Ever get that terrible feeling that you're caught in a hopeless losing run and that you hold frightening reservations about whether you will ever come out of it?

It's a fact of betting life that losing runs are like the sun - they are going to arise, not every morning like the sun, but certainly enough times to plunge us into the misery of coping with a slump in our handicapping fortunes.

How you react to a losing run can be a measure of your worth as a punter. Some people handle losses badly. They react poorly and begin to overbet, or at the other extreme they withdraw into their 'shells' and become so cautious, so possessed of fear that they daren't even have a bet, and when they do eventually dare to bet again they go for a short-priced horse - only to see it lose (usually in the tightest of photo-finishes)!

So reactions to slumps are many and varied. This problem has been discussed amongst punters for as long as betting has gone on. No-one has the absolute answer, because there isn't one.

But getting around to actually discussing the problem can be useful. Recently, a group of punters on the Internet 'ausrace' group did just that, and came up with a variety of explanations about why we encounter losing runs, and what we should do about them.

Firstly, a word about 'ausrace'. It's an electronic mailing list of some 100 or so keen racefans who discuss horse-racing by sending messages via the Internet. Topics covered include the daily dramas of owning, training and betting as well as providing an informal support system that shares information amongst the members.

All this costs nothing. Once you are connected to the Internet, you simply join the group, which has its computer base in Perth, and if you want to contribute to the discussion you merely send an email to the main computer which then flashes it to all the members, some of them overseas.

What started the 'ausrace' discussion on fear and losing was a contribution from a member with the nom de plume Gunsynd who wrote: "Most punters have a comfort zone and while they are losing an amount they are comfortable with they are reasonably happy, although no doubt some grumbling and cursing will go on. It is when they trespass past their comfort zone and start to worry about their losing streak and rising losses that fear sets in.

"When that fear, which is different with each person, sets in then 99 times out of 100 the punter will lose. The fear can be of the amount of money, it could be loss of face with punting friends, it could be fear of losing confidence.

"In my opinion, sensible punters are aware of their comfort zones and regroup somehow so they do not get in so deep that they will never get out of trouble. What we all have to do is be aware of our fears and comfort zones and make sure we have a punting bank big enough to widen the comfort zone."

New Zealander Neil, from Auckland, added some humour into the debate. After a losing day, his feelings go something like this:

  • Become depressed.
  • Look at the horses that won and wonder why I didn't back them.
  • Flick through the old form books, just for something to do.
  • Become further depressed.
  • Wonder if my next cheque. will bounce.
  • Live on bread and water for the following week.
  • Read ausrace and look for a better system.
  • Say to myself that I will bet for a place from now on.
  • Kick the neighbour's cat.
  • Become aggressive on the road when driving home.
  • Turn my stereo up loud.
  • Wonder if the greyhounds would be a better bet.
  • Become more depressed.
  • Look back to see when I last actually won anything.
  • Curse and spit at anyone who asks how my betting went.
  • Stick a few dollars on an outsider at the trots.
  • Still feel depressed on Sunday.
  • Post-mortem via the Sunday papers to see if the results are still the same.
  • Back an outsider at the Sunday races to try and win back yesterday's losses.
  • Come right on Monday or Tuesday and start preparing for next Saturday.

Clive C. chipped in with his views on losing streaks: "My view is that punting, when I do it seriously, is a part-time second job. It's not about winning and losing on a particular day but a little bit of hard work over continuous periods. So, if I lose one Saturday I know that it's likely I'll do better next time and as long as I am 'up' over a number of meetings, and showing consistent progress, I try not to panic.

"Of course, that emotional factor creeps in. It does feel good to win on the day, and casual and non-punters always think just for the day -'did you win today', or 'are you up for the day' and I am always a little embarrassed to reply that 'well, I'm actually down for the day but it's part of my longterm strategy' (no, being down is not my strategy but you know what I mean).

"What I am saying is that you don't splash out on a fancy dinner when your boss gives you a pay cheque because you expect that to happen. So, with punting I expect to win a little in the long term provided I stick to decent selections and make a sensible investment strategy."

Andrew Ayers said that he believes the best strategy is to make sure that no single bet represents more than about 5 per cent of the betting bank.

"That way there is no change due to being near broke except after an exceptional run of outs," he says. "Also, if you find yourself in panic mode the best therapy I know is to go look at the horses and deliberately miss the next race at the track you are attending. This gives you time to mull over your day - and, by the way, the BAR is the worst place!"

An interesting, and positive, response came from Benny B, who explained how he attacks his betting. This is what Benny B had to say: "I don't cope well with losing (who does?), so how does one reduce the risk of losing?

"I would like to know how many people go about a race outlay as I do? After assessing a race, my spreadsheet computes my outlays. This is a typical race:

  • From 1 up to 4 win bets (1.5 overlays).
  • 10 quinellas anchored by my to& 2 selections.
  • 24 trifectas anchored again by mi top 2.
  • 10 exactas anchored by my top 2.
  • If one of my top 2 wins it's a payoff.

"But what does happen regularly is that one of the next 5 wins and a top selection finishes 2nd. All I get then is a quinella. But when your 5th selection wins and it's a good price you can pick up a big overlay quinella.

"From my betting types I can usually cover myself using quinellas as my insurance; my best returns are from exactas and the 1.5 overlays, the win bets and trifectas providing the cream. You can do this type of 'insurance' betting in a number of ways, such as eachway, place, reverse exactas (taking your top selection as a banker for 2nd with the dangers to win), box trifectas (covering your top selection for 2nd and 3rd), while having a big win bet on your top selection.

"As with all these bet types, I bet to my own assessed odds; if they are wrong I will lose on the race, guaranteed! After it is all over I think why don't I just back eachway? Well, it's very rewarding getting that trifecta at overs, as well as the exactas, quinellas.

"All I am trying to say is that you should adjust your betting so you will get more returns and it may stop that psychological torture of 20 plus losers in a row."

Perhaps the final advice should come from an outside source, Sam 'The Genius' Lewin, one of America's most successful punters, and author of the best-seller How To Win At The Races. Sam reasoned that no punter should have to enter the 'fear arena' provided he maintained a strict set of betting standards.

Most importantly, he said, a punter must decide before he goes to the track exactly how much he can afford to lose that day. Once having arrived at a loss figure you can handle COMFORTABLY, he said you should make it your business not to exceed that figure.

"This will send you off to the track in a proper frame of mind, secure in the knowledge that you can put your money behind your judgment fearlessly, without having to worry about whether you can afford it," said Lewin. "Your loss-limit ensures that you can lose every bet and still not be hurt."

If you are losing on a particular day, he advises, strive to keep your bets within the range you decided upon before the races began.

My own opinion is that all betting should have a fixed approach. If you stick to certain parameters you will not be tempted to stray from the path. Even when you have a losing day or two, you remain calm and continue your betting path.

If it fails after 12 months, there is obviously something wrong with it! But if you know, from experience, that your considered approach will win out over a year, then there is no need to panic or experience fear when the inevitable losing run occurs. 

By Brian Blackwell