Backing Favourites: The Way to Profit?

Backing Favourites to Win

Updated 4/11/21

For regular readers of these articles, you will know that I enjoy looking at horse racing betting systems. However, I haven’t until now looked at how backing favourites can make your betting more profitable.

In this brief article, I will attempt to show how you can have some fun and even more importantly profit from backing favourites in UK horse racing.

Now many punters, myself included, like the idea of taking a punt on a big priced outsider in a race. You feel great when it comes off. All that study of the race and your one of the few who's managed to pick that big priced winner that no one else has. Therefore, being more adventurous, by backing the outsider, can pay off extremely well. But it doesn’t happen often enough.

Now when it comes to backing favourites, plenty of punters avoid them. You will no doubt have heard or read people say that the tipster or punter, “they only back or tip favourites”. It’s usually said or written with a fair level of scorn too.

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However, it shouldn’t be like that because backing the right favourites really is the way to long term profits.

The Favourite-Longshot Bias Rears Its Head

In betting and financial markets, you will often come across something called the “favourite-longshot bias”. Putting it simply bettors overvalue the “longshots” and undervalue favourites or in other words, favourites are under bet whilst longshots are overmbet.

Plenty of empirical studies have shown this to be correct since the term first came into use in the late 1940s. If you want to read a good academic article on the “favourite-longshot bias”, then I highly recommend: “Why is There A Favourite-Longshot Bias in British Racetrack Betting Markets” by Leighton Vaughan Williams and David Paton, for the Economic Journal (Jan 1997). Now it’s over 20-years-old but its relevance remains and it’s an excellent nine-page introduction to the phenomenon.

To see if the favourite-longshot bias was still happening I took a look at the stats for the 2021 Flat season, as I thought the picture painted on winning ‘longshots’ isn’t a good one.

I took runners going off at 20/1 & bigger as outsiders. Such qualifiers produced the following set of results:

244 winners from 14718 runners and – £6,071 to £1 level stakes 

A 1.64% strike rate with 8% placing and the Return on Investment was – 41%

I further looked at how runners sent off at odds between 4/1 & 9/1 fared. They produced the following figures:

1644 winners 13654 runners – 12% Strike Rate and – £2369 to £1 level stakes

The loss on such runners was still high at -16.38% ROI

Meanwhile looking at the stats for favourites (clear, co & joint) for the 2021 flat season.

1686 winners from 5377 for a 31% Strike Rate and – £422

Granted you would still have lost backing all favourites during the season just gone but the loss would be a more manageable -7.85%.

So, the proportion of races won by the favourite is running at a healthy 33%.

Taking this a bit further. Odds-on favourites won around 58% of their races losing 6.73%.

Seeing those results, looking on with disdain at favourite backers doesn’t really make sense.

Backing the Right Favourites

The key, of course, if you want to back favourites for a living or for profit is to find the right favourites to back. People who back favourites tend to assume that each favourite has the best chance in the race.

This assumption is wrong!

As the above figures show just one third of favourites win their races which still means two-thirds of favourites don’t so they must be “False Favourites”.

Most professional punters will tell you that about 40% of favourites are false and I haven’t seen anything that disputes that figure. So, 60% of favourites are going off at shorter odds then they should.

Even if you get 30 winners from 100 bets, you would need to be getting average odds of 11/8 on each winning favourite to just break even. This is no easy task I can assure you.

Now if we accept that 40% of favourites are false favourites and you could find them before the race you would be looking at striking 30 winners from 60 bets which would be a 50% winning strike rate.

Now I can hear you say that’s all well and good but how do you eliminate those 40 false favourites?

It’s not my intention to go into any detail how you do that in this article.

But here are a few filters you can use:

  • Jockeys – Avoid favourites not ridden by a top jockey.
  • Course – Avoid favourites that have yet to prove they handle the track they are racing on.
  • Trainers – Avoid trainers with low winning strike rates at the track.
  • Going – Avoid favourites that haven’t proven they handle the prevailing going.
  • Draw – Avoid favourites that haven’t got a good draw which is very important at some tracks.

These are just a few examples that you can use to help eliminate those 60% of false favourites and be backing strong favourites. Which will help in increasing your percentage of winners.

The savvy favourite backer, whose an investor not a gambler, by the way, won’t bet on all races but they will limit their investments to only those favourites with a strong chance.

Backing favourites successfully boils down to being selective and finding discrepancies between your opinion and projected odds and the price offered by the bookies.

Never dismiss a favourite that’s odds on. Indeed, they can be some of the best value bets you ever place.

For example: If a punter puts on £1000 on a 1/2 favourite, if it wins, he’s pocketed a cool £500 profit. Another punter puts £10 on the same horse, he gets a return of £5. To the former punter, it’s a good bet to the latter the small profit doesn’t seem worth the risk.

But of course, it remains a value bet.

Betting is a long-term game with the aim of winning money over the long-term. I have a few micro-systems that involve backing favourites. The profits are small but over 12 months ROI is still better than I would get from any bank savings account.

I can’t give you the exact details of the betting systems I use, due to the fact that as soon as details of a successful betting system are shared, any profitability is soon reduced significantly and can be wiped out completely.

But I can give you some pointers to help you create your own winning horse racing favourites system.

The Right Sort of Races

For the purpose of this exercise I shall be using the Racing Post website.

At the time of writing this, it’s day one of Cheltenham’s two-day International Meeting. Going to the Racing Post website. I click through to the Cheltenham course stats and click on the favourites tab.

The page will look like this:

What I am looking for are races where favourites have a good win strike rate, I look for 40% and above.

The higher, of course, the better.

It’s great if the favourite in these types of race makes a level stakes profit over the five years but it’s not essential if the levels stakes loss is small.

Looking at those Cheltenham course stats. We can forget about the favourites in the handicap races. Low win strike-rates and big losses!

Non-handicap hurdles are the most interesting the win strike rate is 45% with a small level stakes profit +7.73.

Now let’s turn to Doncaster, doing the same as I did for Cheltenham opens up the following page.

The first thing that jumps off the page is the strength of the favourites at the track, excluding NHF races. Indeed, compare the record of handicap hurdle favourites at Doncaster to Cheltenham!

Favourites in jumps handicaps at Doncaster are doing rather well. Yet for some reason they are being under bet by the betting public.

You can go through each track to see which races offer the best potential for backing favourites and putting the odds in your favour,

Using my qualifying criteria, favourites in non-handicap hurdle races at Cheltenham and at Doncaster favourites in non-handicap chases and handicap hurdle would qualify.

The Doncaster non-handicap hurdles have the requisite high win-strike rate at 47% but the level stakes loss is big and such favourites are going off at lower odds than they should be.

Now, this isn’t the end of the process, you need to add this knowledge to the systems pointers we outlined above and you will start to know when to back the favourite in horse races and be on the way to creating your own profitable horse racing betting system.

You still need to have the right staking plan and look at the individual race in more detail. But hopefully what I have outlined gives you a bit of a flavour of how you can have some fun and make money betting on favourites.

Always remember to be selective and look for the right races to bet in.

That’s what the professionals do!

Until next time.

John Burke

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