Focus On Favourites (Part 1) – Juveniles Flat Races on Turf
By Peter May
The race favourite occupies a unique place in the betting market. Although the shortest priced runner, it is also the horse most likely to win, and in fact only market leaders will have a success expectation of greater than 50%, in other words being more likely to win than lose. Yet, as far as betting is concerned, these runners are often ignored with many betting experts claiming that favourites simply cannot offer any value. This is, of course, incorrect and the race favourite is just a likely to offer value as any other runner, it just depends on the price. For Bettors who are only able to back horses with Bookmakers the favourite is far more likely to be offered at a value price than one of the outsiders which are always very conservatively priced by these Layers. A simple comparison of the prices available on the exchanges will confirm this and illustrate this bias. Backing all favourites blindly, though, will produce a loss, but are there any general rules that can be deduced from the data to give us the edge when considering systems based around these runners?
Two-year-old races are run from late March to early November on turf and number around 850 each year. Over the last five seasons backing the clear favourite with Bookmakers at starting price in non-handicap juvenile races on turf would have lost about 4p/£ from a total of 3291 bets. Though a loss, this figure is not as bad as it could be and shows there may be potential profit to be made from focussing on these runners. In contrast the 12,281 runners featured in these races that were priced at 20/1 or longer lost 50p/£ to the level stakes punter. The early season races are dominated by unraced horses making them more difficult to assess accurately, and whilst this is reflected in the return for the favourite, it is not particularly significant with the loss increasing to just 5p/£ for races staged in May and June. Interestingly for July and August the favourite has broken even during the last five seasons with a return to a 4p loss in the Autumn. Given this profile it is easy to assume that the ground is playing a part. The weather is warmer in July and August producing firmer going which is usually considered beneficial to punters. However the figures show that the average loss is no better or worse for firmer going, and in fact in the 440 races run on soft ground the market leader made a profit of 5p/£ at Bookmakers’ starting price which converts to 13p/£ at exchange prices.
The better performance of the favourite in high Summer may be due, in part, to the increased range of race distances available. In the early months of the season this is restricted to five and six furlongs but later in the year it is extended to seven furlongs and a mile with, additionally, a few races run over further. For all non-handicaps run over the minimum trip the loss backing the favourite is 10p/£, this reduces to a loss of just 4p/£ for six furlongs contests and actually turns into a profit of 3p/£ for races run over seven furlongs before dropping back to a loss of 6p/£ for mile races.
Field size is clearly a factor though. A 2p/£ profit for races with up to four runners gradually reduces as the field size increases to -13p/£ for races of 13 to 15 runners, and then a loss of 16p/£ for events featuring 16 to 20 horses. Therefore smaller fields are definitely preferable for favourite backers.
Though these general statistics are interesting, well they are if you like statistics, analysing the races with respect to more horse-specific data should be even more informative. Debut runners made favourite have lost just 2p/£ over the past five seasons which translates to a pre-commission profit of 9p/£ on the exchanges. This could be due to the fact that many punters would feel that lack of experience is a serious issue for these horses and as such they would not be prepared to take a very short price about them. Second and third run data show a loss at both Bookmaker and exchange prices, however for more experienced juveniles, those having at least their fourth run, the figures are better than expected with just a 1p/£ loss to Bookmakers’ prices and a profit of 8p/£ on the exchanges from around 750 bets. Finally, two-year-olds that are top-rated by the BHA Handicapper, and made favourite, have a decent record with a profit of 5p/£ from 411 bets with a win rate of 47%. This profit figure converts to
a very respectable 13p/£ at exchange prices before commission.
So far we have considered all non-handicaps as a single classification, naturally it is made up of several different race types from Sellers to Group 1 contests. Taking all Group races as a separate category, and analysing the favourites, produces one interesting statistic: Favourites which are following on from a success won 52 of 113 contests and returned a profit of 21p/£ (34p/£ at exchange prices). For maiden races the BHA top-rated runner has made a profit of 8p/£, but this is closely correlated by run number since the overwhelming majority will have previously raced at least three times. The more experienced runners (having at least their fourth race) made 7p/£ at Bookmakers’ prices (15p/£ on the exchanges); these are more interesting horses because they are qualified for handicap races but opt to remain in maiden company.
Two-Year-old handicaps, or nursery races, are staged from July onwards, and over the last five seasons have returned a loss of 6p/£ for the market leader. This is slightly higher than the equivalent figure for non-handicap races and these horses have a much lower win rate at just 30%. The analysis by going shows a similar profile to non-handicap races in that the favourite returned a profit at Bookmakers’ starting price for races run on soft going (5p/£) and a loss for the other going classifications. Course absence seems to be more important though, with runners making a quick return to the track (within seven days) and made favourite, producing a level stake profit at starting price of 12p/£, 18p/£ at exchange prices before commission. Those running after a break of between eight and fourteen days also made a profit: 3p/£ with the Bookmakers, 17p/£ on the exchanges. Finally one other interesting feature unearthed by this analysis concerns the differing profit levels depending on the runner’s previous race grade. Horses made favourite for a nursery which had contested a maiden race on their latest start made a loss of 18p/£ over the five years, whereas those which previously raced in a handicap broke even which equates to a profit of 10p/£ at exchange prices from almost 300 races.
Favourites can be overlooked because they are perceived to offer poor value, but this analysis has shown that this is not necessarily accurate and there are occasions where the most likely winner of the race is also the best bet.