The one thing a professional punter knows when he arrives at the racetrack is that prices he will be offered by the bookmakers will not be framed to be fair and correct.

In fact, the pro knows that bookmaking is a game of high con. Yet many people who go to the races are under the mistaken impression that when a bookie reveals his market the quotes are fair and represent a true indication of each horse's chance. No way!

Inside the pro's head is a thinking machine that has already done its work in deciding what price each horse should be-and he knows that to win he must play a game of counter-con with the bookies, because the bookies are trying to sell their prices to their best possible advantage. No one is compelled to accept the prices.

The seasoned pro will know that he would be foolhardy in the extreme to accept odds that are below what he has assessed as being the right price. So really in regard to prices we have the first rule of professional betting and that is never to accept a poor price.

One professional I know has operated for many, many years with a progression staking plan, which he has utilised to take advantage of his fine racing brain. This particular man is a genius when it comes to sifting through form and he strikes time and again on both city and provincial tracks in N.S.W.

He told me a long time ago that his secret was to avoid long losing runs. In fact, he says, inside his head he has a 'repeat' mechanism which warns him again and again to never let himself get 'cold' enough to back too many losers.

Once he has struck three or four losers-a rare occurrence-he eases up for a while, regroups himself, and then enters the fray again, often playing for the place only until his total confidence has returned.

The staking plan used by my pal-I'R call him Fred, because he likes his anonymity-is a simple one but it is so effective that even a moderately priced winner (9/4) at any stage will recoup all previous losses.

Of course, the plan depends on Fred's selections being able to make a profit at level stakes, which they do. As we have warned in P.P.M. before, no staking plan can succeed if the selections cannot produce a level stakes profit.

The progression Fred uses is as follows:

2-2-2-3-4-5-8-12-17-24 and 36.

To cover a run of 10 successive losses, this progression calls for a bank of 115 units but a winner at 9/4 at any stage will recoup all previous losses, while a winner at 5/2 or longer will produce a profit. If a winner is backed at lower than 9/4, the stake is repeated. Whenever a profit is shown, Fred goes back to the start of the progression.

Example: Your 5th bet is four units, so to this point you have outlaid 17 units. If the horse won at 5/4 you would win five units and your next bet would be a repeat bet of four units. If that bet then won at 9/4 you would be showing a slender profit, so you would revert to the start of the progression again with a two-unit bet.

In using a staking method like this, Fred advises that even with the best of selections you should play safe and employ two 'banks' of the same amount-that means two banks, each of 115 units. One 'bank' is used and the second is held in reserve, hopefully never to be used(!). But as Fred says, punters who lack professional skill and cool, may well run into a horror patch and be forced into dipping into the reserve money.

Fred says he's always been happy to 'poddle along' with the staking plan, because he felt safe with it, and knew he could never get into deep trouble because of its ability to pull him back with just a 9/4 winner, something he is always confident of striking regularly.

He gave me the details of a few of his more recent series of bets. They were as follows (one unit equals $50):

Bet 1: Bet 2, Loss 2.
Bet 2: Bet 2, Loss 2.
Bet 3: Bet 2, Loss 2.
Bet 4: Bet 3, WON 4/1. Return 15 units. Series ends with six-unit ($300) profit.

Bet 1: Bet 2, Loss 2.
Bet 2: Bet 2, WON 6/4. Return five units. Series ends with one-unit ($50) profit.

Bet 1: Bet 2, Loss 2.
Bet 2: Bet 2, Loss 2.
Bet 3: Bet 2, Loss 2.
Bet 4: Bet 3, Loss 3.
Bet 5: Bet 4, Loss 4.
Bet 6: Bet 5, WON evens. Return 10 units.
Bet 7: Bet 5, Loss 5.
Bet 8: Bet 8, WON 2/1. Return 24 units. Series ends with three units ($150) profit.

Total profit, then, from the three series was $500, from a total of four winners from 14 bets, and a total outlay of $2,200.

Fred tells me that sometimes he will divide his bet into two or three-betting two or three horses in a race but still using the stake called for by the system. For instance, he could have an eight-unit bet and play two units Horse A, two units Horse B and four units on Horse C. You do not have to restrict yourself to just one horse.

Says Fred: "The mind of a professional punter is always looking for risk aversion. That's the key to it all. Try to avoid risk. Never take risks. Don't gamble. Invest. Keep your betting to within manageable proportions and use sensible selections and you can't go wrong.

"It's all a matter of temperament, of knowing when to bet and when not to bet, and how to bet, and on which races to bet. Once you can discipline yourself, you'll be a winner."

By Statsman