The Bookies’ Jolly: Can You Bet On the Favourite Blindly and Make Long-Term Profit?

Horse RaceAt the time of writing this article (July 30, 2020) we are in the midst of the Glorious Goodwood festival, one of the most beloved meetings in UK flat racing.

While the coronavirus pandemic has largely prevented punters from attending – around 4,000 members will be let in on the Saturday as part of the government’s trial for getting spectators back into sporting events, the action out on the track has remained ultra-competitive and thrilling to watch.

It’s interesting because it takes us back to an intriguing fact learned from the excellent FlatStats portal, which is a website in which you can manipulate all manner of data points to learn more about the sport. According to the site, Goodwood is the best racecourse in the UK for simply backing the favourite to win blindly!

Following the Money

In their data, which spans from July 2010 to today, if you had bet on the favourite at Goodwood without doing any kind of research whatsoever you would have made a Return on Investment of 3.5% – good luck finding a bank that will offer you that on your savings (not that I’m suggesting you plough all of your hard-earned money into betting, of course).

Flat Stats Betting on the Favourite

In pure monetary terms, to a level £1 stake you would have yielded a net profit of £43.94. If you had wagered more, well, you get the idea.

Brilliant, you might be thinking, I’m just out to the bookies to bet on all of the favourites and I’ll return later with a suitcase to collect all of my winnings. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that.

FlatStats has 40 UK racecourses listed, and of those you would only turn a profit betting on the favourite blindly at five of them – Goodwood, Windsor, Redcar, Ripon and Sandown.

Indeed, look at courses like York and Ayr, where in a study of more than 300 races the favourite won on 27.7% and 28% of occasions respectively. Your ROI here? At Ayr you’d be down £166.88 on your £1 level stakes.

Does the nature of the track makes a difference? Again, according to the site, here’s how the favourites faired on three general types of track:

  • Flat – Win (32%), £1 Win SP (-£1037.46)
  • Undulating – Win (33%), £1 Win SP (-£608.39)
  • Uphill – Win (32.6%), £1 Win SP (-£610.09)

Generally speaking the favourite wins in roughly 32% of races no matter what the track type, but when you factor in their short prices they generally do not make for a secure investment – those five tracks named above aside.

A Question of Class

There are some other obvious factors that determine the success of betting on a favourite without any prior research.

Races are categorised in different classes, with Class 1 featuring the very best horses and then relative quality diminishing numerically down to Class 5.

The stats suggest that you are more likely to get a favourite winning at polar ends of the spectrum. At Goodwood, Class 1 favourites have a win percentage of 44.68%, while in Class 5 that is essentially the same at 44.26%. Classes 2, 3 and 4 have an average win ratio of around 32%, and these do not return a profit when blindly backing the Fav.

When the Going Gets Tough

Even a layman would draw the conclusion that the ‘better’ horse in a race, i.e. the favourite, is more likely to prevail when the going is good or even fast.

And yet, the Goodwood data suggests otherwise.

Heavy ground has the worst win percentage of any surface for favourites, but following it in second place is good-to-firm, where a 34.88% win rate leaves you struggling to break even to SP.

Pound-for-pound, the best going for backing the favourite blindly is soft (41.07%) and good-to-soft (40%), where your £1 win stakes would yield a profit.

A Weighty Issue

If we open up the search to include jumps racing, I implore you to heed one piece of punting advice: never back an odds-on favourite blindly in a handicap race!

The stats reveal that an odds-on favourite will win a handicap on 53% of occasions, but when you consider the short prices they go off at you need a win ratio much higher than that to consistently turn a profit.

So what are the takeaway points? Clearly, backing a favourite blindly is a losing strategy – unless you’re punting on Glorious Goodwood, perhaps. If it was that easy then everybody would be doing it….just imagine betting on the sport of kings for a full time living!