You've heard of people suffering holidays in hell? Sure. We all have. But what about taking a holiday FROM hell?

The 'hell' I refer to is those frustrating, money-eating, confidence-sapping LOSING RUNS that every punter, no matter how good they may be, suffers from on a regular basis. This is a hell that only punters can understand.

It's a time when everything conspires against you. If there's a protest, you'll be on the losing side, whether you've backed the winner or the protesting horse. If you back a favourite, it'll get beaten. If you back a longshot, the favourite will win.

It's a time when your favourite tipster strikes a miserable tipping period, or your favourite stable suddenly goes right out of form, taking you with it. It's a time when jockeys ride poorly, only for your horses.

The problem for most punters is that they never really know what to do when confronted with a bad losing streak. Do you soldier on, hoping that the horror will end? Do you just cut back your bets to the bone?

Many professionals believe the best course to take is to take that holiday from hell. Get away from it all. Drop the whole scene for a few weeks. Regather your senses and confidence.

UK professional punter Alan Potts, author of the best-sellers Against The Crowd and The Inside.

Track, is one of those punters who reckons it's a good idea to take a break from the 'madding crowd' when you strike a bad run.

Potts, regarded as one of Britain's best pro bettors, believes even men like himself, hardened to the vagaries of betting as they are, need to take time out to 'smell the roses' when times get tough.

He says: "I'm inclined to the view that confidence is a matter of the individual and that pro punters are people who would probably be successful in whatever field they chose to work. Certainly plenty of the current on-course players have had successful careers in areas such as computers, the Cit)~ or running their own business.

"That provided the capital as well as the confidence. And I'd also say that most had a period of their life in which they were a small-stake punter which acted as a test bed.

"When I talk of betting skills, I mean knowing when to step in and take a price and when to wait. Knowing when to push and make your maximum bet and when to hold back. Spotting the signs of a developing losing run and walking away for a few days.

"Not the sort of things that can be written down as rules, but things that come from the instinct of a winning punter.

"But that has to be added to the base of consistent staking, discipline on price and keeping sight of your overall objective. If you bet

$50 on one horse and $500 on another, take 2/1 when you know that 9/4 is your target price and you don't have a profit target (how can you measure your progress if you don't know your aims), then you probably don't have good betting skills."

Many punters, of course, would find it hard to believe that seasoned professionals would reject the idea of just walking away from the racetracks, and prefer to believe that the pro punters have bottomless reserves of confidence, regardless of any short-term performance and losses.

Alan Potts explains: "Bitter experience taught me that the one thing certain to eliminate my profits was to chase losses during a bad run (and we all have them, even when backing 3/1-on chances in novice chases.

"I found that I was prone to start betting the marginal horses that I would happily leave alone when I was winning. And being marginal, they just added to the problem.

"I'm not saying that the 'walk away' approach is right for everybody, but for me an occasional break is essential to retain my mental sanity. It's entirely possible that it makes no difference to my account, since by not betting for a few days, I've no idea whether I would actually have won or lost.

"Perhaps I should add that I also take a break at each end of the season, for up to three weeks, whilst I switch my thinking from flat to National Hunt (jumps in the UK) and back again.

"I still go racing, but just to watch and look for pointers to future racing.

"It's easy to let pro punting become a 7-day week, 52 weeks per year job, but I'm sure nobody spends that long on their job?

"And for those who will ask, how do you know when it's a losing run - well, my only answer is instinct mixed with experience."

Alan Potts is right when he says that knowing when you are stuck on a losing run can only be properly determined by your own natural instincts. It's a sad fact that a lot of punters go into a sort of self-denial when they can't back a winner.

Believing too much in their ability to dig themselves out of a hole, they continue to bet, even with flagging confidence and increasing losses.

Hayse Johnston, a US professional, says: "Your betting skills have to be refined to the point where you know when
you are heading into trouble. You can't afford to wait until you're drowning before you bail out. Get out when that streak begins, and when you feel yourself floundering in your decision-making.

"A week or two is usually all that's needed to refresh the batteries. I usually take off for a driving holiday. I just get in the car and drive anywhere. See new places, meet new people, forget the horses . . . and when you feel refreshed, then it's time to get back into things."

Alan Potts adds: "One thing all pros have in common is total self belief and faith in their own approach. The words 'maybe' and 'don't know' are not often heard around the paddock or in the betting ring.

In the end, you will most likely succeed by doing what suits you best and that will depend on how much time you have and your temperament. You aren't likely to make money using methods you don't personally believe in.

"And don't forget that the biggest edge most professionals have is their betting skills, rather than their selection or pricing skills."

Hayse Johnston says he usually takes a month off from betting every year, whether he's winning or losing.

"Betting for a living is a job and I treat it that way," he explains. My family wants a holiday every year, just like any other family, and that's the way I play it. We take off and have fun.

"The other breaks I take are the enforced ones, those that arise because I've hit a trough and the winners are hard to find. Not all bettors would like to do this, or maybe they just can't drive off whenever they feel like it.

"The trick for them is to stop betting for a while, or if they can't do that, then at least go easy with the betting amounts. Otherwise, there could be trouble you can't handle."

Alan Potts' books Against The Crowd and The Inside Track are available front the High Stakes Bookshop in London.  Check out the website at:

By Jon Hudson