The Melbourne International Comedy Festival takes centre stage at this time of the year and is one of the largest in the world, but still I was surprised to see a well-known monthly punting magazine get swept up by it all and try their hand at humour. At least I hope they were joking when two of their ‘experts’ talked about betting and staking. The discussion of JH and MD is included below with the additional comments (3rd) had a third person been lucky enough to be in the company of two such learned fellows. JH: I want to look at staking this time around, and of ways that punters can maximise their returns. 3rd: OK that’s a nice starting point. Let’s see what we can all learn. MD: It’s something close to my betting heart! More and more, as time goes by, I find myself dismissing well-fancied horses out of hand, and instead going for horses at bigger prices. But in my heart of hearts, I know that somehow the key to successful betting is to find a mixture of favourites and non-favourites. 3rd: Yeah well horses are normally well-fancied for a reason so dismissing them out of hand is dumb. Try digging deeper into the form to see what you have missed. The key to successful betting isn’t simply a mix of favourites and non-favourites, it is consistently backing horses at odds that are greater than their true chance of winning. That can be at any price range but looking closely at horses that are in the market is a great place to start. JH: Yes, we know that favourites win about one third of all races. But there is no real pattern to it. They win none on one day and several the next – or go for two or three meetings winless, then gradually claw their way back to about 30 to 35%. 3rd: Oh yes, wouldn’t it be just lovely if there was a perfect distribution and every third race the favourite got up? I’d be all for 9 race cards that’s for sure. Then we just need to get the casinos to alternate red and black on the roulette wheel and we will be rolling in it! JH: And second favourites win about half that number, so between them they win about half the races run. But which half? 3rd: Great question. Apparently if you go somewhere near the form every now and then you can learn a lot. MD: Yes, and backing the favourite and second favourite in every race means we will be looking at a loss of 15 to 20% every year. Not good. 3rd: Well it is possible to lose 15-20% but only if you are both dumb and lazy. You’d have to be betting exclusively on one tote and level staking to lose at anything close to that rate. Whereas if you stake proportionately and bet either best tote or shop around for the best fixed odds you will halve that loss on turnover. JH: My own thought is that we should perhaps take the key from the handicapper. We want to get the ORDER right, so we look at handicaps and the top 2 in the market and that means the only runners to consider are numbers 1 and 2. Then we apply a couple of easy rules to obtain our selection. 3rd: Wow why didn’t I think of that first? So numbers 1 and 2 with the handicapper and 1 and 2 in the market and we’re on our winning way! I’ll just ignore races where #3 has the same weight as #2. And I don’t care what the limit weight is, or apprentice allowances, or how many starts a horse has had, or anything else really. We’ll just keep it stupidly simple. JH: Yes, and if only one of them is then that is your automatic selection. However, I like to take things a bit further than that. We move to the prices available. If one of the pair is 3/1 or more it is the selection. If both are 3/1 or more the favourite is the selection. If they are equal in price then no selection. 3rd: Wow you really have thought of everything. MD: You are truly looking for value with this approach, and you are of course restricting your bets to handicap races only because that’s where the handicapper comes into play. 3rd: This is fair dinkum gold. JH: You are clearly dealing with the 2 best horses in most races, according to the handicapper and also according to the price assessors. This is a plan that will perform week in and week out. Not a huge number of bets but certainly enough to have a lot of fun. 3rd: Great. So we just rely on the rigid techniques that handicappers use to assess horses on their exposed form. We don’t even have to worry about lower weighted horses on the up. And we will ignore the fact that 1st and 2nd favourites that are TAB numbers 1 and 2 actually perform slightly worse than numbers 3+. MD: What about staking that requires changes in bet size? People always say you should only bet level stakes but I like to move beyond that, for excitement sake alone. 3rd: Yeah I can’t stop reading about all those mega-successful punters who level stake regardless of odds or expectation. And you’re not wrong about excitement – who cares about long-term success so long as you got your blood pumping along the way? JH: I don’t think there’s much wrong in graded staking for the average punter, as long as he keeps a lid on things and doesn’t keep going when losing runs strike. 3rd: OK so we will ignore the fact that these are independent events and instead we will chase our losses with a bank that can’t cope with a losing run. What could possibly go wrong? MD: One of my favourites is to restrict yourself to favourites at around 2/1. To make a 3 or 4 unit profit with a 2/1 winner is the idea, so the bets would go: 2-3-5-7-10-16-24. You can have 6 losers before a winner – yes, it is risky but it can be enjoyable. You are dealing with well-fancied runners and you probably won’t get 6 bets in an afternoon. 3rd: OK so my 7th bet will only be 12 times the size of my first? And I’ll only be down 43 units when I get to place it, how good’s that? This is too easy! The poor corporates are going to have to tell head office in the UK how a couple of Aussies took them to the cleaners. Thanks guys and I can’t wait to see what you come up with for next year’s festival.