Our popular Winners and Losers column is open to contributors to share their racing and betting experiences, for good or bad!

This month, P.P.M. reader Gary Boulton, from Albert Park in Melbourne, tells of his battle to become a professional punter - and what a battle it's been!

"Nothing made me more aware of the vagaries of racing than an incident at Flemington when I backed a fantastic 66/1 winner. Just how I got that winner drummed into me that Lady Luck plays a big role in the scheme of things, especially where betting is concerned.

I first went to the races some 12 years ago. It was the Show Day meeting at Caulfield and a friend dragged me along. I didn't even know where Caulfield racecourse was - and I'd never had a bet.

That visit, though, triggered my interest, six months later I bought Don Scott's book The Winning Way and it opened up for me a world of promise and the chance, I thought, to unlock the door of the workaday prison cell I had been building for myself.

Let me explain: I was raised in a small Victorian country town, left school at 16 and took a job as a spare parts salesman with a local car dealer. I knew there was no real future there so I took off to Melbourne two years later, did a shorthand course and landed a job as a Court Reporter with the Victorian Public Service in 1978.

It paid well but it had no interest for me. With no other qualifications, though, I had to stay there, my unhappiness increasing with the passing of the years. Scott's book kept offering me the chance of escape, but I resisted the urge to 'have a go' and, instead, moved to Queensland to be a Court Reporter in Brisbane. The grass wasn't greener, though, and I returned to Victoria six months later but at least I had a 'bank' of $6,000.

I decided to have a go at being a professional punter. Alas, I have never kept the records of those betting days, but I can tell you that in them lay the legacy of a broken dream - the history of a betting career that went awry due to inexperience and naivety.

I quickly realised I could not properly prepare my own ratings, so I subscribed to a service. It was the spring of 1983 when I began and I was full of optimism. Now, I can't recall all the races I bet on, but one race that stands out is the 1983 Melbourne Cup.

I backed every rated runner at overlay prices - except for one horse. Of course, it just happened to be Kiwi. I had him rated at 10/1 and wouldn't take the shorter odds on offer. I cursed him that day.

Before the Cup, and afterwards, I hadn't been going too well, but then came the Sandown Guineas. In the betting ring, I saw that one of the runners, Mr Ironclad, was quoted at 66/1. My ratings had him at 10/1.

Without, I admit, a great deal of hope, I put $20 on Mr Ironclad at 66/1. You can image my delight when he won! As Don Scott had said in his book, there are horses around at huge overlay value just waiting to be backed. I was brimming with confidence.

Alas, it didn't last. Mainly due to my own inconsistency the winners didn't arrive often enough. I knew the ratings were good and the theory right - I just kept missing out on winners which I should have backed.

At Flemington towards the end of that year, I had a race with 5 rated runners. Because I had been losing I decided to 'save' money by not backing the two lowest-rated runners, and instead backed the top 3 at their right price.

You can imagine how sick I felt when one of the two discards led and refused to be run down all the way up the Flemington straight. It started at 33/1 - and if I'd backed him, as I should have done, I would have dug myself out of the black hole.

At another meeting, I had $100 on a 12/1 chance which won - then lost the race on protest! I can vividly recall sitting on one of the empty bookmaker's stands at Flemington that day feeling utterly demoralised. My bank had almost vanished and things were looking grim.

That day left an indelible print on my mind, which I carry to this day. It almost broke me as a punter, but I knew, in my heart of hearts, that the game could be beaten - it was all a matter of your own ability and preparedness to do the right things.

In the dying stages of my first pro career, I backed that extraordinary winner at 66/1. It helped restore some of my confidence, but it also taught me how lucky you need to be in the racing game.

I was at Flemington (again!). In one of the early races I had a horse called Salix rated at 6/1. The bookies were offering 66/1. I put $10 on it. In the final stages, Salix produced a powerhouse finish to get up and win.

I was chuckling and congratulating myself. Boy, the ratings had shown 'em! It was the only the next day when I discovered I had marked the 6/1 rating against the wrong horse. I had backed that longshot winner completely by mistake.

Not long after this, I gave up professional betting. I returned to the job I loathed and for seven years knuckled down and saved. I paid off my house, and did some renovations.

Early in 1993,  took a redundancy package and - you're right - I set out on the punting path again. I still makes mistakes, and I try to learn from them. I have backed some lovely winners in the last year or so.

I'm still ahead, and I'm sure my perseverance will pay off. Or will it?"

Readers wanting to contribute should send their material (800/900 words) to Winners & Losers, P.P.M., P.O. Box 551, Dee Why, NSW 2099.

By Brian Blackwell