In this article, Alan Jacobs takes a new look at the old problem of punting 'mind control' as he reveals what experts around the world have to say about getting your mind and your betting under better control.

The mind can play cruel tricks on us. Never more so than in punting. All too often, I dare say, we castigate ourselves for making foolish mistakes, for ignoring the obvious, or for falling into traps that you have fallen for a dozen or more times before!

Much has been written on this subject by a variety of writers around the world. In fact. there is a real 'psycho babble' feel about it all. So much advice, so many new angles on the subject, that the punter seeking help in clearing his betting brain could be excused for feeling more confused than ever by seeking the cure!

Having said this, I have to say that there is much good advice around. To listen to it, can certainly add some finesse and confidence to abettor, no matter how small his raceday bets might be. Confidence is, of course, a huge issue in betting. If you lack confidence, things seem to go from bad to worse. On another tack, over-confidence can be just as bad; you get too cocky and make the same old mistakes.

A fine line exists, then, between getting the confidence level 'just right' and going 'overboard' with it. I was chatting the other day to a pal, who said he always got the collywobbles when he walked into a TAB agency.

'As soon as I start on the decision-making process I get confused,' he told me. 'Do I go for the short-priced fancies, or the longshots? Should I be content with a small profit, or say to blazes with that and shoot for the stars? In the end, if I've ticked off six horses I'll end up backing the losers.'

The obvious answer to my friend's problem is that he should never place himself in the position of having to choose. If he intends betting on three horses, then simply choose three races for the day to analyse. Ignore the rest.

By doing this, my pal would be ridding himself of the dither of having to make choices on raceday. I've told him as much, yet I know he will continue to be assailed by doubts and indecision, because he won't stop picking horses here, there and everywhere, and then expect himself to cull them with a rational mind.

Looking at the views of experts around the world, I came to the conclusion many years ago that no matter where a punter lives, he faces all the same mind tricks as everyone else. Racing is an international business, the problems are the same for all. We can, I guess, take some small comfort from this.

One of the best men I know when it comes to understanding the punting mind is our own Statsman. Let's see what he has to say about the workings of the average bettor's brain: 'Beating the races is entirely a question of how and will. You need to know how to beat them, and then possess the will to carry through with your resolve.

'Some punters, alas the majority, have not yet found a way to go about the business of making turf betting a paying proposition. The answer lies in the mind. Put another way, in the outlook of the punter. He expects to lose, and he does.

'This is why a proper mental attitude is so essential for any punter ... I'm not suggesting that if a punter is convinced he will win, that he will indeed win, and that all he has to do is pick a number, bet on it, and collect the rewards.

What I do say is that if a punter is convinced he can win, then that is a most important step to actually winning. Every time someone tells you that you can't win at betting, you have to tell yourself that you can.'

Prof Jones, an American-based expert, says punters first have to learn the difference between being 'handicappers not gamblers'. He says: 'Many gamblers have stated that winning is better than losing but betting is all that really counts. They generate a rush of adrenaline when they hear the buzzer go off at the gate and this excites them much more than actually winning.

'The professional handicapper will usually only bet on several playable races each day, whereas the gambler will bet on every race regardless of the odds or what the field looks like. Anyone can bet money but it takes a special person to make a consistent profit.'

US writer Danny Holmes is a firm believer in choosing your bets carefully and doing your analysis carefully He advises, in his book Ten Steps To Winning. 'The most experienced and successful handicappers at the track all agree - it is just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do.

'There are no fewer than a million ways to handicap a race. Some are successful. Most are a waste of time. Many bettors use methods without questioning them, or without knowing for certain whether they do in fact work over time.'

UK writer Paul Rupert confesses that some years ago he suffered a complete loss of confidence, despite having made a living from betting for three years. He says he reached the stage of not being able to back a winner. He could pick winners, but, for one reason or another, he always failed to back them.

'I reached the brick wall of indecision,' he says. 'I had a losing run which left me dispirited, so I tried even harder on my form study, and I was actually picking winners, good ones, yet when I went to bet I was making all the wrong choices.

'To say I was wracked by fear is an understatement. My mind seemed to be working separately from my psyche! I was making bets and a voice inside me was warning me it was wrong, yet the other side of my brain was urging me to go ahead and make the bet, and this side invariably won out.'

Rupert's dilemma was so bad that he eventually 'retired' from betting for several months and took a holiday from racing.

'I think this helped me a great deal,' he says. 'When I came back I felt refreshed but I also had decided that I had to change my entire approach. I wanted to cut back on the decisions I made, so I ignored all low-class races and concentrated my attentions on maybe one or two races a day.

'I told myself to be more ruthless, more adventurous and to stop dilly-dallying and trying to find a reason why any number of runners might win a race.'

By confining himself to a more conservative approach, Rupert was able to get his betting back on track. He is now one of Britain's most successful horse-racing punters.

His final words of advice: 'Choose the type of bet you want, ensure you have a bank, keep accurate records, and restrict your bets so that you have plenty of money on the winners, not just a dribble.'

The late Rem Plante was one of the great minds of Australian racing. He set the pattern when it came to in-depth form analysis, and his book The Australian Horse Racing and Punter's Guide remains very much a 'bible' for many racing fans.

This is what he wrote more than 25 years ago: 'If one seriously wants to make a profit from racing it has to be treated as a business. The smart punter ... knows very well what he is doing. He knows when to place his bets and on which horses.

'If you are watching the betting you will be amazed at the amount of money being placed on no hopers, horses who have by virtue of their class, form or for many other reasons, not the remotest chance of winning or even running a place.'


There are many danger signals you should recognise when your betting is starting to go wrong. Once you have realised that you need to start 'helping yourself' there are a number of things which can be done.

In their excellent book, The Guide To Good Gambling, the authors offer the following thoughts:

  • Keep a record of your betting and keep it honestly. Even if you do not record every bet, at least record the total bet, whether you won or lost, and keep a progressive tally of how much in front or behind, you are at the end of each year.
  • Decide which type of gambler you are going to be - fun or professional. If you show signs of bad gambling, do something about it quickly before it becomes a way of life.
  • Once you decide to be a fun gambler, your life should be a little easier You will expect to lose but hope to win. You will lose less and your losses will not distress you.
  • If you want to be professional, you are in for a hard time. Now you will expect to win, actually win, and have recorded results to prove it.

On regaining control of your betting, the authors offer the following points:

  • Make bet selection skilful.
  • Read a good magazine, like P.P.M.
  • Check form.
  • Keep a record of tipsters.
  • Try a system.
  • Never believe in a 'good thing'.
  • Write out your selection before you get to the TAB.
  • Watch the odds but don't always change your bet at the last minute.
  • Don't bet on every race.
  • Don't always stay and watch the race.
  • Collect your winnings when all races are over, or the next day.

On this latter point, the UK pro Paul Rupert says: 'When I got myself organised again after my betting layoff, I decided that any time I got ahead I would stop betting. 'To make myself stick to this dictum I took only what I needed to the track and didn't collect winnings the same day. It helped cure me of overbetting.'

By Alan Jacobs