In just about every sport we can name, the word "inspiration" is mentioned time after time. Just check any newspaper's sports coverage and you're likely to find some comments about players being inspired to play the game of their life.

Hardly an Olympic gold medallist goes by without the sportsman or sportswoman concerned thanking someone for inspiring them to reach above themselves to win at the highest level.

In the world of racing, and punting, inspiration may well be scoffed at.

Horses do not possess the rational thinking process so they can hardly be inspired to win a race, other than by being in peak condition and being ably ridden with a favourable handicap.

The jockey may well ride an inspired race, and the trainer may have had a moment of inspiration in setting the horse for the race.

But what of inspiration as it relates to punters? There are many successful gamblers around the world who firmly believe that if a punter lacks the inspirational factor, or some sort of canny intuition, then all the form study in the world will not enable him to win.

Dr Howard Sartin, who developed the much-acclaimed Sartin Methodology, puts it this way:

"Against an often angry sea of protesters I have always maintained that information alone, no matter how brilliantly conceived or inspired, is not the answer to consistent, prolonged handicapping success.

"In a yin-yang circle, information is but one half, inspiration the other half.

"My use of the term inspiration incorporates the intuitive, the spiritual and the visceral elements to success. In the philosophy of ancient Mandarin China, the yin-yang symbolised the complementary forces of the universe.

"My thesis has always been that if one's spiritual yin is not in harmony with the informational yang, no methodology, no computer program, simple or complex, can open the door to consistent success."

For myself, inspiration means those occasions when you suddenly and instinctively "know" that a horse is going to win, or the moment when you suddenly decide to beef up your normal bet, or stand out a selection as banker and as a result haul in a massive return.

Call it the inner voice, or the subconscious, but to me it amounts to inspiration.

Haven't you heard one punter say to another winning punter, "Jeez, that was a bit of inspiration, backing that thing!" Thus one punter recognises that another punter has won because he was able to take advantage of a moment of punting inspiration.

My colleague Brian Blackwell often bores us with the story of his biggest win back in the 1970s, when he picked out How Now as the likely Caulfield Cup winner many weeks before the race.

But his real inspiration was a decision to back the mare for as much as he could afford.

Instead of a conservative speculation, Brian bet way beyond his normal level, ensuring that should How Now win he would benefit to the best degree possible.

That's what happened. How Now did win and the reward for Brian's inspired thinking was a huge windfall return.

As a punter who dedicates many hours each day to sifting through racing form, I can attest to the fact that I have an inner voice which "rides" along with me as I look at each runner's performance chart.

For many years now, we've had a continual stream of propaganda against any sort of personal subjectivity in selecting and betting. By this I mean the rise and rise of ratings figures and the impact of computer programmes.

It has been a case of the experts saying that objective data is the be all and end-all, that information is the supreme icon of the game, and that hunches, inspiration or any personal involvement beyond the ratings is not worth a candle.

Happily, the mood now seems to be swinging against this cold approach. In fact, there's a real backlash that looks as if it can push intuitive handicapping back into respectable mode.

Interestingly, the advent of the computer age does not seem to have had any real effect on the actual strike rate of the punting masses. The public's No 1 elect still wins about 30 per cent of all races, same as it did 50 and 100 years ago.

Most punters I speak to about big wins, and annual profits, say that, almost without exception, their greatest wins have come from inspirational handicapping, and not from the ratings spat out by their computer programmes.

Mark Cramer, one of the greats of US handicapping, says: "Certainly, inspiration will differ from one person to another ... What it is for me is intensity and the shedding of intellectual inhibitions.

"For others, inspiration may come from more inner-directed sources.

"Uninspired handicappers are often faultless at reading the notes, but have trouble going beyond the surface melody. It's tough to maintain intensity day after day if you're simply reading the notes.

"Uninspired handicappers gravitate toward one logic, when the secrets of race results often depend on layered logics, even contradictory logics."

Take note of what Cramer says: GOING BEYOND THE SURFACE MELODY.

He's pointing out that while the formguide is good, and the ratings it produces are often good and accurate, it often takes more than just that to get the punter to back a big winner.

Computers cannot replicate what you have learned and stored away over years and years of following racing. They cannot reproduce your deep understanding of what makes racing tick.

This is where inspiration comes into play (or, if you like, intuition, or the subconscious mind). I've known many so-called "lucky" punters in my time and invariably they have been men who have possessed the uncanny knack to do something extra-special when all about them were playing a straight bat.

They were able to listen to, and act on, that little voice in the head. They were able to grab that moment of inspiration and make it pay.

"He's a lucky so-and-so," is something all of us have heard said about a certain punter or other. But is it luck? Probably not. Instead, we have to admire the punter because of his penchant for making that inexplicable decision that helps him rise above the public crowd.

Be it an inspired selection or an equally inspired piece of money management, this punter has done what needs to be done.

The late Eric Connolly, at his peak, was one of the greatest of all intuitive punters. He knew when it was the right move to go for the kill on a selection.

He always used his own subjective judgement, likening himself to a High Court judge who had to make decisions based on positive evidence.

"But I was always ready to accommodate a hunch I might have that I should plonk on a horse," Connolly said. 

Quite a few times I went against the evidence because I suspected that a horse was better than its form looked. It was a matter of picking a horse when no-one else wanted it.

"I had the ability and a lot of my contemporaries didn't."

I try to listen to my inner voice every time I look at the formguide. It tells me often that the favourite cannot win, at other times it will buzz me about a horse I made a mental note of some weeks before.

The inspiration is whether to act on this intuition. A battle can rage in the mind, and it often happens that I reject the intuition and rob myself of a winner.

Having been deeply involved in ratings for many years now, it is hard for me to reject the findings of the form analysis that's done by the handicapping programmes number crunching. This is because I know that the ratings are based on a great deal of pertinent information.

Yet I realised some time back that I needed to add a degree of subjectivity to the process. I recommend this to any punter who uses ratings: Don't accept them as being the final say on a race.

There IS room for the punter to seek out the inspirational moments when he looks beyond the ratings.

Take the recent Warrnambool Cup. My ratings had Royal Caliph on top at 6/1, with Loch Torridon 8/1 and Ancient City 9/1.

Normally, I would have accepted these ratings and bet accordingly. However, my intuition was telling me something else. I started to look deep inside myself for more answers.

And then it came to me, a bolt from the blue in my mind . . . I realised, with a start, that I should be looking down in the handicap for the winner.

Loch Torridon fitted the bill but there was no inspiration there for me. Instead, my inner voice was suddenly saying  to me, "champion jockey, top trainer" . . . and there it was, a horse called Samosiera, ridden by Damien Oliver and trained by Robert Smerdon, with only 53.5kg to carry, and coming in off some good form.

I knew, then and there, that I'd be backing Samosiera. I was, in fact, INSPIRED to back it. Samosiera won at more than 6/1.

Like Mark Cramer, such inspiration doesn't come easily to me.

I agree with Cramer when he says: "Inspiration does not come natural to me; I have to fight for it, coax it, let it rest when it refuses to come to the surface.

"That puts me in a better position than those for whom inspiration is so natural that they can't see why everyone else does not get it."

Why not try to "tap" your own inner voice? When you next do the form, and add up the cold, hard facts and figures, why not step back and listen? Is there something in the subconscious pointing to any particular runner, or pulling you away from a runner?

You could find yourself embracing an inspired moment of selection!

By Jon Hudson