A friend of mine told me recently that he always knew when he was getting a 'value' price on a selection. He experienced, he said, a tremendous rush of anticipation a tingling feeling he often felt was as good as, if not better than, sex.

"My blood runs hot," he explained. " I can hardly wait to get my money on in case they realise I'm robbing them!"

Unfortunately, not all of us have experienced the tide of emotion that my pal undergoes when he secures an overlay. The mere mortals among us have to quietly put our judgement on the line and hope that we're right and others are wrong.

Basically, your long-term betting performance should at least tell you certain things about your profitability as a punter.

If you hit with 33 per cent winners, then you'll need to bet at odds of 2/1 and better to stay ahead of the game. If you strike, say, 20 winners per 100 bets, you're going to need to find those winners at an average 4/1 just to break even.

Overall, then, a bet at less than that pi-ice is not really 'value' so far as your long-term betting is concerned, even though it might well be 'value' as an individual bet.

The great problem with 'value' is that it's such a loose term. What might be value to one punter is not value to another. There can be no clear definition.

Some punters will say that any horse going off at 5/2 or under is never going to be value. Others will disagree and say that's nonsense. A horse might be at 2/1 but if they've assessed him to be an even-money chance, then the 2/1 looks value.

The evens represents a 50 per cent chance of winning the race, which equals 1 chance in 2, while the price says the horse is only a 33 per cent chance, or 1 in 3. The edge to the punter is about 17 per cent.

But, of course, the 'edge' exists only in the mind of the punter! It's his assessed edge and nothing else. The bloke next to him at the track, may well be denying the existence of that edge and to him, it doesn't exist!

To sum up, then: Value is a concept. It's fundamental to your winning or losing at racing, but whether value works for you is up to you and your good sense in making the right decisions.

What we do know is that you need to achieve some sort of value in your betting, long term, in order to mike a profit. Keep on betting horses at bad value prices and you'll go backwards - fast. Back horses at good value prices and you'll go forwards.

You may well strike 40 per cent winners but if you're taking evens about them overall, then your return is going to leave you in the red. Forty winners at evens equals a return of 80 units. But you've spent 100 units.

You may strike only 25 per cent winners, but if you get 4/1 about them overall, you'll have a return of 125 units, for a profit of 25 per cent on turnover. This is value betting. The man next to you may well be able to back more winners than you do, but he's losing 20 per cent and you're winning 25 per cent.

Who's the mug? Certainly not you.

The late Rem Plante, a trailblazer among punters in Australia, had much to say about value in his historic publication, The Australian Horse Racing & Punters Guide, published some 30 years ago.

Here's what he had to say, in part:

"Correctly assessing the value of your selection is just as important as doing the weights. A highly valued fancy at a fair price can be a good betting proposition, but a low graded runner at short odds represents poor value at great risk. Avoid it!

"I will explain two concepts of the word value. Economic value is the appraised worth of something at a certain time in particular circumstances. Needless to say that economic value is governed by supply and demand.

"For example, a block of land in Flinders Street, Melbourne, or in George Street, Sydney, is undoubtedly of higher value than a similar-sized property somewhere in the bush. A cigarette is worth less to you now than it was worth when you were a POW on the Burma Road.

"The value of a good-class galloper or of a standout in a race is unquestionably higher than that of its low-class rival. There will be more demand for the former than for the latter, who is virtually worth nothing to you at the time.

"As demand for the good thing increases, its price on course will firm. This could reach a stage where the risk is not worth the money, if you are aware that there is no such thing as a certainly in racing, apart from the start and the finish.

"Thus we could say that there is little or no value in supporting a selection, however good it may seem, at short odds. My price limit is 2/1 for any one selection, no matter whether it is a standout or a good first selection."

Plante goes on to explain 'intrinsic or genuine value' in the following manner:

"This type of value is not dependent on external circumstances. For example, a good suit is worth more to you than a similar one of poor quality at the same or higher price. A Jaguar motorcar will be valued higher than a Ford Falcon. Likewise, a selection in a Flying Handicap should be worth more than a selection in a weak Maiden event.

"Yet often we witness huge bets being placed on comparatively weak animals while much better horses in other races are having less support even at better prices.

"It seems many people lose their sense of value once they are on a racecourse. Apparently, most of them are gamblers. They do not realise the very bad value of a weak horse at even-money while there are better horses at, say, 4/1 or more, in other events of higher class."

Plante rightly points out that all horses run much the same risk of being blocked for room, missing the start, suffering interference or of failing, and so on.

He adds: "You are under no obligation to support weak horses at short odds while you are at liberty to save your money for a better class horse at a good price."

In his book Hats In The Ring, the Sydney racing writer Alan Aitken spends some time debating the issue of value. He, too, points out that the odds in horse-racing cannot be absolutely set to a mathematical certainty, but emerge through the 'practice and judgement and your opinion against the opinions of other punters'.

James Roberts, a US punter of some renown in the '50s, says the punter has to treat his pursuit of value as a long-term thing.

Don't, he says, worry about your assessment being wrong in any single race. Instead, judge yourself only on whether, over a lengthy period, your assessments of value have produced a profit.

If they do that, then you can rightly be adjudged to have won the value battle, not just once or twice, but over a tough and unrelenting year or more.

Finally, think about every bet you make, especially if you are going to put money on a short-priced conveyance. Is that 6/4 chance really worth it? Should you wait for another race where a better horse might be available at 4/1?

If you feel the slightest doubt, don't bet. You have to be comfortable in your own mind that you are making a GOOD BET and not a BAD BET.

That's the nub of the matter, isn't it? You be the judge of what's value, and make sure you're right!

By Philip Roy

PRACTICAL PUNTING - JUNE 2000