A new series

Betting in TAB agencies, and in Pub Tabs, is now such a common happening throughout Australian towns, cities and hamlets that 'tote watching' can be considered a national occupation.

Once bookmakers disappear, as it seems they very well may within the next 10 years, then the art of tote watching will become a national obsession, on and off course.

It's not a pretty sight. At least today you can avoid having to gaze at the tote monitors in favour of looking at bookmakers' betting boards. If you're an oncourse punter, then savour the moments, because they could soon, like Tulloch and Phar Lap, become a slice of history.

The people who watch the tote monitors are the mysterious they' that everyone who bets talks about. You know the sort of thing: "They've backed Mickey Mouse" or "They don't like Mickey Mouse" or "They must know something." Many punters believe that because the tote odds move downwards a fraction that 'they' are betting him in a sort of carefully-planned national betting conspiracy.

Unfortunately, 'they' is really a mythical thing. Just who 'they' are varies from day to day. It can't be the same group of people all the time, can it? I mean, who are the 'they' who lead the betting at small country harness meetings, as opposed to the 'they' who launch the betting onslaughts, apparently, on the major city meetings?

We can say that some of the tremors on the tote monitors are caused by various groups of big-betting punters. The smart money punters. They do cause the odds to fall in some cases. Mostly, though, tote odds rise and fall because of the great weight of public opinion, often carefully or carelessly orchestrated by the media, the daily newspaper hacks who, frankly, can't pick any more winners than the bloke in the street.

The 'smart money' punters usually come from people associated with various stables. When their horses win then they are indeed 'they'. Other punters in this category are those who make a living from betting; they are the clued-up punters who pour hours and hours into form study and who assess each race with the help of computer software.

But ' as a general rule, punters should beware of listening to other punters who invariably say 'they are backing this one' or 'they reckon this one can't win'. It would be impossible to actually trace the beginnings, or the roots, of such statements, because the usage has slipped into the racing vernacular.

The behaviour of punters at the racetrack is always an interesting phenomenon to observe. We've all heard about the pumpkin-head syndrome and few among us have never worn it. Betting, both on and off course, has a habit of changing personalities. The change can be discerned whether the punter is winning, losing or just breaking even.

A losing day is often turned into a disastrously losing day all because the punter loses control. He may have walked onto the course, or into the TAB agency, with his mind grimly set to have only a few bets, the horses all picked out and ready to be bet.

But, inevitably, this same punter will be subjected to a lot of confusing signals throughout the afternoon - from friends, from bystanders to whom he might chat, but most of all from the tote monitors and from the bookies' boards. It is these, with their sudden movements, their tremors of action, that will sow in the punter's mind the seeds of doubt, or whip up his enthusiasm to the point where it becomes naked with aggressive optimism!

Let's say our punter is confident- He has chosen three horses he thinks m win. Great. His first pick, though, is not wanted in the betting. He had expected it to be a 2/1 chance, and yet here it is being freely offered by the bookies at 5/1. Do 'they' know something?

Have 'they' got the nod that this particular horse can't win? Our punter starts to have a doubt. He looks at the well-backed horses in the race. Yes, well, maybe 'they' have got a point.

But, what the heck, it's the first race and our man is quite sure his horse is going to score-the bigger the price the better. He sticks to his gameplan, and backs his selection. It loses- Oh, it nuts a good race but the best it can do is 4th place. The winner is one of the horses which was well-backed.

Now our punter's confidence is zapped. One of his good things has lost and he could kick himself. He should have taken notice of the betting! His horse had got the 'blows' and yet he stuck with it. What a fool! He should have followed the money, he curses to himself.

Now his second horse is to run. Oh, oh, the same thing is happening, and even worse this time. The horse he felt would be around 3/1 has opened at 7/2 and has blown out to 6/1. Having been burned once, our punter decides he won't be caught a second time. He looks at the form of the better-fancied runners. Why, of course, the favourite has terrific form; why hadn't he noticed it last night when he was doing the form?

He suddenly understands why his selection is blowing like the north wind. It's a real risk. But should he ignore it completely? Well, no, but he'll pare his bet right down and put most of the money on the heavily-backed runner. In this way, he reasons, he has control of the situation. His bet on his original selection is only enough to cover the total outlay; he needs the other horse to win to show a good profit.

What happens? His original pick wins,' the favourite runs nowhere. Our punter picks up his measly dividend-just enough to cover his outlay. What a fool, what an idiot, he thinks to himself. Why did I let myself be dragged away from the original selection? I should have had confidence in myself, he says.

Imagine, if you will, the dilemma facing this punter as he sets about deciding whether to back his third and final horse for the day! Now, this is just one scenario that, no doubt, happens all the time. Other punters have a different problem. Take the case of those punters who go to the track, or the TAB, with no fixed idea of which horses they are going to back.

It's these punters who are the puppets of the betting ring. They are transfixed by market moves, eager for tips (anybody's tips) and will swing from one horse to another, from one race to the next, betting on probably 15 to 20 races in an afternoon.

They have a huge problem. If we assume they will strike with three winners from 15 bets (if they're really lucky), those winners will need to have odds that total a return of 15 units just for these punters to break square (and not allowing for other costs associated with going to the races). A winner at 4/1, a winner at 3/1, and a third winner at 7/2 will return a total of 13.5 units-leaving a deficit still of 1.5 on that 15 unit outlay. Not a bright situation, is it?

How will such punters be swayed to and fro throughout the day? Most of them will probably back very well-fancied horses. They inevitably will be drawn into a close association with the prevailing favourites. Punters are suckers for favourites, even though they win only three from 10 races (that is, they lose seven times out of 10).

And then these 'haphazard' punters. will be drawn to horses that firm in the betting. The problem here is that usually more than one horse firms! Which one do they back? Even if they manage to get the selection process fairly correct our punters face the problem of money management-probably a far more homier problem than that of picking the bets. Money management, or the lack of it, can be a killer, even for punters successful at actually picking winners.

How you back the winners, and the losers, is all-important. We have talked before in P.P.M. about approaches to money management. What MM means is that you try to ensure that your invested dollar is spent as wisely as it can be and that when you strike a winner that you have the right amount of money on it. This is easier said than done.

Punters are prone to putting too little on winners and too much on losers. They end up chasing their tail. The winners never quite recoup all the losses, yet the losses quickly overtake the winnings and so on.

My is this so? For a start, it's too easy to place a bet. Perhaps instead of whipping the horses they should whip the punters! Imagine if there were guards at the tote windows whose job it was to flagellate you as you placed a bet . . . unless you're into punishment there's no way you would be going to the window unless you had a bet to be really excited about! While this idea may sound a trifle silly, look at it another way: Aren't you really punishing yourself when you make a silly bet?

How often have you got ahead and then told yourself that you could start betting bigger and more freely "because I'm betting with their money"? You are never playing with 'their' money; once the money is in your possession it's your money, no-one else's. They might have had it before but now it's yours-so look after it, protect it, treasure it, don't devalue it by thinking that it doesn't really belong to you, that it's yours only on loan from 'them'.

This negative line of thinking is one way to go broke. Remember always that your money deserves the very best of consideration. A friend of mine, who learned the error of his ways a long time ago, told me: "It took me a lot of years to work out a sophisticated method of money management. I lost heaps of money on bets that seemed good enough but were not nearly as good as others that came along.

'When my top-rated horse would win the ninth race at 10/11 was glad to have ten dollars on it-but I was angry that in the other eight races I had wasted most of my bankroll on weaker bets."

My pal now 'multiple bets'-that is, he'll back two or sometimes three horses a race and is content to win 15 to 20 cents on the invested dollar. He also likes to back against hot favourites. just recently he cleaned up when he 'took on' Tierce at Moonee Valley. I know that he has landed many a coup by betting against odds-on chances. Before the Tierce flop, he bet He's Blushing at 11/2 to beat the hotpot Euclase in Sydney. Another winner!

** In the next article in this series, I'll be talking a great deal more about proper money management. There is much to be learned about the various ways of backing your selections. If you feel your punting needs a turnaround then stay tuned.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Jon Hudson