The other week I ran into a chap I hadn't seen for some 10 years. I knew him as a fearless type of punter given to gambling any winnings on an all up basis. Sometimes he carried off large stashes of cash but mostly he blew the lot. The last time I saw him he told me he was heading off to Hong Kong to try his luck on the racing scene there.

He's now been back in Australia for a couple of years and says he's a reformed man in that he never gambles huge amounts on the all up any more. No, this time around he's a committed exotics player, an area where he says he made money in HK. His favourite ploy is to go after the First 4 bet with a large combinations attack.

"Bet enough and you'll land the First 4 regularly," he says. "I learned this in Hong Kong; when you are chasing big bucks you don't win them with small bucks."

I have to agree with my friend on this point. The trifecta and First 4s must be chased with courage, vigour and plenty of money. Trying to catch them consistently with a small number of combinations is something of a mission impossible.

My friend says he usually goes to around \$500 to \$600 on the First 4. This, he says, enables him to have four horses running for him to win the race. "Get the winner and with this bet you've more or less got most First 4s tied up' he says. (Well, he never was short of confidence.)

Let's look, then, at some of the creative linkups that you can take around the \$500 mark on the First 4.

4-5-5-14 costing \$528. What does the bet actually mean? Well, you have four horses going for you to win the race.

You have this four plus another one in for 2nd and 3rd. Then you have all five plus nine others going for 4th. Here's the lineup:

ABCD-ABCDE-ABCDEABCDEFGHIJKLMN.

To multiply and confirm the \$528 (\$1 units) you would go as follows: 4x4x3xll equalling 528 combinations. Simple isn't it? You can understand why my pal says he feels confident of a cleanup with a bet like this. Ask yourself: Can I pick the winner in four choices? The answer should be YES if you are going for a bet of this proportion.

Secondly, can I land the quinella with those 4 runners plus another one. This, in reality, gives you four chances of snaring the 2nd horse (you've already lost one because it's won the race). Thirdly, you ask yourself if you're confident of these horses getting 3rd as well.

Once you are satisfied, you add the other nine horses for 4th. The final question is: Am I satisfied I can get the 4th horse with the remaining two of the original five plus another nine runners (11 chances in all)? If all is OK, you plunge in and bet the \$528. To emerge a winner, you will need to select the right horses and the right races. You will need to be consistent and you'll need to land some BIG divvies in the course of a year. They are available, of course, it's a matter of hitting them.

Now I know that the average punter does not have \$528 to throw around but you can use the "flexibet" approach. Put on as much as you like, or as little as you like, and get a percentage share of the dividend.

For example, you might want to bet \$52 instead of \$528. This would give you a 9.85 per cent share of any dividend. Thus, if the First 4 paid, say, \$3,000 your share would be \$295.50. Sounds good, but you have outlaid \$52 to get it.

Let's go down the scale somewhat and into what usually makes up "reality" for the average punter. Let's say that you and a mate get together and throw in around \$50 each to bet on a First 4, and you want to have at least three chances to take out first place. What about this combination: 3-3-4-11 costing \$96 (\$1 units). I am assuming here you are going to operate on a biggish field.

What this bet really means is this:

ABC-ABC-ABCD-ABCDEFGHIJK.

In simple term, you have three horses running for you and they must fill 1st and 2nd to keep you alive. For 3rd you have those three (well, one of them because two of them have run Ist and 2nd), as well as another runner (D). For 4th, you have the remaining runner from the original foursome plus seven others.

Assuming you can get the quinella up, you have a decent show of landing the money, although you do have only two runners going for 3rd place.

You can see from these two examples how tougher it gets to land the First 4 the less you spend on the bet. You could, of course, take a small bet strategy which will not come up often but MAY come up with a huge dividend should you strike the First 4 with a decent priced winner and 2nd placer. For \$21 you can take a banker to win, another banker for 2nd, three runners for 3rd, and those three plus another five for 4th. This is a combination as follows:

A-B-CDE-CDEFGHIJ costing \$21.

You can see that your banker must WIN, your second banker must get 2ND, and that will leave you with three other runners to fill 3rd, and then two of those plus another five for the 4th place. Not a bad bet, but your selecting will need to be spot on to get the exacta in two picks (1st/ 2nd right order).

More in PPM later in the year.

By Mark Merrick

PRACTICAL PUNTING – FEBRUARY 2006