Ratings, though some scoff at them, are a terrific way of placing a value on each runner in a race. A second way to get a race completely in focus is to assign a price to each runner.

But compiling a betting market, or a 'personal assessment' list of prices, is not everyone's cup of tea. If you're serious about your betting, my advice is to get a taste for it ... quickly!

Once you get the hang of it, there's not too much hassle in making up your own priceline. It won't always be right, but your aim should be to make it right more times than it's wrong. That way, you'll achieve some overlay winners and put yourself in with a sound chance of coming out ahead in a season.

Some professionals, here and internationally, regard an accurate odds line as the single most important handicapping skill a punter can possess. Why? Because it's a way of finding flaws in the general public's assessments of a race - and that's the way to be able to bet 'against the herd' and get some value.

If you don't have a priceline that reflects what you think, you are betting in a sort of no-man's land: You don't know if your selection is value at 6/4 or 6/1. You will normally have only a hazy idea, and chances are you'll bet the selection no matter what the price.

The real strength of an odds line is that you determine if there is any value to be had. It's like buying anything in life, a car, a house and a boat. You don't part with your money unless you are satisfied the product is worth the price.

It's exactly the same with betting. You are buying at a price. Silly, then, to accept 6/4 when the horse's real assessed value is something around 3/1. A bit like buying a car for $30,000 when it's worth only half as much.

In betting, the punter should always be looking for an advantage. The only time you should bet is when you believe you have an advantage. It won't be in every race. It might be only in one race, or two.

You don't put your money on a horse just because you have a hunch he'll win, or simply for the sake of having a bet. You want to back them because in the long run you want to make money. Over a period of time, by assessing the odds and doing it well, and then betting your advantage over the 'herd' you can put yourself in a position to make a profit.

Okay, I can hear you saying, why make your own odds line when you can pick up the morning newspaper and look at the betting market printed in it? The answer is that this market is someone else's market, someone else's appraisal. It's not your own.

You have to ask yourself how reliable it is, who was the person who compiled it, how much thought went into it - and why should you accept the prices as being accurate, or even close to accurate.

Analyses of pre-post betting markets show that, overall, the assessor gets the order of favouritism more or less right, but is wildly askew on the actual pricing. This is where you come in. You need to do a better job of it, through the sensible application of all you know about racing and betting.

The betting public gets it right approximately 30 per cent of the time, with favourites. Lots of times, then, it gets it wrong. Again, this is where you come in. When the public's wrong, you need to be right. It's your odds line against the public's and the bookmakers'.

How, then, to set about compiling a sensible priceline, without being held down by a rigid mechanical approach? My suggestion is that you firstly go through the race and handicap it in your usual way. You will like some horses better than others. Some you will not like at all.

Use coloured marker pens and use, say, red for the main prospects, green for the query runners, and yellow for the ones you don't fancy very much at all. When you look at each runner, you must try to assess how many times it could win were the race to be run 100 times.

All you do for a start is write down the numbers that you can feel reasonably comfortable about. Can Horse A win it 50 times out of 100? Or maybe you think the field is wide open, and that there are several horses who each might win it 20 times out of 100.

It doesn't matter what your initial total of figures is for the race but in the end you will be looking to round off all the totals to 100.

Of course, a lot of it is guesswork but that applies to anyone who compiles a betting market. Everyone is using common-sense, skills and guesswork to try to get it as close to 'right' as possible.

Over a period of time, say 6 to 12 months, you will be able to determine the accuracy of your priceline by looking at how many overlay winners you have been able to secure - and how much profit (or loss) has been achieved.

This will be your test! If you find that you have been 'way out', then you can think about changing your approach, refining what you have been doing, and so on. It could be that you will be spectacularly successful and that your pricing - perhaps to your surprise - is pretty darned good and that the overlay winners keep rolling in!

Once you have done your initial work on sorting out the prospects in a race, and assigning them their PRELIMINARY figures, you can stand back and look again at the race.

Just for example, let's take a 6horse race. You decide that Bingo Boy looks the best prospect; he's in form, ran a nice 2nd last start and has gone up only a half kilo. As well, he's in a good stable and has a top rider aboard.

Drummer Dick is your next fancy; he showed pace and fought on well last start and he's won three races at the track and distance. Then there's Pearly Girl, who is dropping in class and has beaten better fields than this one.

The other three are more or less ranked around the same, though one of them, Swallow, appeals as an improver and had her last race only 5 days earlier when she ran 4th, running on from the rear. You do your initial figures:

Bingo Boy40
Drummer Dick35
Pearly Girl25
Angel Face10
Mighty Mo10

Add them up and you find your preliminary total is 140. Obviously, some readjustments are needed. Perhaps you have over-rated the top chances, and also you need to adjust the outsiders. This is the time to take another look at the race.

You might decide you have given Bingo Boy too much of the pie. You slip him back to 35. So far as Drummer Dick is concerned, you think he, too, could do with some cropping, so you slip 5 points off him, too.

Pearly Girl still makes strong appeal, and you check her form again and reckon she could still win the race 25 times in every 100, so you leave her at 25. Now you must start to be seriously concerned about your estimations with the other three runners.

You snip 5 points from each of them. Your market is now starting to look far more realistic.
It now stands at:

Bingo Boy35
Drummer Dick30
Pearly Girl25
Angel Face5
Mighty Mo5

The total now has dropped to 115. Suddenly, your market looks close to finalisation. Just a bit of trimming here and there will see you right.

You decide that Bingo Boy can be eased to 33, Drummer Dick goes to 29, Pearly Girl to 20, Swallow to 12, and Angel Face and Mighty Mo to 3 each. Finally, your market has been appraised and reappraised and you have a 100 per cent total. The final prices, then, using the percentages-prices' chart on Page 39, are as follows:

2/1Bingo Boy
5/2Drummer Dick
4/1Pearly Girl
30/1Angel Face
30/1Mighty Mo

But there is still a final 'review' to be undertaken. You have your 100 per cent market, but perhaps there is still something you would like to change, even if slightly. Okay, look at the form again, think deeply about it, check each price and see if you are completely happy.

Have you perhaps gone 'off' Bingo Boy too much and given Drummer Dick too much leeway?

Are they too closely priced? It could be you decide on one more adjustment - you decide that Bingo Boy's price should really be 7/4 (37), while Drummer Dick's can be eased to 3/1 (25).

Your assessed market is still totalling 100, but now you are happy with the prices and ready to test your handicapping and pricing against everyone else's.

Your final price line is as follows:

7/4Bingo Boy
3/1Drummer Dick
4/1Pearly Girl
30/1Angel Face
30/1Mighty Mo

It could be that on raceday, Bingo Boy is offered at a value price, or perhaps he is far too short in the betting, while Drummer Dick is offered at, say, 5/1 and becomes a nice overlay offering.

Often, you will find that your assessments are very much in line with those of everyone else, and that value is not there. Other times, your assessment of a horse will throw up an enormous overlay but you find the public is right and you are wrong!

But other times, your assessment can be spot-on and the public dead wrong, and this is when you can step in and back your under-rated selection with confidence and make a killing.

Let's suppose that in the example I have given that the public didn't give Bingo Boy anywhere near as strong a chance as you did? In the final minutes, you see Bingo Boy offered at 5/1, while Drummer Dick and Pearly Girl are both at quotes well below your assessments.

You now have a big overlay with Bingo Boy. Remember, you spent a lot of time analysing the race, you adjusted and readjusted, and you have confidence in your odds. The bet, then, is on Bingo Boy at a price that you believe is well over its estimated 'true' chance.

This is the ultimate joy of making your own priceline - capitalising on your skills as an odds-decider, picking up the profits when you are validated, and the public is sent sprawling.

Use the following bookmakers' percentage table to work out the odds for each runner. All figures should total 100 for a race.


By Richard Hartley Jnr