Defying the herd? Going against the mainstream? Being a maverick? Dancing to the tune of a different drummer? In punting, few people dare to go against the mass opinion. In this article, Richard Hartley Jnr delves into the logic of those experts who say that to win you have to bet against everyone else's opinion.

We were chatting, my mates and I, in the pub the other day and one bloke said to me: "You're supposed to be the expert, how do we find the horses that are going to be underbet in the market?"

Probably without knowing it, my pal has touched on racing's greatest mystery. How indeed do we track down horses with the form that tends to be 'undervalued' by the public mass, and thus is turned out on the market at an overlay price?

Many writers over the years have addressed the problem. I think the best of them developed what can be termed a 'turnaround logic' in that they advocate going against most of the accepted handicapping principles.

Bede Turner, an American professional, wrote in the Chicago Turf Player's Newsletter some years ago: "The only hope a bettor has is to go against the stream. If he can do this, and find the horses that have missed the attention of the herd, then he can win regularly."

Other experts criticise the 'mass' for being hidebound to conventional handicapping processes. The critics say the great majority of punters tends to think one-dimensionally as far as form is concerned.

What is needed, they maintain, is unconventional thinking. For example, take the issue of 'average earnings'. Many people regard this as an effective tool for selecting horses; that is, a horse with the highest 'average earnings' stands out as a good bet. Trouble is, these horses are invariably overbet, so they lack what the Americans call 'wager value'.

But these horses can be bet IF they have escaped the notice of the herd. For instance, if a horse with the highest average earnings is being sent out at, say, 10/1 or more then it qualifies as being over the odds.

Some US experts claim a strong level stakes profit can be made with such an approach. There are few bets, but very good returns.

US expert Mark Cramer, author of the widely-praised Fast Track To Thoroughbred Profits, talks in the book about opposite logics. He is an advocate of getting together a group of three tipsters, each of whom can meet certain high standards, set out as follows:

  1. The tipster must have demonstrated competence and originality.
  2. The tipster should be able to average winners between 4/1 and 10/1, regardless of his actual win strike percentage.
  3. The tipster must have the time to use in-depth handicapping study.

What's behind Cramer's attack? He reasons that the consensus betting at tracks, of both the public and the newspaper experts, reflects intelligent handicapping but FAILS to be profitable because the horses they support are overbet.

He says that a group of three carefully-selected tipsters can be the nucleus of producing an intelligent consensus that differs from the crowd. Therefore, there is a greater chance for better odds and greater handicapping success.

Cramer took part in this 'private betting' plan at meetings in southern California. When the three handicappers agreed achieved a consensus - bets were placed. Usually they agreed only on one race a day.

But when the selections of the trio did coincide the strike rate for winners, in 1983, was 60 per cent.

On a different tack, Cramer came up with another interesting aspect to the trio's tips. When they began, he  suspected that if two of them agreed on a horse and the third man tipped something else, then the majority tip would outperform the minority tip.

But that wasn't what happened. The dissenter chose the winner exactly as often as the majority! The pattern repeated itself many times.

Cramer, intrigued by the findings, developed a deeper respect for what he calls the 'informed minority'. So, he reasoned, with public tipsters (in the media) it could be assumed that the minority is just as competent as the majority - with one extra deduction!

The majority viewpoint is always OVERBET, while the minority viewpoint is UNDERBET.

In another study, conducted by a Los Angeles newspaper, the top choice of any LA selector was backed if it started at 4/1 or better. The high odds, it was said, suggested that the pick was a minority opinion held by an expert. The profits were huge.

Mark Cramer's investigations, and the thoughts of other professionals around the world, are certainly worth further study in Australia. For instance, can a profit be made backing those top selections in the newspaper panels which are sent off at 4/1 or better?

Let's say you look through the panel of tipsters, and you find one tipster who has picked as top choice a horse priced at 10/1. This is a bet. And so it goes on through the program. You are backing a minority opinion and you are getting a horse that is being underbet. Therefore, you are getting a good price about it.

Why not check out this idea for yourself? Why not go further and see how other 'minority' tips perform in the newspaper tipsters' panels? What about a horse tipped as a second-choice by only one of the tipsters which is at a big price? Investigate whether these 'orphans' make long-term profits.

By Richard Hartley Jnr