Fighting with yourself! This is a description a friend gave me when trying to explain what form analysis is all about.

People who are not into racing never understand what it’s all about. Some of my non-racing friends are bewildered by the amount of time I spend with my head in a form guide.

I agree with the man who says analysis is not just about looking at recent performances and coldly assessing their worth. There is much more to it than that, and it comes down to what is really a personal battle. It all depends, in the end, on your attitude.

Some punters are strong mentally. They can make decisions quickly and boldly. Others will fight a tormented mind battle before making a decision (often half a decision). The sub-conscious can play a major role.

There are punters who say they win because they listen to their sub-conscious mind. They remember little bits of information stored away, or they can recognise factors that trigger decision-making, while other punters fail to recognise the hidden signals.

US Today’s Racing Digest has the following to say about the meaning of being a racing fan, and a punter:

‘Horseplayers live in a different world. They go out there, put themselves on the line four, six, 10 or more times a day and just ask for abuse. An inch one way or another can mean hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to their bottom line but, more importantly, that slim divide can make them feel like a genius or the dumbest S.O.B. ever to set foot on this earth.

‘In racing, just like in life, success tends to breed success and failure tends to breed, well, failure. Learning to cope with disaster is a critical part of the quotient that leads to a winning handicapper.

‘If a tough beat sends you into a sudden depression, you’re far more likely to encounter future problems than to enjoy a sudden run of good fortune. It’s all about attitude, my friends. An upbeat approach that sees the glass as half full rather than half empty is simply more likely to get you future profits.

‘Check out the following item posted recently on a stock trader website. True, the venue may be different but for day traders making scores of plays every day, it fits in nicely with the run-and-gun workings of the handicapper.

‘Today I sold DHI at 31.28. That’s a 17 per cent gain in only three months over my (split-adjusted) purchase price of 26.82. In the meantime, the S&P 500 was up only 6 per cent. That makes 51 consecutive profitable trades of 15 per cent or better. Can you do that? You? YOU? YOU? Show me where anyone else has such an amazing record. I must be the greatest stock pricer on the planet. I am HUGE. Bring me your finest meats and cheeses. Build me a temple so high that it pierces the ceiling and makes hailstorms. Build a statue of me sitting on a stallion for the fattest pigeons to roost upon.

‘When I go play Blackjack and my first two cards total a hard 12 and the dealer shows a six, do I cower and hide? Nope. Do I take a hit? Nope. Mr Market doubles the hard 12 against a six. I live what others dream.

‘Now, that’s attitude. I don’t have a clue who Mr Market is and I can’t tell you how he reacts to failure because, at least according to himself, he never fails. Even when he does, I would be willing to wager that he never admits it and moves right along waiting for his people to erect that statue.

’The point being is that if you expect to fail, you probably will. If you fail once and mope about it, you’ll probably fail again, again and again. If you fail and proceed as if nothing happened, the chances of winning your next bet are better. 

‘If you fail, review the situation and determine the bet you made was a good one that just didn’t work out, that’s  not a bad thing. If you fail, review the situation and determine you made an avoidable mistake and vow not to repeat the same transgression, that’s good, too.

If you’re unable to bring closure to the incident, you’re probably in for a long afternoon. What you don’t want to do is beat yourself up every time you lose a bet because you’re going to lose a lot more bets than you win. You don’t want to blame the jockey (even if he screwed it all up). You don’t want to blame the loudmouth sitting next to you who backed the winner (he didn’t have anything to do with it).

"And when you win, reward yourself. Pat yourself on the back, graciously accept the good wishes of those sitting around you who are genuinely impressed with your ability to see the future. Even in the throes of an ongoing slump, it’s important to maintain your confidence. You’ve picked winners before and you will pick them again.

‘Anyone can learn the ins-and-outs of handicapping. Some can even develop a style that puts them into working practice on a short-term basis. However, it’s only the few who learn to control their emotions that will become the successful player over the long haul. Whatever it takes to do the latter is acceptable. If you want to build a statue of yourself in the backyard after a good day, go to it.’

US Today’s Racing Digest makes some excellent points. I know many punters who have a hapless attitude when betting. They have lost so many times, and won so few, that defeat is invariably met with a shrug of the shoulders.

Rarely do these punters attempt to find out what they did wrong, and what they have been doing wrong for their entire betting experience. They need a new philosophy.

US Today’s Racing Digest has this to say:

‘Perhaps the most under-rated element in successful handicapping is the individual philosophy. Nobody on this earth really thinks exactly alike yet the vast majority of people attempt to emulate success rather than discover it within themselves.

‘True, it’s possible to learn from others but once the basics have been mastered, it is necessary to mould them into your own individual approach to the game. ‘It’s a case of whatever works for you that is the key here. Back in days gone by, everyone knew that you couldn’t play EVERY race and that’s when there were only nine a day. In the current scheme of things, there is no way you can bet 20 (or more) and expect to stay solvent.

‘Zeroing in on what you do best is critical. For those unable to do that, then limiting play to races that meet some other criteria seems a good alternative. The major point, however, is that you need some kind of overall philosophy and plan that works for you. 

You can’t scramble the Trifecta in one race and then switch to the Pick Four in the next without tempting mean old Mr Fate. 

‘He can be extremely fickle and seems to relish in messing with the minds of handicappers, particularly when they are a bit dazed and confused before they even place their first bet.’

Some punters, of course, love to follow individual stables, like those of Gai Waterhouse, Lee Freedman, Mick Price, Guy Walter and so on. They pick and choose which of their runners to back.

A while back, a PPM reader wrote to me extolling the virtues of following the Waterhouse stable. He said his whole attitude to the game had changed in the few years he had decided to follow Gai’s runners.

‘You have to know when to back them and when to hold back,’ he wrote. ‘Some of her runners can be deceiving, like Dance Hero. I was lucky to back him when he won and in most instances I didn’t back him when he lost, so that’s a skill you develop when following just the one stable.

‘I can tell you one thing, I rarely go home a loser these days, thanks to Gai. Her winners come along frequently, and that’s because she conditions them well and gets the best jockeys.’

I think there’s much to be said for an approach like this man has developed.

Your attention is concentrated on the one factor, the stable runners, and you use your knowledge of form and the stable’s performance history to decide when to back and when to keep your money in your pocket.

This chap is correct, too, in sticking to one stable. Follow more and you can end up in trouble.

** US Today’s Racing Digest can be accessed at:

By Mark Merrick