Why does everything seem to go wrong when you back a home you think has a race shot to bits? Why do all your well-thought-out plans go bust? In this article, Statsman explains The Chaos Factor.

Try as we might with all the computer programs we can muster there is no way we will overcome what is known among the professionals as The Chaos Theory in racing. It's the same sort of thing as Murphy's Law, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Mathematicians have developed a total discipline around trying to pick order from disorder, and that's exactly what we all try to do each time we attempt to work out which horse will win a race, and which ones will finish in the placings. In science, it's called the science of chaotic dynamics, and it's all aimed at discovering exactly why it is that human being never manage to get it right, all the time.

The simple fact in racing is that it is impossible to predict the winner of a race with complete accuracy, no matter how detailed your analysis, no matter how complete your investigation of the form, and no nutter how much you have summed up every aspect of the race.

Each race has a 'randon’ amount of chaos built into it simply just waiting to happen and to wreck your plans! You may feel you have done everything possible to sum up a race and predict its outcome, but then you have to compete with The Chaos Factor. Your horse may stumble on leaving the barrier, it can get squeezed up and carted out the back of the field, the jockey can lose his whip, your horse can fall, hit the running rail, run into a deadend, get blocked on the rails, get forced wide throughout ... the list of chaotic happenings can go on and on.

I recall some years ago a jockey in Melbourne was on a horse that was travelling like a winner when a seagull flew into the jockey's face and almost blinded him. How much more of a crazy random happening can you get?

Then there was the steeplechaser at Moonee Valley who was going to win when he put his front leg in a nine-inch deep hole in the turf and crashed in the home straight?

This Chaos Factor is the explanation, then, for why all the best-laid plans can come unstuck. You must always be prepared to accept that this is so-and cop any resulting blows on the chin! As excellent as computers are for drawing up systems, for analysing form and for compiling ratings, they can never be programmed 100 per cent properly to account for the Chaos Factor.

The computer helps to play the percentages or the averages, and it does it well but not 100 per cent. The punter, that's you and me, has to accept early on that we are going to be right in only a certain percentage of races.

We are in conflict with the Chaos Factor, and how good we perform in that battle will, ultimately, determine the level of our actual success. Naturally, we can all dream about a system that will pick the winner of every race but nothing will ever be able to do that, because man and computers, cannot predict the future; they can only hazard guesses as to what it will hold.

Computers, of course, are just bits of machinery without a human being to program them. And what the computer spits out and decides is only determined by what the human tells them via his program. The computer operator has to do his best to control all the numerous factors regarding each horse. In other words, manipulate the variables.

But not everyone is a computer genius. They may know how to operate a computer, but haven't a clue as to how to program it. This is a job for the real computer boffins - like P.P.M's brilliant Neale Yardley, whose monthly publication PC Digest, by the way, is well worth buying if you want to learn how to start programming your computer to work out selections, ratings and staking plans.

What the average punter has to do to start confronting the Chaos Factor is to ensure that he overlooks little in compiling his selections. And, once he's done that, he has to try to predict what the Chaos Factor might be. What could go wrong with his No. 1 pick? Should he allow a substantial margin for what might go wrong? Then, the punter has to ask similar questions of all the other runners.

When it seems to him that there could be just too much chaos in a particular race, he should forget about it. There is always another race, another meeting, another chance to make it all work out okay.

A friend of mine concentrates on backing trifectas. What he does is take combinations of 3 x 5 x 8 (\$72) or maybe 4 x 6 x 8 (\$120) and while he has a great deal of success, he tells me that he is a victim every day of the Chaos Factor. His forecasts are thrown awry by the slightest of margins in some cases, all due to something happening which he had not foreseen, something which, given a normal run, would not have happened.

"I guess most of us call it bad luck," he says, "but I have always looked upon it as being the Chaos Factor at work-that random happening you can't predict, and many times just wouldn't believe could happen."

Is there, then, a simple set of rules to follow to break down the impact of the Chaos Factor? Answer: No. Simple rules may do the trick sometimes, but not all the time. Nor even most of the time.

All you can do is do your best. And always remember that the more angles you look at and analyse the better your prospects of overcoming the 'chaos averages' that lie in waiting for you. Examine, test, sift, study, re-examine ... these are the basic survival rules for the long-term punter.

But what if you are planning a system - does the Chaos Factor still hold water away from a race itself? Yes, it does, to a certain extent. Let's say you had decided, on the basis of some firm past results, to concentrate on market moves for your system bets. All your prognostications are based, however, on how bookies operated IN THE PAST.

How they operate now is a different matter. For instance, in Sydney the bookmakers are framing their markets to what one steward has called 'ridiculous' opening prices, with horses so tight in the betting that they have to ease in the betting. Acting Chief Steward Brian Killian claimed that in many instances opening prices were being framed as tight as 150 per cent.

Such tight marketing by the bookies will throw into chaos all past theories about easers and shorteners! For instance, a horse that really should have opened at 5/2 is probably being opened at 6/4 by the Sydney bookies, and thus will probably become an easer in the betting. Yet, in the past, he would have been opened at a correct quote or perhaps better, and thus become a firmer!

This is where that random Chaos Factor comes into play - wrecking a possible system play before it can even get off the ground! If you weren't aware of what was happening you could be hundreds of dollars down the drain before realisation dawned that things just ain't like they used to be!

So let's draw up some straightforward, commonsense ideas for battling the Chaos Factor. Use them every time you attempt to work out the likely result of a race - and then cross your fingers!

The first rule is to find yourself a good system. Yes, we know the Chaos Factor is going to nibble away at it like a starving rat, but we still have to go into battle. A good system - a really good system-will be able to overcome the Chaos Factor problems over an extended period. The Money Ladder, compiled by Brian Blackwell, is an example.

I do have some knowledge of the agonies Brian went through in putting this system to the test-and the results that have been achieved, and are still being achieved, are evidence that Brian’s system has, to a winning degree, overcome the Chaos Factor - not completely, of course, but enough to give the system the edge because of the fine dividends being reaped.

Your next rule is to pick the right races on which to bet. Chaos is waiting for you in each and every race, so the obvious ploy is to bet only on bettable races, those in which the potential for chaos is limited. Pittsburgh Phil once wrote, "Sufficient' knowledge to tell when to bet or not to bet or when to beat heavily, is of paramount importance to every man on the track." Those words are as crucial today as they were a hundred years ago.

Discovering these bettable races is relatively easy if you are prepared to follow plain, sensible ground rules. Don Scott outlines them clearly in his book Winning More (refer pages 206-213). No one could have stated it better or more succinctly than Scott in this Bible of the turf.

Scott is as aware as anyone of the chaos abounding in racing. He warns about the depression and the frustration that can follow a bout with chaos, or bad luck: "No matter how skilful you are in calculating future ratings, or forecasting true odds, you must have losing runs when everything goes against you.

"Your huge overlay bets go down in the last stride. The 2/1 chances you want to back are never better than 15/8; you miss dozens of winners by centimetres or the turn of a knob; your calculations are right but, because luck has deserted you, you think your calculations are wrong. You begin to doubt the value of past and future ratings; instead of thinking rationally, you react irrationally to every fresh setback."

When Don Scott refers to 'luck' he is, of course, actually referring to the random Exocet missile of the Chaos Factor, something that rides with us on every bet we make. His advice to fight back is as follows: "To be a winner, you must be firm and resolute. You must stay cool when losses are mounting, even if this means taking a few weeks' holiday while you recuperate, assess the damage and prepare a counter attack."

He adds that he is new a "restrained, patient and cautious" bettor, having learned by long experience that you cannot win them all. He knows from costly losses what the wrong races are the races in which bad luck, or the Chaos Factor, is hard at work, ruining the chance of your selection in many and varied ways.

Seagulls in the face, holes in the turf, broken legs, smashed backs, jockeys who fall off, dropped whips, feet that pop out of the irons, saddles that slip forward ... yes, rest assured that the old enemy – chaos - is always there, waiting, waiting.

By Statsman

PRACTICAL PUNTING - MARCH 1990