How Often Do Backed-In Horses Actually Go On to Win?

Jockey and HorseCall it the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, call it ‘following the money’, call it what you will.

There are plenty who believe that the secret to long-term betting success is to beat the closing line, which essentially means backing a horse/tennis player/football team at longer odds than they eventually start their race/match at.

The logic is that the closing price is the sharpest representation of a selection’s odds, because the market has more pertinent information at their disposal than at any other point.

So, if you are backing horses at prices greater than they close at, you are taking ‘value’ bets.

But those that eschew such concepts, and who are rather more nuts-and-bolts about their punting, will ask one question – does securing value odds actually increase your chances of making profit when betting?

Steaming Ahead

One of the most basic ways to track how well closing value is translated into cold, hard profit is to seek out a list of the day’s steamers, and then track how they perform out on the racecourse.

So that’s what I’ve done for today, May 19, 2022, and a varied card that incorporates action at Sandown, Market Rasen, Wolverhampton and Lingfield. The table below shows the horse’s name, their early odds, their closing price and where they went on to finish in the race.

Horse Early Odds Closing Price % Move Position
Clear the Runway 1.44 1.15 65.90% 1st
The Resdev Way 15 6 64.29% 5th
Giewont 8 3.3 54.30% 1st
Ask Paddington 5.5 3.25 50.00% 1st
Valsad 1.53 1.33 37.70% 1st
Doors Breaker 5.5 3.75 38.90% 9th
Goleirihem 2.63 2.2 32.50% 2nd

A sample size of seven is wretchedly small to be drawing any meaningful conclusions from, and the results on this particular day aren’t all that instructive. Clear the Runway and Valsad *should* have won anyway, given how well fancied they were, and in the end the ‘steam’ they enjoyed only served to underline the point. You won’t get rich backing 1.15 chances, anyway.

The price move, and subsequent victory, of Giewont at Wolverhampton was interesting. A shift of 54% in odds on race day is no small matter, and at a starting price of 3.30 you suspect that plenty will have been rewarded nicely for their investment – as they were by Ask Paddington at Market Rasen too.

But for every success story of following the money, there’s plenty more that don’t go the way of the punting community. In backing these seven steamers blindly as win only options, you’d have lost your stake on three of them – and meagre returns on Clear the Runway and Valsad hardly swell the coffers either.

Incidentally, I also backed the biggest drifters on the day. Here’s the results:

  • Boreen Boy (3.50 -> 6.00) – 2nd
  • Major Snugfit (6.00 -> 12.00) – 3rd
  • Rozalia (4.00 -> 6.50) – 1st
  • Diligent (4.00 -> 8.00) – 4th

So the market missed out on a winner in Rozalia, and a decent each way return on Major Snugfit.

Like I say, I won’t be drawing any conclusions based on one day of punting – the results are, however, an interesting mixed bag.

Following the Herd

The reason this subject piqued my interest in particular this week is the story of a big gamble at Kempton.

A horse called I Doubt That was backed in from 33/1 to 11/4, and when you look at those sheer numbers he looks a dead cert – true to form, the James Fox fancy won his first outing in seven attempts, with bet365’s Pat Cooney describing the wagering activity as ‘surprising’.

It reminded me of an old tale involving a horse called D Four Dave, who was sent out in a Kilbeggan handicap hurdle renewal having been backed in from 14/1 to 5/1.

The reason for the price shift? Seemingly one individual, the horse’s owner Douglas Taylor, who paid 200 people €30 apiece to place bets on for him at regimented times and places.

You can probably guess the rest – D Four Dave won, Taylor was paid and the logic of following the money in this case proved fruitful….even if it was only one man moving the market.

The takeaway point of this article is that there is no takeaway point – you will do well to find a consensus anywhere that says that backing steamers and following the money is a) profitable or b) otherwise.

Perhaps the smartest thing to do is examine why a steamer is attracting so much interest….sometimes, these big moves are almost impossible to decipher.