THE legend of PITTSBURG PHIL – arguably the greatest punter that ever lived – lauds him for keeping his cool under pressure but claims the strain to stay so calm eventually killed him.

That being the case I’m confident, after surviving another Melbourne Cup carnival, that most of my good punting mates won’t die young. And that's despite my fears that their tendency to blow-up badly after a form reversal win or a poor ride could cause a heart attack.

In case some of those non-believers, who normally dig into their pockets and have a flutter traditionally on only the first Tuesday in November have now caught the bug, I thought it might be opportune to offer some advice on how to win, lose and behave on the punt.

History shows that some of the biggest punters who lost without a grimace and won without a smile had their lives cut short while others, who blew up when they lost and celebrated when they won, lived long and healthy lives.

Some doctors even encourage punters to let off steam and show their emotions, warning that most nervous systems can be shattered by too much intense stress and strain.

Those close to Pittsburg Phil claimed that his nervous system wound up shattered. Such was the case with another famous punter of that early era in America – Michael F Dwyer. Both these men won and lost thousands without any outward signs of excitement or dismay.

Pittsburg Phil eventually collapsed under the strain and poor health virtually forced him to quit punting while Michael F wound up a physical wreck, in a wheelchair, rendered virtually helpless in his final years.

Now the punting that most of us undertake – even those who partake on a regular basis – is never going to be in the same league as Pittsburg Phil or Michael F.

But the message is strong – don’t forget to show your emotions. Yell, scream, do that silly dance if you win. Swear, curse and throw the Best Bets at the big screen when you lose. Most of all let it out.

Which brings me to a story of Larry the Loser, an ex-copper now working as a security guard, who loves a punt and frequents my local PubTAB. Anyone who has ever met Larry has a hard luck story to tell about him.  Normally it involves an all-up that going into the final leg looked a certain but got beaten.

When the word filters through to the public bar that Larry has arrived even the regular drinkers move to the private lounge that accommodates the TAB to enjoy his punting performance. Talk about blow up when he loses, Larry starts even before the race has ended. Some of his sprays at bad rides by jockeys or horses he thinks didn't do their best even extend to him calling up the stewards.    

In a different way Larry reminds me of Ginger, a good mate that I grew up with who epitomizes the likeable loser but after years of unsuccessful punting reckons he has finally found a way to win. It’s hard to believe but he’s now got us all convinced.

As I have probably written before Ginger still religiously spends hours on race eve doing the form and working out the best horses to back. The difference now is that instead of backing them to WIN with the bookies or on the TAB, he backs them to LOSE with Betfair. And guess what? Amazing as it sounds he hasn't had a losing week since he decided to implement his new ‘winning’ formula two years ago. Cup week was no exception when you examine the number of hot favorites that bit the dust.

There have been some great punters over the years but by and large most of us that have followed the racing game for any amount of time tend to reluctantly admit that it is extremely difficult – if not near on impossible – to win on a consistent basis.

The odds are so stacked against the punter. Wet tracks, dry tracks; good jockeys, bad jockeys; good alleys, bad alleys; track patterns, track bias; fat horses and fit horses. You could go on forever.

The tendency of most punters is to try and get out of the hole by betting more heavily when they are losing. Pittsburgh Phil would advise the opposite. He maintained that a punter who was losing had also lost some of his wits.

“Cut your bets when in a losing streak and increase them when running in a spasm of good luck,” Phil would say. When he died in 1905 at the young age of 43, Phil left an estate of almost $2 million – an incredible sum of money in those days – so he knew what he was talking about.

He approached racing with the philosophy: “A good jockey, a good horse, a good bet. A poor jockey, a good horse, a moderate bet. A good horse, a moderate jockey, a moderate bet.”

Phil believed that to be successful at the races a punter must have opinions of his or her own and the strength to stick to them no matter what he or she heard. In other words – ignore the ‘coat-tuggers’ keen to tip you a ‘good thing.’

Pittsburg Phil was strongly of the opinion that a man could not divide his attention at the track between horses and women. He also stressed that consistently successful players of horses were those of temperate habits in life. In other words don’t get blind drunk on the punt and try chatting up the sheilas at the same time.

Well there goes the attraction of those ‘Young Members’ days if the new generation hope to ever graduate to the winner’s circle – at least when it comes to backing the four-legged variety.

Who hasn’t got that horror story to tell of a day at the races with the ‘missus’ or the ‘girlfriend?’ After you’ve just had a decent whack at one that got knocked off on the line by some out-of-form mule, up comes little lovely with: “Guess what? I just had a dollar on that winner and it paid $60.”

You know the story. She backed it because it was her favorite number, or she liked the colors, or it looked over the enclosure fence on the way to the barrier and winked at her or worse still ‘it did a poo in the saddling paddock.’

Perhaps that was the problem for Pittsburg Phil. If he had taken the little lady to the track, she might just have sent him over the edge – forced him to blow up – and he may have been around to back those elusive winners way past his 40th birthday.

In case you are interested in implementing his suggestions, here are some of Phil’s other philosophies for a successful day on the punt:

Winners repeat frequently while the defeated are apt to be defeated almost continuously.

It is not bad speculation to pick out two or three sure looking bets and parlay a small amount.

Watch all the horses racing closely. You may see something that will be of benefit later on.

Look for a defect in your own calculating rather than the cheating of others.

Over the years the racetracks of Australia have been graced by some great punters. Eric Connolly was one of the most famous back in the 30s.

The story goes that he strategically plotted to reap massive rewards from a sneaky plan to have hot favorite, Phar Lap, scratched on the eve of the Caulfield Cup. He had bet up big on the Amounis-Phar Lap Caulfield-Melbourne Cups double.

Phar Lap was duly scratched and history shows that Amounis defied his big weight and rivals to win the Caulfield Cup. Phar Lap beat an attack on his life, a tardy float ride, and a big weight to then convincingly win the 1930 Melbourne Cup – thus providing Connolly and his large syndicate of punters with a small fortune.

Perc Galea, famous for his winning forays in the 50’s and 60’s, was known as the Prince of Punters in Australian horse racing circles. One of his most memorable moments occurred at Rosehill when his colt Eskimo Prince won the 1964 Golden Slipper Stakes.

Eskimo Prince was brilliant from day one, cleaning up the early season two-year-old events with ease. He looked a future superstar. And come Golden Slipper day he proved just that with a dominant victory. The most pleased man at Rosehill was Galea, who had not only achieved a feature race win but had also been successful in orchestrating a massive plunge on the horse.

As he climbed the steps for a celebratory drink in the STC committee rooms, another immaculate suit on and with a smile stretching from ear to ear, Galea looked down when a punter asked if he was going to ‘shout.’

Galea reached into his pocket, pulled out a wad of 10 pound notes and dropped them on the crowd, which went into a frenzy, clamoring for the cash and causing racing writers to gush at his generosity. They labeled him the Prince of Punters.

Growing up in the slums of Woolloomooloo, Galea was sucked into the punting game from a young age. He was one of the most successful that Australia has ever known. And unlike most heavy rollers, who ride the road until left destitute by frazzled nerves, bad instincts and no bank, Galea left a considerable estate.

He ignored doctor’s warnings of giving up heavy gambling after his first heart attack in 1962. He bet large until his death in 1977, not surprisingly of heart problems. When his funeral was held, Galea’s popularity could be gauged by the procession which stretched over three kilometers.

In more recent decades there have been some notable figures that have made an impact on the betting rings of Australia. To mention a few, they include the lae Kerry Packer, Mick Bartley, The Legal Eagles led by Don Scott, Ray Hopkins, Eddie Hayson and Sean Bartholomew, who in recent times has been recognized as one of the best judged and most influential punters in this country.

Bartholomew has been different to most of the big bettors at times having up to several hundred bets a day. There were those who believed that a punter of that magnitude had to end up in the poor house.

But even the bravest of bookmakers soon came to respect his opinion and the way that he bet. At the height of his betting activity Bartholomew would walk along the rails ring and back a horse to win $10,000 with every bookie, yet the bulk of his punting business was done off course with the corporates. He had some massive winning days – and like the rest of us there were others when he went home poorer but wiser.

The moral of the story is of course that winners are grinners and losers can please themselves. But even if a trip to the races sees you heading home the worse for wear, don’t be afraid to express your emotions and wind up healthier and happier for the experience.



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