Last month, we looked at the psychological pressures of "negative recency" and "utility" and how they affect the average gambler.

We tried to highlight how these factors may influence you unconsciously and lead you to making a decision rashly and wrongly.

Being aware of how those factors worked, and what they were, we tried to encourage you to really challenge your betting choices to ensure they were sound judgements, not "wrong-uns" caused by irrational thinking.

This month, we looked at more factors that can have the same result. We start with superstition.

"I'm not superstitious" you protest, crossing your fingers while stepping over cracks in the footpath and avoiding walking under ladders. Well, we all are superstitious to a degree. I like taking some new item of clothing to the races occasionally.

It has not reached the stage where I buy a new handkerchief each Saturday morning before arriving at the track, but I feel that little bit more confident if I am wearing some new socks, or shoes, or a new tie.

Why? Well, it has seemed to me that I have had some of my best winning days when, by chance, some new item has been purchased in the week before and is being worn for the first time today!

I know it is irrational, so, as mentioned before, I do not rush off and buy something every week. Also I have no records to show whether my feeling is right about the association between winning days and new apparel - It is just something I seem to have noticed sometimes.

This shows how superstitions can arise - a good betting result associated by chance with some other unrelated event, but the two become linked for future occasions. And, of course, if the association repeats itself on another occasion or two, then the superstition becomes stronger. A good example of repeated associations also happened to me in New Zealand some years ago, where all betting is through the tote.

I was fortunate enough to back eight consecutive winners (the last six races on day one of a meeting, and the first two on the second day). All tickets were bought from one window, and, although I know it made no difference, when the losers started to come along it took me many races before I could stop betting at that window.

So, most superstitions are relatively harmless, and can be fun, unless you run up a large bill buying new handkerchiefs. But superstitions can be dangerous. If you believe a black cat running across the road as you drive to the races is good luck, you may double your bets all day and have a disastrous result. Be very careful if you do have a superstition as it may throw your judgement off completely.

You may, as noted, bet more, or you may bet on longer priced horses and throw your hard headed analysis out the window. The same thing can happen with particular horses, jockeys or numbers. You may believe that Jim Cassidy on No. 5 is a lucky combination for you as you have won with that combination before. Well, Jim is a great jockey, but he cannot win without a good enough horse. Ask yourself whether the choice is rational on logical grounds (form, class, etc.) and, if not, either stop following the "lucky" combination, or only have a small, fun bet on it.

Our second factor to consider this month is the so-called "risky shift". Researchers have argued whether group decisions are more, or less, risky than individual ones. For example: You like Horse X, and planned to bet $20 on it, but go to the races with a few mates who talk the race over with you - if they like it as well, will you bet more on it (say $40) or if they dislike it will you bet less?

Also, if they like it and you all decide to bet on it as a group, will you contribute more or less than $20 to a group bet. This is a bit esoteric and the researchers are divided. A rough consensus may be that larger bets may be reduced by group discussion, smaller bets increased.

The relevance to our punting, unless we go to the races with a group of friends, is that we are all part of a group anyway. We are exposed to media discussions about the day's racing. This, of course, reaches a peak around the Melbourne Cup, but all of us who bet regularly seek out the information we need in the papers or on the radio, and often get more than we need. By this I mean the exposure to tips in the racing sections of the newspapers, or the radio programmes.

This is not meant to malign tipsters, who do a good job selecting in every race. It is extremely hard to show a profit betting or tipping on every race, but our tipsters must make and publish selections in each event because out there, someone, somewhere, has an interest in, and wants their opinion on, each race. So they must be given.

When given they create an influence. To those people looking for a winner, say, of race three, the tipsters' comments influence their judgement. This is not always for the better (excuse the pun!). Because these people reading or listening to the tip are a "group", the tip will influence their decision in some way. If a number of different horses are selected for race three by the selectors, the punters may shrug their shoulders and stick to their own selections.

However, if one selector stands up and says his selection is a special, then the punters may move to that one, even though the diversity of opinion suggests nothing should be a special. Now, if that horse wins, the selector is a hero, and his future tips will be followed more strongly.

If it loses, the punter (usually) forgives and forgets and waits for the next Messiah to come along with a winning special. Of course, if all the selectors are uniformly going for one beast, then that horse will start very short because of the consensus of opinion.

So we need to be aware that we can be influenced by others' opinions. This is well and good if they are better judges than we are, but bad if they are not. Also, if they have a large following the horse may win often, but pay poorly, so their skill in winner selecting is negated by a lack of profit.

In my view, the way to avoid the group response is to not belong. This does not mean not reading or listening to race discussions. It means making your own selections first, then extracting information about each horse from the media, and relegating listening to tips last. We are often given excellent information on horses (e.g. "working well", "gear change today should improve performance", "very unlucky last start").

This we should use to make our own judgements. When we look at or listen to tips it should only be to see if the price we are expecting is likely to be affected by the comments. If the horse you like is 10-1 in the morning, but is given as an each way special by a tipster, you may want to reduce your bet knowing the price may now be less.

Also, never be influenced by a tipster giving a horse out as a "certainty", or a 11 mortgage bet", or as a "will win" bet. Nothing is ever certain in horse racing! Keep a record of bets given out as a certainty and you will see they win and lose in normal proportions, and often at very poor odds. To their credit, few tipsters are that rash, but be cautious of those that are.

Click here to read Part 3.
Click here to read Part 1.

By Clive  Allcock