This is the final part of an article on the psychology of punting by Barry Meadow, the respected US handicapper.

A winner doesn't worry about setbacks, knowing that nobody's improvement is ever straight-line upward but instead goes in a zig-zag pattern. And luck, he feels, will break his way as often as not.

Although losing streaks are never easy to cope with, the player with the winning attitude looks at them differently, as simply the low end of the mathematical fluctuations of his approach rather than as a message to get out of the game altogether.

Contrast this with the player who thinks of himself as a losing player, for whom every bad streak is simply further proof of his degeneracy.

There's no simple way to turn a punter who feels he's a loser to a punter who feels he's a winner. Some people say you should look in the mirror and tell yourself, "I am a winner, I am a winner", until the message is ingrained in your subconscious.

But the reality is that to have a winning attitude is a decision that you either choose to make, or you don't.

If you set achievable goals, create a winning environment, and have a can-do attitude, that's all good, but it's still no guarantee that you're going to win. At some point you're going to have to come up with a specific plan.

A plan to succeed at the races consists of several elements. Among them:

  1. What is going to be your schedule?
  2. What tools will you use?
  3. How will you decide on what to bet?
  4. How will you place your bets?
  5. How will you measure what you've done?

Each of these requires careful thought, because each will have an impact not only on your psychological outlook but on your financial bottom-line as well.

Most experts agree that a factor crucial to success is the establishment of a routine. By doing the same thing in the same way every time, you reinforce your procedures while keeping distractions to a minimum.

That means that, if possible, you do your handicapping at the same time and in the same place every day (or at least as often as you do handicap). Whether it's 9pm in your kitchen the night before the races, or in your den at 7am before you go to the track, having a quiet place in which to do your work and having a set routine helps you concentrate. This is my time to do my racetrack work.

Everybody has a particular way of doing things, and so long as what you're doing is working, KEEP DOING IT. I'm not going to tell you to use the consensus in your newspaper formguide, or not to use it. Or spend good money for workout reports, or not.

Instead, you decide, but whatever you do, stick to it. Nothing frustrates a vendor of handicapping materials more than a customer who says, "I tried it once but it didn't work."

Most handicapping aids require a learning curve and take some practice. It's certainly fine to try new things, but at some point you want to figure out what works best for you, not what works for your best friend.

The decision of what to bet includes not only what tracks to cover, but what races and what bets to make at those tracks. Some punters like to try everything everywhere, but the most successful punters focus - on certain tracks only, on certain types of races only, or on certain bets only.

There are many ways to succeed at the track. But again, you have to decide what works best for you. You might be interested in playing the Melbourne tracks only, or trifectas only.

Then there are decisions like, do you go to the track? To a TAB agency? Do you stay home watching Sky? Will you use a telephone or a computer account?

Evaluating results is something that losers have little interest in, but which winning punters consider a must. A baseball player might cheek his swing on a video-tape, a corporate executive might review the company balance sheet, a schoolteacher might test her students.

If you don't evaluate what you're doing, how can you figure out what you're doing well and doing not so well? The easiest way to do this is via computer programmes, or through a database.

If you constantly monitor what you're doing, you'll be able to switch gears when things aren't going well. If you're losing, why are you losing and how can you manage this?

For instance, maybe you're betting too many races, or having too wide a margin between your big bets and your little bets, or you're throwing money away on Maiden races, or you just can't seem to figure out minor meetings.

Then there's the issue of stress management. It's been shown experimentally that stress causes not only mental problems but physical problems as well.

Betting horses is inherently stressful. You've got to evaluate a large amount of information in a relatively short time, make decisions involving large amounts of money, execute these decisions sometimes with only a few seconds before the race begins, and then experience the stress of the actual race.

These events cause physiological changes in the body, and not healthy ones, either.

There are a number of ways to reduce stress in a racetrack environment. While you can't very well ride the horse you're betting, you can control a number of areas that produce stress. Among these:

  1. Away from the track, take care of your body. Whether you run on a treadmill or jog around the neighbourhood, try to do something every day to exercise. And stuffing yourself full of a plateful of hamburgers before you go to the track can make you sleepy. Save your big meal for after your gambling day is done. And get some sleep!
  2. Develop a routine. People seem to do best when they have a set schedule each day. If you're handicapping at midnight one day and 6am the next, or rushing around trying to buy a formguide, it adds to your stress.
  3. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the day's racing. Having to pore over past performances with five minutes to post time simply adds to your stress, and the rush will cause poor decision-making. Your work should be done the night before, or on the morning of the races.
  4. If you attend the track, don't arrive with three minutes to post time. If you're driving, allow for traffic, parking time, walking to the entrance and getting into a seat or whatever.
  5. Don't feel compelled to bet just because you're at the track and a race is coming up doesn't necessarily mean that you should be betting on it. There's nothing wrong with bringing a book to the races, or browsing in the gift shop.
  6. Don't bet with money you can't afford to lose. If losses mean your daughter can't get a new pair of shoes, that pressure to win may prove too much to deal with. If you find that betting too high is causing you stress, lower your betting to an amount which you're more comfortable with.
  7. Once your betting day is done, forget about it. Endlessly rehashing every photo finish that cost you a thousand dollars isn't good for you. At least racing has a finite end to its day, compared with other forms of gambling, such as poker and blackjack. Many studies have shown that as the body gets tired, the brain makes errors.
  8. Spend some time in activities that don't involve racing - and don't think about the meeting that's just gone, or tomorrow's cards.

There is no simple, easy path to riches at the racetrack. But master your own attitudes and behaviour and you'll be off to a good start.

Barry Meadow is one of America's greatest modern-day handicappers. His monthly newsletter, Meadow's Racing Monthly, is available from TR Publishing. Check out his website at:

Click here to read Part 1.

By Barry Meadow