Three-card Monte is an infamous game usually associated with con artists, but we can use it’s principles to make a winning horse racing betting system. The dealer typically works with a team known as ‘shills’ to use players’ overconfidence (marks) against them. Using various tricks, the con artist wins money from players who have no idea what has happened.
A similar feeling of bewilderment often accompanies the practice of backing a seemingly invincible favourite in a three-horse race, only to find that it flounders. Tree of Liberty famously finished second in a three-horse race at Ludlow in March 2018 at SP odds of 1.05. It became the shortest-priced horse to fail to win in UK racing history.
A few years ago, there was a glut of articles outlining the benefits of backing the outsider of three. The idea was to place money on the long shot in a three-horse race. At the time, it was a profitable trend. In fact, I wrote an article on it in 2017. However, is it still the case today?
The answer is ‘yes,’ kind of. Blinding backing the outsider of three can still make you money, but long losing streaks are common. However, by applying filters and common sense, you can make money from 3-Horse Monte.
3-Horse Monte Betting System Rules
- Only focus on 3-horse races. Sometimes, a four or five-horse race will have a non-runner or two, making it a qualifier. A horse that was a second or third favourite suddenly becomes hotly fancied but is also vulnerable.
- Stick with National Hunt races in the UK only.
- Focus on races between a distance of 1m 7f and 2m 7.5f only.
- Lay the favourite or back the horse that’s second or third in the betting market to win.
- Filter to include Heavy ground and/or handicap races. The downside is that you get very few selections.
The most compelling logic surrounding 3-horse race outsiders relates to the pace of the race. It is relatively rare for such races to be run at a ‘true’ pace. If there is no typical front-running horse, it can significantly reduce the pace. Check out the results when a favourite is beaten in a three-horse race and see if the time is considered ‘slow.’
National Hunt races are far more commonly associated with smaller fields than Flat or All-Weather racing. There have only been eight races with three entrants since 2016 that were NOT National Hunt events.
Favourites in these races tend to perform better the longer the distance. Perhaps the lack of pace becomes less of an issue, and stamina becomes more relevant. The win rate of the favourite increases by 6% in races of 3+ miles, though not enough to earn a profit by backing them.
You will have fewer selections but greater profitability by laying favourites on Heavy ground and in handicap races. Heavy going is often a great leveller, as is handicapping.
One of the great things about this approach, as you’ll see, is that you have two viable options. In the 2017 article, I focused only on the outsider of three. However, it is possible to earn a profit from laying the favourite, backing the second favourite, or backing the outsider.
All of the results below are from 2016 onward.
Laying the Clear Favourite
|Bets||Wins (Laying)||Strike Rate||P/L (Laying)||ROI (Laying)||A/E|
When you bear in mind that favourites in such races are rarely available at odds of over 2.25, winning almost 50% of your bets is extremely impressive.
Breaking things down, 2019 was the only poor year, and 2021 has already started very well.
If you focus on handicap races only, your win rate is over 57%, and the ROI increases to 13.3%.
On races with Heavy going, laying the favourite would win 50.63% of the time and earn an ROI of over 19%. A combination of Heavy going in a handicap race has a 63%-win rate and an ROI of over 32%. The downside is there are only 27 such races since 2016.
Backing the Clear Second Favourite
This approach has enjoyed some good years but is unreliable and the poorest of the three options I outline.
Backing the Clear Outsider of Three
This system has lost some of its lustre over the years. However, with a little filtering, you can improve it massively. Focus on horses at maximum odds of 9.00, and the ROI increases to 46%, while the strike rate becomes a surprisingly impressive 26% considering the horse’s outsider status.
Historically, backing outsiders at longer odds than this has been profitable. However, the strike rate since 2016 is just 5.29%. There hasn’t been an outsider of three winner at SP odds of 9.50 or higher since August 2019. Indeed, 19 of the last 20 runners have finished last.
Final Thoughts on 3-Horse Monte
I’ve always found it a fun endeavour to lay the favourite in a three-horse race suspecting that it is the value play. It is nice to find confirmation that it pays financial dividends. This is also the case when backing the outsider of three, though it is best to back such horses at SP odds no longer than 9.00. You can profit from second-favourites too, but it is an unpredictable affair.
You are better off laying a clear favourite than hope the so-called next best horse can win. At least that way, you profit if the outsider pulls off what is probably less of a shock than you think! Is this something you already do with three-horse races? Let us know in the comments section.