Target betting is a subject that rears its head from time to time, especially nowadays on the Internet racing forums. It has its true believers.

Some time back, we published several target betting ideas. Personally, I like target betting. I see nothing wrong with it. You can inject a lot of life into your betting via these staking approaches.

The one I've used for a long time is the Rice Bowl plan which was featured years ago in Equestrian's best-seller book Dollars & Sense. It's easy to operate, it's safe, and it can give you an edge over level stakes.

But before I get into the Rice Bowl staking method in this series, I want to talk about the problem in selecting the right bets for such a staking approach.

I believe you need to zero in on SOUND form principles. That's easy to say and harder to apply. But there are ways to save yourself the agony of decision-making between various chances in a race, and one of the best is the Strong Six formula.

It finds a high percentage of win and place collects. You do need to have the time available to assign "markings" to each runner, but don't worry too much about that because you'll soon be able to swing into a race and work it all out in a matter of minutes.

As you probably know, records show that more than 80 per cent of all winners come from those horses which are in the top six in the tipsters' poll, the pre-post market or the final course market. The punter who looks for a solid place bet will, if his judgement is sound, find more than 80 per cent dividend producers in these three groups.

The exercise for the Strong Six is simple. Find the horses, after scratchings, who are in the top six in any of those groups and then put them through the following test. You put a series of questions to each listed horse and when the answer is YES, write an "X" next to its name. The horse with the most "X" markings is the bet.

The following are the questions:

1. Was the horse's latest start within the previous 28 days (inclusive); that is, four weeks?
2. Has the horse raced within the last 15 days? (Two weeks plus one day.)
3. Is the horse suited at the distance?
4. Is the horse suited at the track where it is now racing? (Some previous winning or placed form required, though the question can be answered "yes" if you are confident a horse will have no problems handling the track even if it has not raced there before, or has failed there before.)
5. Can the horse handle the prevailing track conditions? This is especially important when the going is rated slow or heavy.
6. If the race is one where the barrier position is considered important, is the horse favourably drawn?
7. Is the horse to be ridden by a good jockey or apprentice rider?
8. Is the horse in winning form OR do you consider it has done enough at its recent starts to say that it is "in form" or "improving" enough to be rated a chance?

These, then, are the questions that must be answered by the half dozen horses you have picked out as the key prospects in the race.

You apply an "X" for an affirmative answer, and this applies to questions 1 and 2. If a horse has raced within the last 15 days, it receives an "X" for this question as well as an "X" for the first question.

If after following the rules you have two runners tied with the same number of "X" markings, you favour the one which has improved in beaten lengths at its last three starts.

Now, the Strong Six system will not pick all the winners but, if you apply the rules without b [as to races in which predictable gallopers are running, then you will get a healthy share of wins.

If you're a place bettor, then the results should be even more pleasing.

Now that you have your contenders, how do you bet them? Well, you could go the normal path and back them all at level stakes. You may find this a little tedious, which is why I am going to suggest that you CONSIDER target betting.

Please note that I said CONSIDER.

I put in this warning, because target betting is not for everyone. Stakes can rise, and you may have to pull out of a series of bets if the losers keep rolling in. When this happens, it's not the staking plan at fault but yourself!

No staking plan is capable of making a profit if the selections contain too many losers.

The Rice Bowl Plan is a good one. I'll now take you through the rules. They may seem complicated but they're not. Just read carefully and apply them conscientiously and you'll find the plan a dream to operate.

You start off at your first race and your aim is to win ONE UNIT. A unit can be any amount you like, from \$1 or \$2 to \$100, and so on). Depends on your purse!

Depending on the price of the horse you are about to back, you can place any amount on it, although never going beyond ONE UNIT at this stage of the game.

Here's an example: If your first selection is 5 / 1 you will not need to bet one unit on it to achieve your initial one unit target. You can, if you wish, bet a half unit and if your horse won at 5 / 1 you'd still win 2.5 units and thus easily achieve your one unit target.

I suggest you always kick off with a one unit bet. But after that you can cut back to smaller bets if you like, providing the prices are okay so far as achieving your target is concerned.

Let's say that the first bet was a loser. You then proceed to the second bet and your target is now a new one unit figure PLUS the one unit you wanted to win from the first losing bet PLUS the one unit you lost on the first bet.

This gives you a total of THREE UNITS to chase for the second bet. However, there is something of a safety brake in the rules. You cannot bet more than TWO UNITS to achieve that target of three units because your bet maximum is determined each time by the length of the current losing run.

For example: Your maximum stake rises by one each time you strike a loser. So if, at some time, you are on your fifth losing bet, the maximum will be a bet of five units. Your sixth bet, maximum six, and so on.

Hopefully, by using the selection process I've outlined you won't have to worry about too many long losing runs!

If your second bet is priced, say, at 4/1 and your target is three, you will still only need to bet one unit, or actually a trifle less, to achieve the target. If your horse won, you would win four units and you would then rule off that betting series, with a total of three units profit.

Let's say the second horse lost. You then proceed to bet number three, with a target this time of the old three wanted units, plus one needed for the third bet and one for the second bet that was lost. Thus, you are targeting five units. If the horse you are about to back is 5 / 2, then it would call for a bet of two units.

Let's say this third horse won. You have bet a total of four units for a return of seven, a profit of three units.

In next month's PPM, I will continue this series with a further look at the Rice Bowl method with some workouts using the recommended system bets and also using bets from a well-known media tipster. The statistics, I'm sure, will make fascinating reading.

There are many and varied views on staking and I hope to cover many of them in future articles.

Progression betting is always the subject of simmering controversy and punters will argue until they are red in the face, one way or the other, about this form of betting.

Progression betting should only be undertaken if your selections will make a decent profit at level stakes.

Your hope in using progression betting will be to improve the level stakes profit. However, there is no guarantee that progression staking will do this.

Much depends on the fall of the winners as to whether a series of progressions will end up giving you more profit than you might achieve backing every horse. I will be looking at progression betting and some new ideas on it in upcoming issues of PPM.

By Denton Jardine

PRACTICAL PUNTING - JULY 2003