Ask any professional punter if he's a gambler and he'll say NO! Most punters look on themselves as business people. They see their bets as investments. They set long-term goals, and they try to run a disciplined day-to-day program, cutting out risk as much as possible, and getting the best deal they can.

Phil Bull, the founder of Britain's Timeform organisation, used to say: "Those who bet for fun are unlikely to get their entertainment for nothing." What he was saying is that betting for fun is a form of entertainment, like any other, and long-term success demands a disciplined approach.

Professional punters, like Phil Bull was, know all about the pitfalls. Most have gone broke at some stage in their lives. Sydney professional Alan Way is among those who finished with empty pockets back in the early 80s.

"My mistake was that I got too bold and brassy for my own good," he admits. "I had a very good period, where it seemed I could do no wrong, but then I became a gambler. I was betting on too many races, I was going from the gallops to the dogs at night, and also to the harness racing, betting on just about anything.

"While it lasted, which was a couple of years, it was great, but it had to end and it did. I lost everything. But I learned a lot, too, and I had a break of five years before I came back. In that time, I studied fiercely, looking at racing all over the world, and I read as much as I could.

"It didn't take me too long to realise that I had been brain-dead when I bet full-time before. When I took it up again, with a bank of $10,000, I did everything differently. I decided to bet only on Sydney metropolitan racing, I bet only for a win, and I restricted myself to the best races of the day, never more than two, and I refused to take poor value.

"Since adopting those rules I've found the going relatively easy. I have high self-esteem, I have faith in myself, and I don't find it difficult to simply walk away and not have a bet. Currently, I am betting in $500 and $1000 amounts, and I always stop when I am ahead, no matter what!"

Alan's story is typical of those pro punters who, having been burned once, or even twice, learn their lessons the hard way but who bounce back from adversity with new calm, resolution and 'steel' in their brain and heart!

Anyone contemplating going into serious punting has to ensure they have a big enough operating bank. Attempting professional or semipro betting without enough money is tantamount to betting suicide.

Listen to Bob Cover, a British professional, on this very subject: "I struck a bad patch and I was losing more and more. In fact, what was happening was that I was being cornered into a position of weakness simply because I lacked operating capital. This had caused a fall in my confidence and panic set in.

"I realised I needed a pool of money that wasn't needed for other things in my life, like the mortgage and food and the kids' education! So I waited, built up a bank, and started again. I set myself very small goals, just 10 or 20 pounds a week (this was back in the 70s) and gradually I amassed a much bigger bank, and all without resorting to desperation tactics!

"Eventually, I had enough of a bank to allow myself a nice increase in stakes and I was lucky, if you can call it that, to hit a few good winners. That was my takeoff point."

American professional Anton Hemm sets out to earn around $100,000 a year through his betting. His advice to 'novices' is to read as much as they can, and then to make selective 'paper bets' for six months. They must show a level stakes profit on these dry-run bets before considering taking a further step.

"For the next six months, betting small, novices should play every race and reflect on the outcomes," says Hemm. "The idea is to identify strengths and weaknesses before serious action commences."

Hemm believes most punters can tell within a year whether the betting game is suited to them or not. He explains: "Many good handicappers are easily destroyed by greed, impatience, or both. This is an unforgiving game. It's a destructive combination, greed and impatience."

Hemm adds that many punters dream of becoming professional but they have to understand that it is a far more demanding task than a normal 9-to-S job.

"Professional handicapping is closer to a 12 hour routine, and daily attendance is a must while playing for profit," he warns. "Your beginning bankroll should be $20,000 and your bet size, to make good money, needs to be $1,000 to begin as 5 per cent of the bank."

Hemm's words are cautionary indeed. Like all other pro punters he knows the rigorous demands that full-time betting makes.

NEXT MONTH: More advice and ideas from some of Britain's leading bettors.

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

By Richard Hartley Jnr