As horse racing is notoriously difficult to predict, an increasing number of punters are looking to make a profit by laying favourites. In simple terms, you are betting against the favourite and if any other horse in the race wins, you also win. In theory, this seems like an excellent idea. From data I collected from all races from 2012-2016, the favourite has won just 35.06% of the time from over 51,000 races.
Those who blindly backed the favourites over this timeframe would be on a 3662 unit loss and most likely remortgaging their house or asking for change from strangers on the street! As a consequence, you would assume that laying the favourite on Betfair would yield huge profits. After all, you would win almost 65% of the time. WRONG! Blindly laying favourites over this period would see you with a loss of 1556 units and competing with the favourite backer for spare change.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid laying favourites altogether of course. Below, I will investigate the possibility of making profit in this manner by analysing various race types, classes and distances. Hopefully, this information will help you draw your own conclusions.
For the purposes of the article I am focusing on favourites only, NOT joint or co-favourites. Additionally, I will be talking about pre-race betting only, not in-play.
Here is the performance of all favourites from 2012-2016 at All-Weather, Flat and National Hunt Races:
|Race Code||Bets||Wins||Strike Rate||Lay P/L Units (Betfair)|
Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t do a great deal for us although we see that laying favourites blindly on AW tracks leads to the worst outcome. Let’s see if race distance does anything for us.
|Race Code||Distance||Bets||Wins||Strike Rate||Lay P/L|
|NH||Up to 2m||5075||2040||40.2%||-137.42|
I’m sure some of you will see the above distances as arbitrary but I have to start somewhere! Anyway, we can see that laying the favourite blindly still leads to losses but in 4 of the classifications, the loss is less than 100 units. This suggests a little more digging could yield gold.
|Code||Distance||Class||Bets||Wins||Strike Rate||Lay P/L|
|NH||3m ½ f+||1||138||28||20.29%||+42.16|
As you can see, there is profit to be had by simply laying favourites according to Class, code and distance. Admittedly, there’s nothing earth shattering here (although laying NH favourites on this chart led to a 7% ROI), but the fairly awful strike rate of favourites using these criteria is quite encouraging. Check out the abysmal 20% win rate of favourites in Class 1 National Hunt races over 3m ½ f!
The trouble is, sensible betting practice states that you should never lay favourites at long odds. The low strike rate of the aforementioned NH favourites is that these are typically festival races where favourites can go off at SPs of 8/1 or more! If you try and lay a favourite at 8/1 and it wins, you are in serious trouble! In fairness, that would be a pretty awful bet in any case!
As a result, it would be a good idea to focus on laying favourites at specific odds; most pertinently, short odds favourites.
Can I Win By Laying Short Odds Favourites?
I decided to check the performance of favourites at various odds for all races from 2012-2016 (odds in decimals):
|SP||Bets||Wins||Strike Rate||Lay P/L|
You probably already knew this but the table shows it’s clearly a fool’s errand to lay favourites at high prices. Interestingly, laying favourites at odds of between 1.25 and 1.50 seems to be a reasonable strategy with a small profit. Let’s see if we can improve matters by looking at the race Class stats pertaining to favourites with SPs of 1.25-1.50.
|Class||Bets||Wins||Strike Rate||Lay P/L|
Things do indeed look a whole lot better. Although Class 2 and 3 races are very lucrative (37% and 11% ROI respectively), there are relatively few of them. Class 5 races on the other hand offer a reasonable 12.68 unit profit.
There are all manner of different elements you can look at when it comes to laying favourites. For instance, I found that it was possible to lay favourites for Class 2 and 3 Flat races over 5f and 6f. Regardless of whether you back or lay favourites, doing so blindly is a guarantee of long-term losses.
It’s also clear that you’re only likely to find profit when laying odds-on favourites. While the bookies have the market well covered, there will always be ‘false’ favourites and this is where punters can really cash in. While laying long odds favourites seems like a strategy that could yield dividends, your liability is far too high and you’ll need to maintain a fantastic strike rate over the long term.
While you’re not likely to ever get rich from laying favourites, you can receive a steady return if you do your homework and focus on Classes, distances, odds and events that are most likely to see a favourite getting beaten.