Becoming an expert ... how many times have we read about "becoming an expert"? But there are so many areas in which we cannot become experts. We cannot be experts in delicate brain surgery, for example, unless we undertake at least six years of intensive study at university. Also, we cannot be expert in bus driving, without training and practice.

Or plumbing. Or gardening. Or, or, or.

But we CAN become expert in horse racing investment, if we are prepared to apply what we know to what exists, and simply not invest on the rest. I suspect that nobody reading this article is a hopeless punter. No, not one of you. Why? Because you know that to stay in front of the game you have to keep an open mind and accept that the learning is never over.

Hopeless punters don't read articles like this one.

I re-read several of my library books before I wrote these pages. I read Barry Blakemore's two books on fitness, and Roger Dedman's and Paul Segar's excellent guides to investment (the latter is to be updated soon). I read Mark Cramer's superb book on cycles (not the ones with wheels), and some of Dick Mitchell's wise writing. And I re-read several of the many PPM articles on the subject of investment.

You can win at the races, and you can keep winning. But you have to restrict your activities to the things that, in your opinion and from your experience, you do best. You can become an expert in narrow, restricted areas.

Anyone who says that he can average more than fifty per cent winners (on a one bet per race plan) is, to be kind to him, suffering from delusion. Actually he is probably lying and maybe even trying to get your money.

Those of you who may have my new Winners' Circle will know that it has been very lucky lately, but that it makes no stupid claims for the long term. It hopes to hit around one in four, maybe a bit better, but it will lose more bets than it wins. The trick to its pleasing success is that it more than compensates when it does win! If you don't try for that, you may as well play the pokies.

You can be a winner overall, if you decide to adopt some of the following options, and then you have to stick like chewing gum to a boot. Actually you might recall that the above cliché is the Editor's, referring to my persistence in following a horse that I believe will repay my confidence.

The somewhat-frustrating Starmaker (won PM's Cup in May at huge odds) is a recent case in point. There will be disappointments, and there will be wonderful results as well. But you have to stick to your own area of expertise.

If you are going to stick, then you had better be sure that what you are sticking to is worth the effort and the money. Here are my ideas, or options, for the limiting of your investments.

You can:

  1. Stick to stayers, and be prepared to back them first-up if they are racing at 1400 or 1500 metres or more, and then to leave them alone until they get to 2000 metres.
  2. Stick to sprinters, but be prepared to leave them out if they draw badly at the barrier (regardless of the track) or if they have a moderate rider on top.
  3. Consider only young horses, before they learn any tricks. Perhaps limit your betting to 1600 metres and below, and to two and three year olds.
  4. Bet only on late spring, summer and early autumn tracks. Never bet on tracks rated less than "good", and never bet where the track reading (where available) is above 4.50.
  5. Stick to horses trained in one state. Follow them interstate by all means.
  6. Stick to horses from three or four training centres, or even from three or four trainers.
  7. Follow only the best riders and analyse their mounts' chances. Perhaps have a couple of good systems as back-ups.
  8. Only bet on "big" races. There are at least eighty, perhaps a hundred, every year, which is nearly two per week on average. Why bet on anything less than the best?

OK, let's have a look at these options. Bart Cummings pointed out to me a couple of years ago that a stayer can win first-up at 1400 metres or so, but not at a shorter distance because of the different mode of racing. I
watched this for some time before accepting the Master's point. If you decide to establish a stable of stayers, consider them if they have a good first-up record and are first-up this time in something approaching the mile.

Sprinters can bother me, and are not my cup of tea in general. I do far better with stayers (witness the run we had last year), and of course we all know my best results are achieved, year in-year out, in the big events (note point 8).

Sprinters can foil all my plans by a small error in judgement (note point 7 - it's vital in sprints). They can go for a run, miss it, and that's that. If I must look at sprinters, then I will try to establish those who will race on the pace, even in the lead.

We recently had a nice win for my best placed assessment on the Stable phone service, when Rigoler won at 9/1 at the Valley, leading all the way. I will have a go at something like that, where a horse (or mare in this case) has almost pulled it off at a recent attempt.

I am keen on sprinters who try to repeat without a weight penalty, and this is one aspect of "repeating": the horse doesn't win, it almost does though, and here it is with slightly less weight, set to do the same thing again (but maybe just do it a little bit better).

For all that, sprinters are generally not the basis of my short list. As to the barriers, I have screamed this from the treetops for years.

You will save a lot of your investment bank if you simply put a line through any wide-draws at ANY of the major tracks at distances up to and including 1450 metres. And while we're on  this, never, under any circumstances, bet on the straight tracks.

Young horses can be backed to the exclusion of all others and a profit be made every year. The most difficult thing here is to be patient and be prepared to be disappointed by the prices on offer. Many times you will expect 5 / 1 and find that the TAB is paying $2.20. You know that you have to ignore that race. Often the horse will still win and that always hurts. But if you keep your records, you will be able to look back and see that "often" does not mean "six times in ten". And any less than that, at 5 / 4, is not exactly something to get too excited about.

Chances are that this horse is the favourite, and consequently it, and its type, will win about three in ten. Enough said?

Specialising in decent weather months (which usually provides more reliable surfaces), and horses you know, can also reap dividends.

Even tighter is to stick to a few training areas, so you can see what the horses are doing each morning against each other.

As to sticking to trainers, I have always been an advocate of this kind of patient selection process. Most of my recent exotic successes have included Lee Freedman's horses and I am prepared to trust Lee to get a horse ready for a major event.

I'm sure Lee would smile if he read this, as he is only doing his job for his clients, but he does it so well that I, as an investor, respect his ability greatly.

Following the "best" riders is not only lucrative, it can be very enjoyable as you analyse their mounts and feel the confidence of knowing that the horse will be, on the whole, beautifully placed and given every possible chance.

A while back I designed a system for Plan of the Month, whereby we followed Damien Oliver for the rest of the meeting if he lost the first six races.

Anyone who backed Wolf recently (and there could be no other reason I can think of!) would have been very satisfied with this method.

Well, there we have a series of ideas as to how you can restrict your betting and at the same time tighten it up. As I said earlier, my own preferences are well known, but there isn't any reason why yours won't be as valid as mine. And I'll tell you something else. There's a lot of fun in setting up a restricted programme for yourself and becoming expert in that area. It's very satisfying, and it gives you a greater confidence in your whole betting approach.

By The Optimist