Potts also includes some racing journalists.

We can extend this aspect of things to the form itself. Yes, be cynical when a race looks too easy. They often do, don’t they? You see that just about EVERY tipster in the land has gone for a particular horse and you think, “Oh well, they must be right”.

Well, sometimes they are. But, like the favourites overall, they will be WRONG more times than they are right. So, when you see “standouts” don’t simply accept them as such. Be CYNICAL. Treat them with caution. Pay lots of attention to the other runners in the race. Weigh up the form. Looks for “chinks” in the armour of the hotpot.

As Potts says, form your own opinions (and that comes with the Confidence factor!) and take the views of others with a pinch of salt.

So there, then, we have the starting point of your professional look at what the game is all about. It may appear that the points put forward are simplistic, but that’s to treat them with a mistaken flippancy. They are all important.

Armed with them, you can then go to the next steps in the process, the actual selection of the races on which you will bet, and the horses you will back.

Potts is a slick form analyser. He looks for what he calls “defining power”, and the quality he seeks has to be displayed over the final 400m of a race, whatever the distance.

He is adamant that what you see is sometimes not exactly what is good for you in the future. For example, a horse that “finishes fast”, sometimes to win the race in the last strides, and sometimes to finish close up and apparently unlucky.

Potts likes to think about such horses and REVERSE the usual logic. Ask not why the horse was finishing fast but WHY he got so far behind the leaders?

He writes in his book Against The Crowd: “In my view he got behind because he wasn’t good enough to sustain the average speed being maintained by the leaders earlier in the race. He appears to finish fast but, as we’ve established, it is much more likely that he is simply maintaining his speed (a speed insufficient for him to keep up) and that his rivals are slowing down dramatically in the final 200m.

“And the reason they are slowing down is that they are not good enough, or fit enough, to maintain the average speed they were able to attain at the 400m pole.”

We continue the Alan Potts guide to professional horse racing betting, click here to read Part 2.

By Richard Hartley Jr.