It's what I call the 'infinite puzzle' of betting: Just when DO you bet and when DON'T you bet? I believe that if we could answer that question we would be well on our way to punting heaven here on earth!

Many, many 'experts' have offered their views over the years. Most disagree with each other. There is the conservative side who proclaim long and loud that only if you bet on a few races are you likely to succeed. There are others, like America's Andy Beyer, who talk of maximum boldness and betting on any race you damn well like!

The 'risk-takers' say that betting is different to any other form of business, and that you cannot use the principles of building up a small business and adapt them to betting professionally. I tend to agree with this theory.

Betting, and most importantly, making money from it, is a unique thing. It has its own advantages and its very own pitfalls (heaps of them). It relies on personal judgement to a very large degree.

There is little room for making too many errors.

But it does offer big rewards for those risk-takers who succeed * One calculated risk that pays off can cover many that do not. In contrast, the conservative punter, while enjoying the relative safety of cautious betting, will probably never be in a position to make a huge killing, which is probably what he truly dreams about but cannot bring himself to attempt.

There are punters who believe in a strictly rigid approach to betting. They mostly will be system followers and most that I know are successful. They are not conservative punters in the main but possess attributes of discipline and consistency. They do not mind big stakes, provided everything is happening in accord with a structured, set-down approach.

These punters are what I call 'Statsman's men' because they tend to follow the rules and ideology that he has outlined in this magazine for many years. Statsman's philosophy is direct, clear and easy to understand.

I asked him to outline what he thought was the secret to solving the infinite puzzle of how to bet, when to bet and what to bet.

"My prescription for success is to find yourself a good system get together sufficient capital to carry the play over the worst possible losing streak, then play every selection as the system demands for one solid year, come hell or high water. Stay in there and keep at it.

"if your choice of a system is sound, you will find that long before year's end you will be out in front. All you need is that good system, capital and lots of old-fashioned Aussie guts to keep you in line.

"It is tough to beat the races but I believe the biggest battle is always going to be the one if you have to fight with yourself."

Now what does Statsman mean when he talks about the 'fight with yourself' or the battle within your mind? It gets back to the old statement that says a punter never expects to win, he only hopes he can win. This is the thinking you need to turn around.

Of course, there are many punters out there who simply scoff at systems and won't have a bar of them. Okay, that's fine. Each to his own. I admit to liking a bit of both. I love nothing better than a selection system, linked with a bold staking plan, that keeps on working. But I also like to use my intellectual judgement to find winners by myself, without a set of rules to guide me.

It's finding winners by your own good sense and ability that is probably the most satisfying and exciting aspect of betting. I have always relished the intellectual challenge presented by each race on the card. Even the ability to pick the right races and ignore the worst ones is something of an art in itself!

But even the application of intellectual judgement is not the end-all of the betting business, because each person differs in his ability to judge a race, and in the ability to decide when to bet and when not to bet.

Statsman suggests that 'the power of one' is what each and every punter has to discover. It's finding the inner core of yourself, of who you are, and then defining that 'self' through your approach to racing and betting.

Statsman says a punter wanting to win - REALLY wanting to win has first to convince himself of that fact. I know this may sound silly and that most readers will say 'of course I want to win' but how does that translate into your betting activities? Do you give yourself a chance to win?

Statsman says: "I am not saying that if a punter is convinced he will win that he will win, and that all he has to do is pick a number, bet on it and collect the loot. That's just plain silly. The punter, like any other craftsman, must have the right tools; he must learn everything he can about handicapping and betting, and he has to practise long and hard.

"What I do contend is that a punter convinced he will win has taken a most important step to actually winning. Convincing yourself that you can win does sound easy but it isn't because you have to overcome external and internal doubts. Externally, people will tell you that you cannot win at punting and you have to tell yourself that you can.

"Internally, there is every chance you will be wracked by self-doubt. You analyse a race and pick out a horse, and then you wonder whether it's the right choice? Am I good enough to pick the winner, you might think. Perhaps Joe Blow in the newspaper is a better judge than me? Perhaps I should trust the consensus rather than myself?

"All these things add up. If you can emerge with a winning formula, and a winning frame of mind, you are well on the way."

When it comes to betting itself, putting down the money, the punter, I believe, has to ask himself: Is this a clever bet? How much will I make if my judgement is correct? Is it worth the risk? And this is where VALUE comes into play. Are you getting value for your money?

Many punters, sensibly, attempt to put a value on their selections by putting a price on them. They try to assess their percentage value. How many times would the horse win if the race were to be run 100 times?

Think carefully, then, about the risk factor. Is it better to avoid a bet on an even money chance if it means you can have two units on your next selection which is 3/1? Let's say that you have a feeling the even money chance is under the odds (but still a great chance) and that 3/1 chance should be at 6/4.

Your decision is whether to back both, or to say, drop the evens bet and put twice as much on the 3/1 shot.

All sorts of questions have to be asked of yourself and all need answers. The big question is always: Do I bet or do I leave the race alone? If your 'mind' has been programmed correctly the answers will come easily. You will have the betting game well and truly in your pocket.

By Martin Dowling