One of the oldest maxims in racing is that you cannot win by betting on every race. For many years, I have added to this my own ruling that you cannot win by betting on every type of race either.

It’s becoming vital, rather than just advisable, to obey this advice 100 per cent. It’s a jungle out there, and to mix the metaphor, it’s dog eat dog.

In every area of racing these days there are professionals with highly sophisticated computerised equipment.

Some of them don’t know as much about the actual horses which are in a particular event as you do, or for that matter as I do, and yet they are making very comfortable profits each year from their racing investments.

You probably think that what you just read is hypothetical, but let me tell you that it is stone cold hard fact: a great many professional sophisticated programs of the 21st century are based on statistical evidence and bias and do not involve the name of the horse, or its form as we understand it.

All this is already taken into account at the qualifying level, so you can begin to see why I say that to compete with this level of expertise you have to have an in-depth knowledge of your particular area of specialisation.

A computer is ultimately only a machine and whatever is programmed into it has originally come from the mind of a person. This information which is programmed into the machine is based on observation and statistical testing. The machine is not capable of the subtleties that your brain can balance up against what is black and white.

For example, many quite sophisticated programs fall in a heap the moment a track bias is detected. Other programs are trained to identify financial value opportunities, but they won’t necessarily be able to make the necessary compromise if something outside their particular discriminators (or parameters) has substantially altered any assessments they are programmed to come up with.

Let me give you an imaginary situation. Imagine that all the data has been fed into the program, but that there is a heavy storm half an hour before the race. Some race tracks are going to cope with that, and anyway sometimes you might think that things won’t be all that much, but the truth is that you never really know. You only have to imagine your own situation if you are involved in a very heavy storm, and then the ground seems to dry up pretty quickly. You still have to watch where you’re putting your feet, and some horses instinctively will be wary of where they put theirs!

I’m sure that most of my readers watch the cricket; indeed probably most of the men (and some of the ladies perhaps) played the game or are still playing it. Well, we all know that if there is a sudden downpour of rain a bowler who prior to the rain wasn’t having much success at all might find that he’s able to swing the ball. On the other hand, that same bowler might not be able to grip the ball as he had hoped to do, once it travels through the grass five or six times.

You’ll see bowlers feverishly running the ball up and down on their trousers to try and “get some purchase on it”, another way of saying that it’s slippery. And so it is with horses. You just can’t tell a computer program that, “Oh sorry, we just had a storm so would you mind factoring that into your final assessments?”

But you, if you know your horses for this particular type of race, might realise that certain among the field simply don’t perform when there is any moisture at all on the track, whilst others cannot perform under dry and non-humid conditions. Nobody is saying that you can possibly know all the details of all the horses racing, even in one metropolitan area. It simply isn’t on.

You can make yourself very familiar with your specialised areas. I have a few suggestions for you to consider if you haven’t already determined where your best performances are likely to be (or, if you are very fortunate, where you are already making a substantial amount of your profit).

My first piece of advice is going to come to you after the running of the Golden Slipper, which is probably a good thing because the temptation won’t be there. While most of my readers know that I have a happy record in this race over the years, it is very rare for me to put money out on a two-year-old prior to this event. Too much happens too fast.

Last year, Amelia’s Dream was labelled a certainty after the most dashing win seen in recent years. Half an hour later, she didn’t have a hope in hell of even running in the race. This year, I noticed that leading trainer Gai Waterhouse feels that she will have three final entrants in the race and that she has an outside chance of running four of them, which translates as 25 per cent of the field.

One of these four is a colt I know absolutely nothing about. My early investment on Real Saga, which we provided as best bet in PPM and was available at $6.50 before March 21, was made because I regarded it as outstanding value at the time; however, should this fourth horse from the Waterhouse stable make the field, then 25 per cent of the field would be made up of horses from one of the successful trainers of all time. That is a statistic that you can’t walk around, and generally speaking you really need to know as much as you humanly can about all those four acceptors.

The truth is that I don’t, and that I went on the value which I believed was in what I had already seen.  Writing late in March, I am on very happy terms with myself over this bet and it may come off, but let me tell you two things about it.

Firstly, my investment is for my minimum serious stake. I won’t win a fortune, but then the truth is I won’t lose one either. If I can use a wonderful old cliché, it looked like a good idea at the time. It may prove to be an inspired bet that I’m very proud of, and on the other hand it may be one red unit in my profit and loss account.

But it will not be a maximum bet, nor even an enormously confident one. No, it is a bet made on observation and on assessment of value at the time it was struck. Win, lose or draw, it has proved to be the right bet at the right time. On Sunday, April 5, I will either be very pleased with the bet . . .  or not. But I have the satisfaction of knowing that I made it for the right reasons at the right time.

Secondly, the investment was on an area of racehorses which I have just told you is not one of my specialisations. Because of my job, I must know a bit about practically every horse in training; but you might have noticed there that I said “a  bit”.

If I was actually putting out my money (and I do) then I would be highly restrictive and I would remain firmly focused on the areas I understand best of all.

And, to be frank, one of the first areas that goes out the window with me, generally speaking, is the junior brigade. I am in the camp which says that I do not know enough about these horses at the early stage of racing, so apart from what I feel is a statistical error in assessment, such as the price I obtained from the TAB on Real Saga, I am unlikely to risk much of my capital on the babies.

What are the choices that you have in Specialisation? Let’s start with the first one which develops out of the point I just made. One of the most serious responsibilities of any punter if he is genuinely trying to make money is to know his horses. You simply do not know the two-year-olds and if you want any evidence of this, get out your Miller’s Guide.

Now have a look at the placings in the big two-year-old races throughout the seasons. Make a note of their names. It might take you a couple of hours but it will be worth it.

Next, have a look at the placings for the big three-year-old races and for all the open age events. Write them down too, remembering that what you are doing may well be saving you a lot of money (and making you a lot of money too) in the future.

See how many of those two-year-old horses that you listed featured prominently in the three-year-old figures.
While you’re at it, how many of them featured prominently at all later in their careers?

On the other hand, cast your eyes over the horses which performed well in the three-year-old events. True, a minority will be the horses which ran well as two-year-olds. However, there will be a very significant comparison to be made here when you realise that the three-year-olds are essentially the ones which will establish your patterns.

By the time these horses get to four and five years old, their form and racing patterns have been established for you. At six years of age, they may sustain the effort. After that, it is likely that the vast majority will taper off.
There was a certain exceptional mare which disregarded that rule quite recently, but then she was born to northern hemisphere time, and there was a significant adjustment for the purists to make in that regard. Besides, she could do anything.

Generally speaking, you can say that you will get the consistency that you are seeking from the better class of horse when it is well into its three-year-old-days.

The Suggested Strategy
If you don’t have a better plan of your own, why don’t you try the following:

  1. Restrict your specialised knowledge to horses which are 3, 4, 5 or 6 years old.
  2. Make a firm decision as to the metropolitan areas on which you are going to concentrate.
  3. With these decisions in place, make a commitment to distance limitations (I suggest 1200m to 1600m, or 2000m+; but not both!)
  4. Decide whether or not you will accept certain kinds of races which require certain kinds of knowledge (for example, handicaps/non handicaps, and races restricted to females).
  5. Try to get to know, by studying past results, what patterns trainers are likely to follow.
  6. On this same point, concentrate very hard on leading trainers’ techniques and programs.
  7. Know what the horses within your specialised area have done from the time they commenced their three-year-old racing. Forget the kindergarten stage, and ignore any statistics that they came up with there. Your focus is on their mature performances after they have settled into their roles as racehorses. Remember that most of the two-year-olds are the equivalent of L-Platers when they start, and P-Platers at best.
  8. Know which jockeys that particular horses perform best for, and know whether the horses have a history of performing under heavy weights.
  9. Regard the horses in your chosen specialisation as individuals. That way you will resist the impulse to let your emotions tell you that one is better than the rest when you haven’t really looked at them as animals.
  10. Know your horses’ running styles (e.g. on pacers, leaders etc.).
  11. Accept that there will be races in your specialised area where you have no idea which horse will win, even though you may know every horse in the field in great detail.
  12. Following on from this, know when not to bet and still concentrate very hard on what happens during that race. You may learn something for next time!

Of course, you can pick and choose from amongst these suggestions for specialisation, and none of them might really suit your particular personality or interest. You might already know where you do best, but you just needed somebody to tell you to shake off the rest of your investments and to concentrate on what you do well.

By The Optimist