Special Report
When I surprised everyone by resigning from my banking job well before retirement, I told them: "I've always believed a person should have three careers in life, and now I'm going to start my second one!"

Just what that third career might be, I don't yet know, but I do know that my second career is in horse-racing, both as a writer and a bettor. It's something that gives me great pleasure and at which I am confident I can be successful. So far, so good.

Full-time punting is my second career, interlaced with writing articles like this one for as many racing publications as I can find (though admittedly the market in Australia is slim in this respect). I work hard at my betting, because I realise only too well that a pay cheque is not guaranteed. In a way, it's part of the attraction of the work you take nothing for granted.

When I realised I had developed what could only be called banking burnout, I didn't quit immediately. I decided to hang fire for six months, and think about what I might do. Being a widower, and with my two children grown up and living elsewhere, I had only myself to think about.

I had always been a keen punter, but because of my job I could attend the races only on Saturdays. All in all, I'd done reasonably well on the punt, and I was quietly confident I could make a go of betting on a full-time basis. In this respect, I suppose I had an advantage over many people in that I own my home and I have my superannuation and savings to fall back on.

I decided I had to plan my betting in a most careful and cautious manner. I didn't bet full-time straight away. After resigning, I sat down and read as much as I could about money management, selection and, most importantly, the actual psychology of punting. I feasted on everyone else's ideas for several months, and even included a trip to America for six weeks to see how professionals got on there.

On my return, I felt I was fully 'clued up' on how to set about making my betting pay. The only nagging doubt I had was about my own punting mind. Could I overcome the hurdles that had seen many others fall in the past? Would I beat myself by trying too hard to win? Would the pressure of betting for my living throw my judgement awry?

It's this aspect of things I want to tackle in this article, because I feel it was so infinitely important for me, and I suspect it must be for others, even those punters who just bet for fun or regard themselves as super-keen amateurs!

Now, the general viewpoint of most people - at least those I've encountered - is that anyone who seriously pursues the activity of gambling is not of sound mind or, at the very least, shiftless and irresponsible. It's a puritanical idea, I grant you, but one which hopefully is being slowly turned around.

I read many articles and books on the gambling mind. All centred on the 'subconscious', the mind beneath the outer mind. One writer, an American, says we are creatures of habit because of the power of the subconscious mind to transfer what is learned into automatic responses. In other words, winners win because they develop patterns of thought, or mind habits, which are consistent with the goal of being a winner.

The subconscious mind will do whatever you tell it to do. The reason why many punters experience failure is because they are constantly sending out negative input to the computer in their head, the subconscious mind. There's an example of the person who thinks he cannot dance. At some stage in his life he tried to dance, found it difficult and awkward, experienced some ridicule, and gave it up.

This negative experience is constantly in his mind when he tries to dance (that's if he even tries to dance anymore). The subconscious mind is reinforced by the man continually telling it that 'I am awkward, clumsy, I can't dance'.

So, in punting, these same negative thoughts can affect the way you bet. You may see yourself as an unlucky gambler. How many times have you heard a punter cursing himself for his stupidity and his poor decision making? Negative thoughts feed to the subconscious, thus affecting what the punter does when he bets.

My own study of this aspect of betting helped me reach certain conclusions. Deep down, you must have a tremendous desire, a burning desire, to win. Nothing else will do. Like a great musician, you must have a passion for what you do. In horse-racing betting, you must try to be the best 'handicapper' in the world!

What you have to do - and this is what I did is to tell your subconscious mind that you are, indeed, a good punter, a good selector and a winner. You have to tell your mind exactly what you want to achieve and when you want to achieve it.

By devising a rational, obtainable set of goals you can reinforce these commands to the subconscious. Each goal you set must be a reflection of where you are in your handicapping and money management proficiency, and where you would like to be in 12 months time.

I stress here that the goals must be realistic. It's not much use setting yourself the goal of making $100,000 in your first year! The goals should reflect your current finances and how many bets you are likely to have, the number of races you will play, the amount of money bet per race and the type of bets you will make.

I set my main goals on four main themes:

  1. Winning percentage on 'best bets'.
  2. Average winning percentage on exotic bets (mainly quinellas and doubles).
  3. Average return on investment per race.
  4. *Expected return on total turnover per 12 months' period.

I set my own goals by carefully reviewing my past 'amateur' betting and then putting down in writing how much I wanted to improve and how much I felt I could improve. My mind became focused on what I had to achieve, and I felt good because I knew what I had to achieve and that I was confident in myself that I could achieve my goals.

Of course, what we might call the 'final foundation' of winning is effort. Your mind has to be provided with the means necessary to achieve your goals. In betting, this means you dig for anything that gives you an edge over the crowd. Competition is always fierce for the best price.

When I'm on-course, which is almost every day, I'm a tiger when it comes to snapping up the top price I can obtain. Before I go to the races, I study and study the form, leaving nothing (I hope) to chance. I want to immerse myself in every detail of the form of each horse (no wonder my friends say I've become anti-social).

I suppose some might call it a tedious, dull process, but I never find it so. To me, there's a magical quality about form, an intellectual challenge of the highest order, and perhaps the trickiest challenge one might face in life, for nothing at all can be regarded as being 'certain' no, there is no such thing as a certainty!

"When I was hit with banking burnout I knew that a career change was all I needed"

Money, naturally, is the prime reward that lies at the end of all the labour. I keep this reward well in my mind. I seek to make sense out of what is basically chaos. Each race is a jumble of facts and figures, a myriad pattern of possibilities and probabilities, and my task - and your task - is to sift through all the bits and pieces to try to make some sense of it, and predict the future.

How do you keep on thinking like a winner? How do you keep telling your subconscious that you're a good punter, a winning punter, and that your goals are realisable? One way is to replay your biggest successes in your mind. This imbeds in your brain the clear, no-nonsense message: "I win, I am a winner!" and the subconscious mind picks up on this message.

How, then, do you react when you hit a losing run, something which any bettor will discover is absolutely inevitable, just as night follows day. The fact is, you will always lose more races than you win.

But this, of course, does not mean you won't win. It just means that you will experience a rather obstacle-strewn and bumpy ride to success! Now, as we savour and happily recall our wins, then with our losses just the opposite is required.

Don't whip yourself because you lose. Don't equate a losing run with you being a loser. Forget about it. Forget the loss, but never forget the message implicit in the loss. That is, remember what made you lose.

Recently, I stupidly backed a horse which hadn't had a race for 46 days. I didn't pay enough attention to this aspect of its form. I persuaded myself to ignore it, that it didn't matter, that the trainer knew what he was doing. I was wrong, completely wrong, and my poor judgement cost me $200. The horse never got into the race at any stage.

So, what did I do? I forgot the $200, but I have remembered (oh, how I have remembered!!) the lesson. I now know that I MUST pay total attention to such details, and that I must think very, very deeply before ever again backing a horse with a similar long layoff. Already, that little lesson has saved me plenty of money.

A loss, then, teaches you a lesson. It shows you where you went wrong. So when you experience a loss you have to look at it, and rationally examine what went wrong, what caused the loss, what made you do what you did, and was what you did the wrong thing, or was there something else to explain the loss?

The mind can then set about the task of seeing that the mistake is not repeated. Someone, I think it was Churchill, said 'All men make mistakes, wise men learn from them'. How right he was.

Summing up, then, I have become moderately successful in my 'second chance' career role as a professional punter. I don't count myself in the big league (my main bets average around $150-$200 for a win, with some quinella and doubles as backups) and I work on the simple basis of betting two per cent of my bank.

I rarely bet more than two races a day, though I confess to taking a $20 'scraps' bank with me to the races, so I can invest a dollar or two on other races, just for the fun of it. It helps. And it gets rid of the urge I might have to bet too big on too many races.

I am very happy. Last year, I cleared $24,000. At one point, though, I was some $3500 behind. I made up the losses and went on to win handsomely. This year, I hope to increase my profit by several per cent, though I'll be happy just to take in another $24,000.

My mind is ticking over positively. I know I'm a winner ... and I never stop telling myself so! You should try it.

By Philip Roy