Answer this question: What's the worst task associated with betting on horseracing (or greyhound racing, or harness racing)?

I don't know about you, but personally I feel it's the part that deals with the money management side of things, starting from that very basic of tasks, keeping track of your bets on a dollar-basis.

In short, how much do you bet, what on, and how much do you get back? This is the tedious bookkeeping side of racing that the average punter abhors. Yet it's an essential part of the framework that will help you to carve out a profit.

In this first part of a new series, I want to concentrate on this aspect of your betting life. Why? Because I think it's so important and yet so abused!

Gather a dozen punters together and ask each of them to produce their notebooks containing all their betting activities and I'd hazard a guess that only one, two at the most, would put their hands up.

George Kaywood, one of the most cluey guys in the business, has a simple answer as to why so few people keep personal records.

"Most people consider it the worst task associated with handicapping," says Kaywood.

"From an immediate viewpoint, it seems to be non-productive. It's not a fun thing to do on any given losing day, and certainly not during a bad streak of handicapping fatigue or just plain bad racing luck.

"It's both depressing and leads to your questioning what might be a long-term winning approach."

Mark Coton, one of Britain's best known form experts in recent years, has this to say on the issue: "There is no getting away from this one (recording all bets). Every bet must be recorded, from the mortgage paying pre-post gamble down to those tiny just-for-fun interests with which we all like to while away an afternoon.

"If nothing else, this process will reveal that the just-for-fun bet is actually not any fun at all at the end of the day, just costly and embarrassing. Some of the bets you have struck will certainly embarrass you, others will irritate and surprise.

"You will stare at your profit and loss sheet and wonder, just what on earth possessed me to back that?"

Coton goes further to stress the point that as bets are recorded and the results listed, the punter must analyse what's gone on and whether refinements can be made.

All this bookkeeping, of course, is the stepping-stone to the realities of the entire 'maths scene' in betting. The keeping of figures, so important in daily business, should be just as much a vital part of our betting life.

So why does it prove such a hard thing for us to do? Why do so many of us dodge it; in fact, why does the majority simply refuse to come to grips with it for their entire betting life?

Kaywood believes it has a lot to do with society's conditioning over the last 30 or 40 years to instant gratification in every part of our lives.

"For many players, the number of winners picked during a trip to the races is more important than how they won, or lost," he says. "Try asking your racing friends what their return on investment, or even winning percentage, is and nine-and-a-half out of 10 will give you an estimate or an 'I'm doing all right' answer.

"It takes more guts and smarts to start and stick to a record-keeping plan than it appears. It is not a simple or easy commitment for most to make. There's no standard or uniform way; whatever way works for you is the best way, as long as you keep tabs on every bet and the return."

Coton agrees that every bet counts and that there are few better disciplines than confirming as much by writing them down.

He explains: "It hurts to record losers, so try not to back them. I recommend recording not only the name of the horse, the finishing position, and your stake, and the profit or loss on the race, but also your assessment of its minimum value price next to the price taken.

"This will give you an at-a-glance guide to the quality of your bets, but also will help you to assess the accuracy of your price assessments."

George Kaywood quite rightly suggests that a punter will identify basic faults in his selection approach simply by keeping accurate records. Now I've found out this myself. Years ago, when I started to realise I was not helping myself by failing to record my bets, I became an assiduous record compiler.

I soon discovered that I should never bet on midweek 2yo and 3yo races! They were my greatest disaster area. Don't ask me why, but they were. By eliminating them from my betting profile I was able to turn losses into a profit, and have done so almost every year since then.

Kaywood has this to say: "One of the main reasons well-meaning players quit keeping records after they start is truly traumatic - the process forces you to start thinking about the nature of your bets.

"All of a sudden, you start thinking, is this a serious bet or an action bet? The mind starts fighting itself: Hey, dummy, if it's not a serious bet, why are you making it?

"And: Is this a bet structured to make money, or am I building a wager that will break even if my handicapping doesn't go down the way I planned?

"These may read like simple issues, but facing them in action with the many pressures you face during a trip to the track or the TAB will often blow them up to be stressful, demanding situations.

"If you've never considered it this way before, you're probably starting to see why keeping your own records can be the worst part of handicapping. And yet they're the best!

"The best, because they are your best strength. Over time, they will show you where you are weakest and where you are strongest. They will help you to understand which aspects of handicapping you grasp well and which are in need of work or rethinking.

"Best of all, your own records will reveal exactly where you are making money and where you are losing money. You may be amazed to find that your strongest area is in exactas rather than straight win bets, which indicates that you should be putting more money into the exotics than into straight bets.

"Sounds obvious but until it's down in black and white, you can't really be sure.

"What do I do? I take a large yellow pad and write down each bet in detail (most of my action is done at the local simulcast facility, so many people bring in notes, notebooks, pads, etc. I like to come equipped with extra pages of paper for notes rather than copy them in the edges of the formguide or whatever printout I may bring with me)."

This first part of my series has not quite been on the 'maths' of betting itself, but more on the housekeeping aspect of the task. But I did want to get across the importance of maintaining your records.

George Kaywood and Mark Coton have expressed it very well. They realise that your money management, and thus your likelihood of a profitable future, relies on getting the basics right, and of using the 'past' to weed out your problem areas, or to improve them.

Says Coton: "If over the course of a season you backed 60 horses that you identified as true 2/1 shots, around 20 of these horses should have won. if less than, say, 15 obliged and you cannot call upon a host of genuine hard luck stories to excuse the failures, then your assessment of their chances will have been too optimistic.

"Three-to-one would have been a more accurate marker. Naturally, possessed of this information, your bets would have been radically different and far less costly.

"Recording bets allows for all manner of similar revelations into your betting and there is no excuse at all for not adopting the process." Next month, in the second part of this series, I'm going to take you through all the various aspects relating to bookmakers and the percentage market. There are some fascinating sidelights to this whole area of betting, especially in regard to overlays and underlays.

PPM editor Brian Blackwell has been enjoying terrific success with his ImpactPro 2001 overlays assessments in the PPD Club on the Internet. I'll be talking to Brian about his approach and will include some of his thoughts as this series progresses.

Click here to read Part 2.

By Richard Hartley Jnr