Few punters would argue against the statement that says staking is MORE important than selection in the battle to win at horse-racing. Some might say that both are equally important.

I tend to disagree with this latter belief. Staking, I feel, can wing you to great heights. Poor staking can sink you like a stone in water.

The area of staking invariably is the 'Achilles heel' of the majority of punters. Just look around the betting crowd at a racetrack, or in a TAB agency, and note the general desperation of the betting. Few punters indeed, caught up in this maelstrom could be betting to any reasonable shape or form.

Inadequate staking is something that UK expert Mark Coton has touched on in his books. Writing in his best-seller 100 Hints for Better Betting, Coton says: "The problem is lack of preparation. Just as we must calmly approach our form study and then our value analysis, so we must calmly plan our stakes.

"It need hardly be said that the betting shop or the (betting) ring is not the place to be undertaking this planning, for it is already too late."

Coton, then, is advocating the advance preparation approach. Before you leave home (assuming you're going to the track or a TAB shop), work out what you plan to do. Develop a plan, much as a military general works out a plan of assault. Get your 'troops' in place.

Being able to actually do this is another thing. Do you have the mental discipline to draw up a plan of attack, and then, in the throes of battle, stick to it through thick and thin?

This is an aspect of betting that we at PPM have talked about for many years. This series is devoted to aspects of the psychological problems that confront punters of all types; amateurs, fiddlers and professionals.

Need I remind you that to keep a record of your bets is a first key step along the road? The Optimist, and others, have preached this simple slice of philosophy for a long, long time. Whether the message has sunk in, who knows?

Mark Coton addresses this aspect of the betting process as well. Again writing in 100 Hints, he says: "There is no getting away from this one. Every bet must be recorded, from the mortgage-paying antepost gamble down to those tiny just-for-fun interests with which we like to while away the afternoon.

"If nothing else, this process will reveal that the just-for-fun bet is actually not fun at all at the end of the day, just costly and embarrassing.

"Some of the bets you have struck will certainly embarrass you, others will irritate and surprise. You will stare at your profit and loss sheet, wondering 'just what on earth possessed me to back that'.

"Other bets will give you great satisfaction. There are few better feelings than returning at the end of the day to enter a winning bet onto your chart and to see the plus column extending inexorably into profit."

Of course, as Coton points out, there is also the depressing side of writing in the losing bets. If you go into 'denial' you'll 'forget' to write in some of the bets that failed. This is to be avoided at all costs.

Every bet counts. Once you realise you have to keep writing in losing bets, you might well be encouraged not to back so many of them!

Coton, and other professionals, say that you need to keep accurate records of not only your bets, but the details of each, like name of horse, jockey, trainer, finish position, distance of the race, where the race was held, the conditions, and so on.

After a period of time, you will begin to obtain a clear picture of which areas of your betting are successful and which are failing. You will have an accurate, quick guide to the worth, or otherwise, of your overall betting.

Why continue to bet, say, on weak restricted races midweek if your records show that you are losing money, regularly, on them? Eliminate them from your betting and you will have helped yourself to a shortcut to greater profits.

Some years ago, when I was betting heavily, I looked back at two years of betting records and, to my surprise I confess, I discovered that most of my losses were confined to Mares races! I'd been a mug for them and yet they had consistently put me into a losing category.

Had I not bet on them in those two years, my profit would have risen to more than 20 per cent, from around 10 per cent. This is the value of record-keeping. Just like a businessman, you need to see what 'stock' is providing you with the best profits.

Confidence is another key factor that punters must be aware of as they go about their daily business of challenging the percentages. A confident punter can bring a highly positive 'feel' to his selections and to his staking management.

A punter who lacks confidence, who is always blaming someone else for his losses, is not going to be a winning punter. Whinging punters rarely get anywhere. They approach their betting with hope rather than expectation, and their 'black moods' badly affect the way they bet.

Much of what happens in betting can be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Mark Coton tackles this aspect of betting with some forthright words in 100 Hints.

"Many punters are almost permanently locked into a vicious spiral of losses, recriminations and yet more losses," he says. "A winner seldom does more than provide some temporary relief. If in doubt, just look at the faces in your local betting shop.

"Defeat tends to show on most punters' faces, even before they have played. In betting, negative thoughts feed on each other like a virus. If you expect to lose, so you will.

"If you are half expecting a horse to blunder, or fall, or meet trouble in running, then so it will."

Coton says the 'God of Irony' makes prophecies self-fulfilling. Do not, he urges, give him his chance.

"If there are any doubts in your mind about a horse's chance, if you begin to find a picture developing in your mind of a calamity which may befall it, then leave the horse alone. You will seldom regret it."

Some of my colleagues, like Martin Dowling and P.B. King, make much of the fact that a punter also has to decide on his style of betting. That is, they believe a punter will have more chance of overall success if he devotes himself to one form of betting.

Their point is that you must develop a betting style of your own. Pinpoint which betting approaches produce the best results for you and stick to them.

For example, some punters love trifecta betting, others like win only, some prefer doubles and others like to bet on quinellas. The thing to remember is to try not to be an 'expert' on them all. It won't work.

Pick out the style of betting you are best suited to and make that the focus of your daily activity. If you're not happy with certain types of betting, then don't fall for them. Stick to what you do best.

Says Mark Coton: "Which bets do you place with confidence? And which trouble you? I have never been happy with forecasts (exactas), although I appreciate there are times when such bets can offer excellent value. No doubt one reason would be my lack of success with such bets, but I also find it exceptionally difficult to arrive at a satisfactory assessment of odds and chances in such situations.

"I enjoy ante-post (pre-post) betting, and have found it profitable, but no doubt others find it a too risky and speculative form of betting. I can relish sorting out a Placepot (6 placed horses in chosen races) on a day's card; others may feel they cannot see the wood for the trees when attempting such bets."

Much the same 'be yourself' thinking applies to actual staking. You must choose a staking approach best suited to your personality.

Some punters won't even consider target betting. Some prefer level stakes. Others will bet 'savers' while still others would shake their heads at thinking about insurance on their bets.

Target betting is often seen as loss-chasing. This is true to some extent. I prefer to call it winchasing. This is the positive slant.

Everyone has to chase losses. Even level-stakes punters are chasing losses, aren't they? Drop, say, 12 units behind at level stakes and you really are chasing. The target bettor will positively chase his losses and aim at retrieving the situation with his next winner.

The level-stakes bettor needs probably two or three winners to grab back 12 units.

Again, we come back to the point that you have to bet in your own comfort zone. The conservative punter balks at the prospect of chasing losses; the punter used to riskier betting won't bat an eyelid and will regard such an approach as simply part of the day's business.

I know a chap who uses target betting all the time. He is never in great trouble. He bets sensibly with some degree of flair, and he knows that all he needs is one winner in order to get back any losses.

System punters also operate in their own comfort zone. I suppose a minority of punters are psychologically attuned to be system-followers. But those that are 'in tune' are skilled at what they do, they possess patience, daring and they have discipline.

Summing up, then, choose your area of betting, find the comfortable approach to staking, and always adopt a positive attitude. As well, and most importantly, make sure you register every bet you have. It may be tiresome but it will pay off.

Winning at betting can never be a hit or miss thing. The punter who plans ahead is the man who will gain the day in the end. The 'desperadoes' face an ever inclining hill of despair. They never really know how much they've lost because they remain in denial.

Until the day they open their eyes, their betting pursuit will be a grim and frustrating one.

Click here to read Part 1.
Click here to read Part 2.

By Jon Hudson