Chatting with some punting pals the other week, one of them asked me: "Why is it some blokes seem to win most of the time and I seem to lose most of the time?" His question is not an uncommon one amongst any betting fraternity.

It is a fact that some bettors seem to have an almost unnatural knack of winning. I'm not talking here about bulldust artists; I'm talking about men, and women, who have such control over their betting activities that they do, indeed, end up winners every year.

Note that I say 'every year' and not every week! Even these successful punters will fall into patches where they lose and lose. What makes them different is their skill in being able to come back from losses and make profits over the term of a betting season.

Many part-time punters (well, most punters, really) will always ask why some punters, the professionals win or do much better than the average racegoer. If you read PPM keenly every Month, you may well know the answers, and yet still be unable to break your own habitual betting mould to join them.

Let me say here and now that all the professional bettors I know are not big-time gamblers. Yes, there are some professionals in the big betting league but not as many as there were 20 years ago. The vast majority of professionals these days are punters who work in a conservative and anonymous way.

Not the commission room 'percentage clickers' . . . I'm referring to flesh 'n' blood professionals who work the races day in and day out, picking their horses carefully and betting them with care and a positive attitude.

They are not linked to stables, jockeys or owners (except in a few instances) and they know zero about any 'funny business' that might be happening. They approach their betting in a variety of ways but all take a long-term view in regard to their betting.

They are not desperate to win a fortune on any one day. They carry on their work from meeting to meeting, and they say there is no such thing as a 'last race'. Most importantly, every bet they make is regarded as part of a chain of sensible 'business' transactions.

I guess we should call them investors rather than punters, because this is how most of them see themselves. Their aim, like all business people, is to show a profit of so many cents on the invested dollar.

I guess many of you might be surprised to learn that they are happy if they can earn 10 to 12 cents for every dollar they bet. Decades ago, a well-known professional made no secret of the fact that he was content to win a 'shilling for every quid' he bet. He turned over some 10,000 to 15,000 pounds per meeting, huge money for those days.

One professional I know, let's called him Tom, admits that he just 'grinds' out a living from racing. Most of his wins will come in short bursts and will return enough to make him a living. Not a great one, but one he is happy to settle for in return for the freedom of being his own boss, and not being a slave in an office routine.

This man believes most punters lose because of over-betting and betting without real purpose. In most races, he contends, the public elect (the favourite) is the weakest play of them all.

Professionals I have spoken to over the years have all indicated that they base their betting around going against the crowd. This is no revelation. It's the modus operandi of professionals around the world.

The public, you must understand, doesn't win. As a mass, the betting 'herd' will lose anything from 5 cents to 100 cents in the dollar invested! Even those who might back every favourite will face losing around 10 cents in the dollar (at least).

The statistics show that the public is wrong some 70 to 75 per cent of the time. The professionals work on the basis that they will collect 30 per cent of the time but will have winners whose average prices are way above those bet by the punting herd.

Now, of course, we get back to the old fact that around 1 in 5 favourites is a false favourite, anyway. They are  wrongly bet to the top of the betting market, taking the poor old punter (the crowd) with them!

Says Tom the professional: "The average punter could do himself a big favour by simply thoroughly checking the claims of each horse that is being laid as the favourite in a race. It's an easy thing to do and it can be rewarding in the extreme.

"If you find a false favourite you can skip the race or, better still, bet against it with a horse at value odds. It's all a matter of avoiding weak bets."

So, what we know is that professionals, and successful semi-professionals, bet in a disciplined way and they don't expect miracles. Their mathematics tell them that with good sense they can earn 10 per cent or more on the invested dollar. Like all other punters, they must seek the value prices and bet only when they consider the odds available are fair; that is, greater than their assessed odds.

The problem is that recognising value in the odds is a matter of personal judgement, not of mathematics. It's a matter of judgement born of experience, often a long and bitter experience' One man's value is another man's poison, because racing selection is all a matter of individual judgement.

Sam 'The Genius' Lewin blames the average punter's poor knowledge of how to bet as the main reason behind losing. He puts it this way: "The average racing fan has only the foggiest notion of how to handle his funds at the track. A few swift losses usually put him in a hole, and he proceeds to dig that hole deeper and deeper by increasing the size of his wagers in futile attempts to make up for his early bad judgement.

"At best, the upshot of this sort of betting is an unhappy and frustrating day at the races. The consequences can be even less pleasant."

Lewin had some of the most sensible things to say about HOW the average punter could start to correct his path on the rocky road o financial blowout.

"The first and most obvious step toward limiting your losses consists of deciding before you leave for the track exactly how much you can afford to lose for that day. Make it your business not to exceed that figure," he wrote.

"I can't stress enough the importance of setting and sticking to a daily loss-limit. This will send you off to the track in a proper frame of mind ... Your loss-limit ensures that you can lose every bet and still not be hurt.

"Remember that financial success at the track doesn't require coming out ahead each and every day. Nobody can win all the time; don't expect to be the exception.

Lewin continues, "I've said it before and I'll say it again: betting on every race is financial suicide. You might be able to get away with doing this once in a while but nobody - NOBODY - can make a profit in the long run if he goes to the betting windows before every race."

Lewin goes on to say that professional punters will always pass up the 'garbage' races and they will always exercise caution about betting on short-priced horses. Try to make it a rule, he says, not to bet on horses that go off at under even-money.

Try to make certain that horses you bet at odds between evens and 2/1 emerge from your pre-race analysis as very solid chances. Your long-term chances of financial success at the track, Lewin points out, are not good if you make a habit of betting on low-priced favourites.

"In order to break even on bets at even-money, you must pick 50 per cent winners," says Lewin. "I don't know the exact percentage of horses that win at even-money or less, but I'm certain it's nowhere near 50 per cent. The situation with 2/1 shots isn't much better. To break even with 2/1 horses, the amateur handicapper must bag a professional 33.3 per cent of winners."

Summarising what he believes you must do to win like the others do, Lewin suggests the following:

  1. Decide on the loss-limit.
  2. Don't bet every race.
  3. Be wary of doubles betting. If you must do it, look first for a key horse in one race that you can combine with the good-chance runners in the other leg.
  4. Understand that your chances of financial success aren't good if you find yourself betting on too many horses that go off at odds of 2/1 or less.

I hope this article makes you think about your betting approach, and helps you understand what it is that helps THEM to win and YOU to lose at betting.

By P.B. King