How do experts around the world look on the business of betting? In this special article, Denton Jardine takes a look at the writings of some eminent international authorities. This is how they go about their betting.

Punting can be a lonely business. All the formguides in the world can mean relatively little when you are finally left alone to make your selection and decide the size of your bet.

What can alleviate the loneliness to some extent is to ensure that you are well-armed with knowledge about what you are doing. It behoves you to make yourself fully aware of what betting is all about its pitfalls and traps, its glorious uncertainty.

By studying the views of informed people you can equip yourself with enough knowledge to make it virtually impossible to commit serious errors in your approach to betting and selection. It's all a matter of discipline and boldness. For example, let's look at what British expert Peter Braddock has to say when he differentiates between what he calls a 'bettor' and a 'gambler'.

Says Braddock: "A bettor bets always with the sole purpose of winning money. It is an activity with a clearly defined and limited aim. Betting is a financial investment of the highest-risk money with the possibility of most lucrative returns. The bettor bets only when in his judgment the chances of winning are most favourable.

"The gambler is a victim in a world of gambling. Allured by the prospect of winning money, but depressed, disheartened and disappointed at the actuality of losing, the gambler bets whenever he can no longer resist the temptation - it is never an impassive act, but always a response to retrieve past losses or fulfil a dream of having a big win." 

Braddock's words are timely. Can you see yourself in the role of bettor or punter, as described by Braddock? If you're in the bettor category you don't have too much to worry about. If you're in the latter mould, then it's apparent you need to do yourself a favour and look again at how you carry out your betting.

The advice from most professionals is for betting to be a serious undertaking - and one that is accompanied always by good sense and discipline. Leslie Spencer, for many years a track representative for the big British bookmaking organisation William Hill, says: "I have seen many come into this game like lions only to leave like lambs."

Danny Hall, of England's Daily Express newspaper, says in his book How To Win At Racing.

"Remember, we are not in a contest that can be won with one big hit, so leave the bludgeon at home.

"Our aim is to show a profit, not on a single day, week or month but over a long period of time. Rather, let's use a stiletto for regular but damaging thrusts against the bookmaker."

Hall confirms what many professionals believe - that punters should always keep strict records of their betting. He adds: "A simple and effective way of cutting out irrational betting, avoiding mistakes if you like, is to make yourself write a short explanation as to why a particular horse should be backed.

"It is amazing how many foolish wagers can be scratched before the damage is done. If I can truly say to myself, 'win or lose, this is a bet', I am happy to put my money down."

Malcolm Howard, author of The Value Factor In Successful Betting, says punters have to carefully examine their chances of winning and to be as rigid as they can when doing so.

He says: "The only way to assess a risk is to think about what can go wrong. Sod's law, as applied to betting, can be summed up as, 'what can go wrong, will' and usually this means that another horse can run faster than your selection, but even if this is thought impossible, other possibilities need to be reviewed."

Howard stresses the vital need to get the right price and achieve value. This, he says, can't be done until the risks have been assessed.

The first step in the process of winning, according to Howard, is to cling to the one advantage that a punter has - to decide when a bet will be struck.

Says Howard (an accountant and finance manager with a large corporation): "If you ever find yourself panicking to get a bet on, you can be sure you will be a longterm loser. We must be in control of the situation so that bookmakers are fighting to take our money, not the other way round.

"Having arrived at our selection, we should calculate the minimum odds that will give us value, as this is the only way we can ensure our winnings will more than cover our losses. It is recognised that calculating value can be tedious but it certainly requires less effort than that needed to select a horse in the first place.

"I find it incomprehensible that some punters will spend hours studying form, yet will begrudge an extra 10 minutes to calculate value. The effort ... is certainly worthwhile. You will find that after completing calculations a few times the experience gained will enable you to have a good idea of value, without any calculations.

"You will be able to see at a glance whether the forecast odds are close to what you believe is value. The essential difference between a mug punter and a professional is that the latter will bet only when he can get value, while the former will back his fancy regardless of the odds on offer."

Jack Ramsden, a professional punter in England, explains his philosophy this way: "I am constantly on the lookout for the 3/1 chance which starts at 8/1. There are 30 or 40 of them a year and they are there to be seen. At those prices, you don't have to be right all the time.

"We've all fallen for backing the 6/4 certainty and had too much on, only to see it beaten. I don't do that anymore. One of the greatest disciplines the pro backer must learn is to stand back and watch when those short-priced horses win."

Ramsden, husband of a well known racehorse trainer, is an advocate of multiple bets, saying they are an extension of his philosophy of shooting for big prices.

He says: "On a busy Saturday I might average seven or eight selections, which I pool into trebles and accumulators. I drop the doubles to cut down on the stakes because I am only looking for a major return.

"I usually average about 10 nice touches a year and on four occasions in my career I've won over 200,000 (pounds). That pays for an awful lot of losers."

The late Phil Bull, who founded Timeform in Britain, was one of the greatest of the UK professional bettors. He set up an empire based on 'time ratings' and was as renowned for his punting skills as he was for his publications.

The secret to his success at betting, say his friends, was his temperament. He took the knocks in his stride and accepted big wins with a casual air.

Win or lose, he would always fall asleep in his limousine on the way back home from the race meetings. But even Phil Bull could suffer huge setbacks. One day he chartered a plane to a far-flung Scottish racetrack to back a 2yo. that seemed to be a certainty on form.

The more he bet on the horse the longer the odds became! He ended up losing thousands of pounds (this was back in 1970) and ended up lecturing himself on his stupidity.

He said: "I had been so carried away with the horse's theoretical chance that I had not noticed the obvious indications that something was wrong with it, which everybody seemed to know except me. On the racetrack, eyes are usually more valuable than ears but on this occasion the ears had it."


  • Don't bet when the going changes, If the conditions change from firm to soft, keep your money in your pocket, Nothing upsets form more regularly than a significant change in the ground. (Alex Bird.)
  • The important thing is to control your emotions and don't chase your losses. There is always another day, Knowledge and judgment will pay off in the end, (Barney Curley, Irish professional punter, who lives in a 7-bedroomed mansion near Newmarket in England, complete with indoor swimming pool and a Mercedes with a personalised number plate, I BET.)
  • Don't get drunk at the races, don't back short-priced favs, don't listen to whispers, don't back out-of-form stables. (Paul Cooper, UK professional, and regarded as one of the 'young Turks' of the British racehorse betting scene.)
  • The novice backer should specialise. You cannot possibly study every race every day, so don't try, (Danny Hall, London's Daily Express). The difference between evens and 6/5 is 20 per cent of the outlay and getting always the better or always the worse of the two prices may mean the difference in the long run between making a slight profit and making a slight loss. (Betting The Timeform Way).
  • Although there are numerous ways of making a selection, it is only by the constant use of a truly objective method that the backer can hope to remain detached when partaking in the act of betting, Intuitive powers and inspiration can undoubtedly play a part in the acts of selection and betting but they can never reliably replace the solid power of logical reasoning. (Peter Braddock.)
  • The horse that is badly out of condition cannot win, no matter how well weighted it is, The horse that is badly weighted cannot win, no matter how good its condition, Horse against horse, weight against weight, are the best lines to follow as to the superiority of one horse over another. (Don Scott, 'Winning More).

By Denton Jardine