Professionals call it the 'final risk' in betting. It's that thing called the human factor. It can make or break you as a punter.

Make no mistake, when it comes to succeeding in the world of betting, it is, in the end, yourself who will determine the final outcome. If your built-in human failings are not overcome, the prognosis is not bright.

UK expert Malcolm Howard, author of the best-selling book The Value Factor, says: "The final risk to assess is the human factor, one which is often ignored as all our effort is concentrated on equine matters.

"In this context, the human factor does not mean consideration of jockeys or trainers, but ourselves, the punter. We need time to think about our failings. We all run the risk of acting in an illogical manner at the time we place our bets, even if we can be totally unemotional and logical at all other times.

"In a nutshell, we have got to be daring to meet the essential requirements needed to have a reasonable chance of being successful."

According to Howard, the essential requirements needed for a positive 'human factor' ingredient in your betting are discipline, application, recording, intuition, negotiating skills, governing skills.

Discipline he describes as the need to be patient and to bet only when conditions are right. Application is said to comprise the hard work needed, and recording is the need to record all bets to enable preparation of accurate analysis.

As far as intuition goes, Howard says this is the need to develop a sixth sense to guess what everyone is up to, while negotiating skills are required to ensure that the best possible prices are obtained.

Finally, governing skill is required to ensure we are always in control of the situation.

Howard emits confidence when he sums up the human factor problem: "In the final analysis, providing you have an accurate rating system, take the trouble to assess all the risks, and bet only when there is sufficient value available, you will win in the long term.

"Fail on any of these points and you are almost certain to end up losing, as the whole betting system is designed to benefit the racing industry, rather than the punter."

Howard stresses the point we all know so well - that the betting margins are against the punter, so doing the right things can give the punter an advantage 'over random', though whether this advantage is sufficient for the punter to show a profit is dependent upon the margins against him.

"As these margins are variable there should be times when the margin against him is not sufficient to put him into a loss," writes Howard. "Hence the need to recognise value."

The human factor involves many things. Howard's view is that choosing the right races to bet is one of the true tests of betting character.

James Selvidge, author of the book Money Management, emphasises the human factor which propels many punters into bad habits - and the refusal to turn their backs on them.

He says most bad habits are centred around the squandering of money on poor betting skills. It's a sad fact, he opines, that many thousands of good handicappers have been defeated over the years because they never learned how to handle their money, or how to establish money management discipline that would create profits off their handicapping expertise.

US writer Huey Mahl points to the average bettor's tendency to play with the 'same tiny collection of facts' every race day, and who twist a rule here and there in an attempt to find the elusive key that they think will open the golden door.

"Our approach and aspirations should be laden with humbleness and patience," he says in his book The Race Is Pace. "But we can attempt to break away from the bounds of conditioned thought and look at the same valley from a different hill to the crowd."

Mahl makes a moot point on this issue. The human factor tends to make the average bettor crave the 'company' of his fellow bettors. This is why punters will follow the leader in the betting ring.

Many are afraid to step outside the boundaries set by other punters in establishing the favourites in the market. There is a natural tendency to 'fear' that by being isolated with a selection the punter is wrong, that he has made a mistake doing the form, that the mob must be right, and not him.

But, as we know, the 'herd' is wrong 7 times out of 10! The punter who stands alone and bets longer-priced runners only has to be right once or twice.

Mahl and others urge average punters to rethink their positions, to take a long and searching look at their selection and betting approach.

Says New York psychologist Dr Frank Feenimar: "A man who bets needs to be absolutely sure that what he is doing at all levels of the process is correct. Only when he can approach the tote window feeling good about himself can he hope to make a success of what he is doing.

"Any study of human behaviour with regard to betting will, I am sure, reveal that the majority of punters are unsure, feel insecure and invariably are ready to believe that someone else, anybody else, is better at picking winners than they are."


As in most endeavours, people affiliated with horse-race selection tend to over-simplify and hastily select a manageable minority of facts to serve their ends. The field is far too vast and complex to make any serious attempt to reduce it to a pure science. It has to be conceded that we must operate with partial knowledge and be provisionally content with probabilities, especially when we consider the erratic behaviour of the vehicles we are betting on - the horse and his handlers.

There is always a certain number of people who go to the races, cash a couple of quick early bets and promptly head for home, feeling smug. That evening they brag to their friends how smart they were to quit while they were ahead. This type of bettor never seems to understand that by quitting early on a winning day, he forecloses any chance he might have of winning the kind of money that's really worth bragging about.      

My rule is bet heaviest when you are winning. I say this because I've found that winning at the races runs in streaks. A winning bettor is a confident bettor. He makes his selections fully expecting to win. He isn't plagued by last-minute doubts that result in changes of mind, which are usually disastrous at the track.

Winning gives the gambler the powerful, positive frame of mind that will enable him to pick winners by accident, something I have found losers are rarely able to do.

The psychological basis for recognising opportunity is alertness. It is important to always be attuned to significant turning points, the kind that provide the most fortuitous combination of people, circumstances and information.

How do you do this? By recognising and acting upon the flow of opportunity when it comes into your life. Go with the flow and the luck will be yours. Miss it, and you miss the chance for fulfilling your desires until the tide again turns in your favour.

You have to actively create your good luck. We get what we expect this is a basic fact of life. Before anything else can change, our expectation level must change from that of being a victim of life's misfortunes to being a receptor of opportunity. Attitude is one of the most important factors in creating good luck. Through the right attitude it is possible to develop the skill of attracting good luck with almost mathematical precision.

A lucky person is one who recognises chance opportunities, acts on them and most of all, EXPECTS TO BE LUCKY

Punters are forever driving themselves crazy, invariably going off their game plan as they become distracted at the races. Malcolm was one of those chaps. He could pick winners but he was a loser. He always had a sad story about how he let the horse get away. His excuses were always the same - he'd noticed something bad in the paddock ring, the horse had cantered to the post like a crab, or there was no money for it in the ring. Malcolm ate his heart out every day and yet still continued to second-guess his little black book.

It is maddening to be right in the privacy of your home only to be put off horse after horse by some new flood of information which emerges late... The moral is, that ff you pick more winners at home than at the track, stick with the horses you pick at home.

By Mark Merrick