Racing around the world takes various forms. No two countries offer the same scenarios as far as racing and betting are concerned.

Here in Australia we are lucky in that we have a dual form of betting with both tote and bookies fighting in competition for the punters' dollars. Other countries, in the main, are tote only. Britain is an exception.

In this two-part series of articles, we are going to bring you the views of a host of tipsters and professional punters from different parts of the world. To kick off with, we've chosen a few from Britain and the USA. In the second article, in the August P.P.M., we'll feature more of America's most successful punters. Each has pertinent advice to offer on approaches to betting and selecting.

The nom-de-plume Statistician is held by one of Britain's best-known professional system-makers and tipsters. Statistician doesn't pull punches when he addresses a punting audience. Look at these words: "So you like a bet. If you are honest you will admit that almost certainly you lose in the long run. Most people do and the reason is simple. Unlike the bookmaker, who bets along methodical, businesslike lines, the average punter stakes haphazardly, according to fancy.

"This is usually fatal and plays right into the bookmaker's hands. If, on the other hand, you are prepared to follow systems based on established patterns of form and statistics, you give yourself a chance of winning. No system can pick a winner every time, and even the best methods are unlikely to yield more than a marginal gain on outlay, but that is still a lot better than losing.

"Methodical betting along systematic lines, although it cannot guarantee success, offers a real prospect of a winning balance."

Statistician, in presenting this viewpoint, is very much in agreement with our own P.P.M. expert, Statsman. He also believes in Statsman's stern opposition to those critics who claim that punters who play systems are mugs. This is what the English Statistician has to say: "Some experts scoff at systems. They point out that horses are not machines, that every system can be beaten sooner or later by the long losing run, and so on.

"Now it is certainly true that racing is notoriously unpredictable, with the odds stacked against the punter, and for these reasons no-one should ever bet more than he can afford to lose on a system, however good it may appear.

"Having said that, it is my belief that for the average punter who has no inside knowledge of the operations of a racing stable, and no clue about secrets which are always jealously guarded, logical betting according to some plan based on racing know-how and horse-sense is the only way to win.

"Most people follow racing for enjoyment but it is my experience that the pleasure is greatly increased when they manage to make a profit. If you have always lost in the past, then try a system. You will find it fun to operate and you may even be in the happy position of having the bookmaker pay for your pastime."

American expert Danny Holmes is a believer in the 'handicapping' approach, whereby the punter takes stock of certain important form angles, but not all of them. Says Holmes: "The most experienced and successful handicappers at the track all agree – it is just as important to know what NOT to do as it is to know how to handicap. There are no fewer than a million different ways to handicap a race. Some are successful. Most are a waste of time. "

According to Holmes, author of the best-selling Ten Steps To Winning (Liberty Publishing, Florida), many punters use methods without questioning them, without testing them, or without knowing for certain whether they do, in fact, work over time. Holmes dismisses 'weight' as a vital form factor. He says: "Leave weight allowances to the trainer and racing officials. But as a handicapper – forget weight. To prove this, all of the tracks in California were studied for two years. The results proved that horses dropping in weight had no better chance of winning than horses staying the same weight, or even gaining weight!

"The only time weight should be taken into consideration is in a long-distance race of 1800m or longer, and consider it only when there is a five kilos weight difference between the direct competitors of a previous race."

Holmes also dismisses the impact of individual jockeys. Horses win races, not jockeys, he states. Even a great jockey, he adds, cannot make a bad horse win. There are many other factors more critical than the jockey factor, according to Danny Holmes, who also claims that trainers, too, should not be given too much consideration when you are assessing a horse's prospects.

Holmes has some useful advice for those punters who bet on-course. This is what he has to say: "Upon entering the track you must think and act like a professional. You are there for only one reason, to win money. As a professional you need to be prepared, with the proper 'tools' to ensure your success (i.e. good form guides). Look for a quiet place to sit; you need total concentration to succeed."

He advises punters to avoid distractions, and the 'tips' of friends. "If you get sidetracked by well-meaning friends, cut your bets down to a minimum, then just resign yourself to enjoying the folklore of the track and wait for another day to make any profits," says Holmes. "If everything is okay... when the odds are right, invest your money. If you cannot pick out a clear winner from the selections, or if the odds are not right, pass the race."

On betting, Holmes is insistent that 'you have to know when to hold 'em and when to fold' em'! The professionals, he explains, learn from experience when a race should not be played. He adds: "Usually, each meeting, you will find one to three races you cannot, or should not, play. There is still plenty of action. A 'pass' race can be a blessing.

"If there are more than four horses that cannot be eliminated, pass the race. You do not want any more than four qualified horses. Only a fool tries to bet when there are five or more distinct chances."

Dr Donald Sullivan is another US expert. He maintains that a simple system, combining elements of form, can enable the average punter to win. His plan is to eliminate all horses which did not race in the previous eight days; from the remainder you eliminate those not finishing at least 3rd over a distance within 200m of the current race. From those remaining, eliminate those moving up or down significantly in class. You only bet if one of the remaining qualifiers becomes the race favourite.

This system, of course, was drawn up with American racing in mind, but it could easily be transferred to Australian racing. The eight-day rule might need to be extended to 14 days, though. US horses tend to back up fairly quickly at their various long-running meetings, while our own horses usually have 10 to 28 days' rest between races.

Some international experts remain very sceptical of systems. British greyhound racing expert David Bennett is one. This is what he has to say about systems: "A system is a defined set of rules for selecting bets. Even someone who makes selections with a pin is using a system of sorts.

"In one sense, anybody operating a system is on the right lines. Betting should not be controlled by the emotional output of the previous bet: elation after a winner, sorrow after a loser. System operators take a long term view and are, therefore, great survivors. Unless they are staking beyond their means and/or operating a ruinous staking plan they do not, as a rule, get drawn into a vortex of loss, forcing them to quit the racing scene while they wait for their wounds to heal.

"System operators can usually bet on with at least the assurance that their losses, on average, will not be much in excess of an affordable 20 to 25 per cent. This is the price they are prepared to pay for their hobby." Bennett says hundreds of greyhound systems have been devised over the years, with many containing the ingredients of self-destruction, not because there is anything wrong with the selections, only that it's doubtful they offer any real value, the basic requirement of profitable betting. Bennett adds: "While many systems will yield a good ratio of winners to losers, they fail to yield a profit in the end because the average odds paid out by the winners is simply insufficient to pay for losing bets."

The nature of the problem facing punters, according to Bennett, is simple. He explains his beliefs this way: "The art of betting is not about picking winners. After all, someone using only a pin can, over a period of time, find an average of one winner in six. Successful
betting is about picking winners at average odds good enough, over the long term, to yield a profit.

"To fulfil this criterion, the pin-wielding bettor would need average odds greater than 5 / 1, but, in practice, he could only expect to achieve an average of between 7/2 and 4/1, thus managing a long-term loss.

"Selecting a high proportion of winners does not automatically lead to successful betting because, with the improved number of winning bets, comes a drop in the average odds. For example, following the favourite may find one in three winners, but the average odds of those winners is going to be about 7/4 – less than the 5/2 needed to show a gain.

"Likewise, following a Press expert. Newspaper tipsters usually manage an average strike rate of about 29 per cent winners at average odds of 2/1, better than the odds of the favourite, but less than the 3/1 needed to show a gain."

Bennett says the "message is plain" that if punters include in their selections a high proportion of favourites, Press selections or bets based on birthdays, lucky numbers or coincidences, then a long-term loss is inevitable.

Bennett's final advice: "The ambitious bettor who aims to make a profit can only hope to do so by identifying and only betting on the good bets. A good bet is one in which the 'real' chance of the runner is greater than the chance suggested by the odds. Clearly, betting on runners with a 6 /4 chance at odds of 2/1 will lead to a little profit, while betting on 2/1 chances at 6/4 will lead to a loss.

"In order to know when odds contain value, the bettor must necessarily develop expertise in assessing 'real' chances and converting them into odds – to provide the yardstick by which he can compare with the odds on offer. Clearly, the bettor looking for value cannot expect to find it in every race. No more than one in three races might reasonably be expected, on average, to provide an eligible runner."

In this regard, Bennett is referring to what we in Australia call 'overlay' betting, something P.P.M. editor Brian Blackwell was writing about in the June issue of P.P.M. (Longshot Blitz, pages 4/5/6).

P.P.M's columnist Clive Allcock has conducted intensive studies into gambling. In his book The Guide TO Good Gambling, Clive wrote about 'bad gamblers' and it might be illuminating for anyone reading this article to study some of what he had to say, in order to identify, or note, whether the cap fits.

Says Clive Allcock: "We can summarise the main facts about bad gamblers as follows:

  1. Percentage wise, they are a very small minority of gamblers;
  2. Younger men and women are more likely to be bad gamblers;
  3. They experience the feeling that their gambling is out of control;
  4. They get very excited and involved in their gambling;
  5. They believe they know when a horse or a pokie is going to give them a big win;
  6. When behind, they chase losses;
  7. They appear addicted to gambling."

Clive believes that a good gambler as a handicapper will look at all the major factors affecting the outcome of a race – age, barriers, breeding, class, condition, consistency, distance, finishing times, gear changes, jockey, owners, sex, trackwork, trainers and weight.

He adds: "It seems that each professional, or serious non-professional, evolves over time to an approach that has served them best, they feel comfortable with, and above all else, provides results. Each individual will have their own preference for how to compare horses, work out prices, and make profits."

Paul Molloy, an American professional punter, believes patience is the one determining winning factor which most punters lack. He says 99 out of 100 punters 'overbet' because of their impatience. He adds: "If only a punter was to be selective he could come out on top. It is the public fetish for too many bets that kills them all in the end."

Molloy, who operates on Californian tracks, adds: "My advice is to have one bet a day. Seek out value, understand what comprises value, stick with the best trainers and jockeys, bet to a predetermined bank, never chase losses, keep a completely honest record of your betting, and always remember that there is always going to be another day!

"Most of all, practise patience. Resist all the urges to bet on every race, or even some races. Pick out one bet. Back it and then, win or lose, shut up your betting for the day."

Perhaps one of the most successful professional punters in America is Andy Beyer, author of a number of best-selling books on racing and betting, including 'Betting Winners, My $50,000 Year At The Races'. Beyer believes that betting success is something you learn through the 'school of hard knocks' and not with ivory-tower theory.

Says Beyer: "I don't believe that the majority of horseplayers have really thought about betting. Knowing how to bet is 50 per cent of the battle in trying to beat the races. And yet I would guess that the average horseplayer, when he studies a race, probably puts about 98 per cent of his attention to making his selection and the other two per cent to what he's going to do with his conclusion.

"It happens to all of us. We lose because our betting skills let us down."

NEXT MONTH: We bring you more on Andy Beyer's betting philosophy, and how he makes his money. Beyer discusses exotic wagering, the use of 'savers' when betting, and tells you what to do about the courage aspect of putting money on! This is an absorbing three-page article.

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 3.