Most of us will never become professional punters. It may well be our 'dream' existence but the reality is far different. That doesn't mean we can't discipline ourselves to bet in a professional manner.

Keen amateur, with professional approach ... This is what you should aim for, whether you are betting in $1 units or $100 units. The demands are the same. The rewards are the same albeit in smaller proportions for smaller outlays.

There have been lots of ideas suggested over the years on how to bet in a sensible, professional manner. We have published many articles on this theme, often quoting the work of well-known professional punters from around the world.

Perhaps the best advice of all, for investors of any kind, comes from Andy Beyer, the US professional, who says:

  • If you spend enough time working at thoroughbred handicapping, you can distinguish yourself, provided you look on it as a job.
  • If you learn from your mistakes, you will not repeat them.
  • Focus your play on tracks where there aren't a lot of highly proficient players, so you will have an added edge (midweek in Australia?).
  • Only bet on those races where you have a strong conviction, leave the rest to the others.

Beyer's advice is said to have even inspired Wall Street millionaire James J. Cramer (cochairman of The to change his investing approach and become fabulously successful!

Yet there remains much to learn. How does the average punter simplify his or her approach and yet retain the ability to gain a high strike rate, and get enough value on the winners to be able to make a long-term gain?

Who has all the answers? What ideas can a 'Joe Blow' punter use to help himself along the rough and rocky road to profitability? These are the questions the battling punter rightfully poses.

Perhaps the best place to start is at the beginning. We can raise points which may seem unimportant, but which the majority of punters often ignore at their financial peril.

A profitable exercise for all punters is to keep a ledger setting out day-by-day turf investments. You can look back over past operations and make a note of two key points:

  1. How many days did you wind up a loser after having shown a profit early in the day?
  2. How many days did you run into strife through chasing losses in an effort to get square on the day?

If either has happened to you, then make a resolution to try a new approach. You may, for example, start your day's betting with a bank of 10 units. If you back a winner and go, say, 7 or 8 units ahead, put away a portion of that profit, plus your original stake, so that when you cease operations for the day you will be showing a profit.

Do this every raceday and at the end of the year you will be much better off than if you had given all your bank a go. The simple lesson is never to allow a daily profit to slip into a daily loss.

Just think about this lesson: You are at the track or the TAB, and you back the winner of the first race. You are betting in $10 units and your bank is $100. That first winner pays 4/1, so you are $40 ahead. You slip $15 in your pocket; it's your Untouchable money. You are now left with $25 profit and this is your betting bank for the day.

Your original $100 stake will be left untouched. If you blow the $25, you will still be $15 ahead on the day. Nothing can touch that profit (except your own weakness if you decide to pull it out of your pocket and bet it!).

If more profits flow from further bets, always pocket around 30 per cent of them, and continue betting with the rest.

On a bad day, don't let a few setbacks throw you into panic. Don't go in beyond your depth. If you have a $100 bank and you lose half of it early on, you can always pack up betting for the day. There will always be another meeting the next day.

Chasing losses is a dangerous game, unless you employ a staking plan that has a built-in safety brake. In reality, everyone chases losses, even those who bet at level stakes. The LS punter, though, doesn't go into panic mode. His bets remain constant.

Chasing losses can produce evil mind games. Punters are prone to lose their entire mental approach to selecting, and staking is thrown out of kilter. The professionals never allow this to happen because, for the most part, they need to be the 'hard men' of betting. They need ice-cool nerves, which is exactly what the keen amateurs need as well. Cool and sensible at the same time.

Having taken in these little lessons, what's next? We learn to bet with purpose. This means having the good sense to eliminate bad-risk bets, or to stop overbetting. There is no excuse for making the same mistakes over and over again, as most punters do. They will realise that too many bets is a killer, yet continue to bet race by race.

This courts disaster. The race-by-race bettor has to back far too many winners to overcome the constant percentages working against him. Bookies can afford to bet on every race because they always have a percentage working for them.

The exercise in betting is to win. With that idea in mind you must bet with a purpose. If there is no PURPOSE behind a bet, it is not a sound bet. There has to be a purpose behind everything we do in life.

Okay, so what is a bet with purpose? Well, think about this. In betting, we aim to make a reasonable percentage of winning investments, and we wish to handle our betting money in a proper and sensible manner. To bet with purpose, then, you have to decide on the following:

  • No bets for the sake of having a bet. No betting on wild fancies, guesswork and hunches. No betting on poor races, poor horses and bad jockeys.
  • Bet when there is a logical reason to bet; when your knowledge of the game TELLS you there is a greater chance of winning than losing.

By sticking to just these two slices of professional knowledge you automatically avoid many pitfalls. They will help to stop any tendency you might have to being a compulsive bettor. They will make you THINK clearly before you put your money down. They will, in short, add purpose to your betting.

Prune the field for Sweet Returns
Clever professionals will take their time in analysing a field of runners. None are ever eliminated until a full assessment has been made of their form.

But the true professional will probably be able to reach a conclusion about a horse in less time than it takes an amateur. He knows what needs to be considered and what he can discard.

The professional becomes a pruner. He snips and snips away at a field until he has it reduced to two or three main chances. More than that and he is likely to forget the race. Simply too hard!

He will not give a second's thought to races he regards as being too difficult. He will just throw them out as unbettable. Midweek, this often means dumping several Maidens, and perhaps Class 1 and 2 races, even without looking in detail at them.

At the weekend, the task is a bit more difficult. But the pro will probably stick to the Opens and Welters and the good 3yo races. Nothing much else. Mares' races are generally a no-no, unless the pro has spotted and been betting on a mare racing in great form and linking wins together.

The professional fully investigates a race. He seeks clues. He discards those races in a horse's formlines which have little or no relevance to the current race.

After discarding the no-chancers, and all the useless aspects of the remaining horses' form, he starts upon the work of comparative analysis. He considers the GOOD efforts of the contenders, checks out their battles against each other in the past and how they shape up today. He considers track and distance, the going, the weight, and then turns his attention to the connections and the jockey.

He tries to understand the trainer's motivation. Is there a hidden agenda with a horse? Is this the race they want or not?

Once he has satisfied himself on all counts, he can make the crucial final decisions on which horses to select. The pro shows you how. You have to follow his lead. That way lies success.

I can tell you now that by the end of a year of operating in this manner, you will be astonished by the amount of money you have saved yourself from losing on mindless bets. You must remember that every time you stop yourself from wasting money on a bad bet it is the equivalent of backing a winner at even money.

Compulsive gambling means that you avoid confronting the do's and don'ts of your betting. You will not allow yourself to be restrained.

If this sounds a touch like sermonising ... well, you're right, it is. But it is a sermon with a winning message for those prepared to listen. And let me take things further still: The answer to your success or otherwise as a punter will always lie in the psychology of your thinking.

It has long been held that only a minority of people are psychologically equipped to be able to make money in the long term, through any form of speculation.

This subject was taken up recently in the UK magazine Odds On, by British professional Russell Clarke, whose writings have been featured before in PPM. Clarke points out that what the punter should be seeking is to avoid the pain of being wrong.

He says: "The chain reaction you must break is the following; you want to lose weight, but to do so means experiencing pain rather than the pleasure of eating your favourite (fattening) food. In your mind, dieting means pain.

"You want to make money betting, but following my advice means experiencing pain. Our first reaction is always to avoid the pain and so we falter and fail. To break the chain you must view the good as pleasurable. You have to convince yourself, quite genuinely, that weight loss is a pleasure and so is betting profitably and experiencing losing runs.

"The first step is to set up rules for yourself. Following these rules leads to pleasure, breaking the rules leads to pain."

Russell Clarke's sensible advice is much like that of other professionals who have been through the grind of betting for a profit year after year: Set a sensible profit goal; set aside a betting bank of 50 bets; stick to your strategy.

His advice highlights the fact that long-term profits don't come easy. The serious bettor aims at picking away at the rock face. The professional tries to protect his capital at all times. He never allows himself to be placed in a situation from which he may be panicked into chasing losses.

Ron Louis, a Chicago-based professional punter in the 1950s and 1960s, had this to say: "Racing is not a means of getting rich quickly. What I mean is that it is possible to win big quickly, but it is not possible to keep on winning big quickly.

"The only man I knew who got out of racing with a small fortune was the guy who started out with a large fortune. He broke the rules and paid. He gambled, and professionals like myself never do that. We are cautious and wise.

"For myself, I always bet flat stakes and when I got 20 per cent ahead I just upped and quit for the day. I didn't care whether I would have won more. I just stopped because I felt 20 per cent was enough. More times than not if I had kept betting I would have lost that 20 per cent or part of it.

"If I had to give any advice to aspiring professionals it would be to be satisfied with 20 per cent profit at any given time. If you go to the track and you hit an exacta at 20/1 or 30/1 and you get a coupla' hundred ahead, well, just thank your lucky stars and stop and enjoy the rest of the day.

"It's an approach that stood me in good stead for more than 20 years. If I could make a hundred or two a day I was more than delighted. I was over the moon. I wasn't greedy."

Ron Louis's main play throughout much of his betting career (he died in 1964) went like this: He invariably backed two horses per race. He worked on the basis of betting 5 units per race (his were rather large betting units, of course). Three of those units went on his No 1 selection, the other two were bet win and place (l st / 2nd in the US).

As soon as his bank for the day (100 units) reached 125, he increased the betting units to 7 per race, with 5 units going on the top pick and 2 units going win-place on the other selection.

By backing two horses per race like this, he very rarely struck a long losing run. By increasing his stakes after wirming, he took full advantage of the winning streak. One point that Louis was adamant on was that he always treated a new day's racing as a new series. There were no carryovers.

Like other professionals, Ron Louis always bet with purpose. There was very little room for indecision in his betting life. He made his choices and he bet them. He threw out any risk.

The indecisive, or haphazard, 'keen amateur' mostly bets without much thought, mixes his stakes and frequently gets caught in traps of his own making. In one race he will back several runners, yet in the next he will switch back to one selection, and then start changing from win to eachway bets. There is no rhyme or reason to the approach.

By Jon Hudson