Is there any value in backing “the obvious” in handicaps?

by David Renham (January 2006)

With the 2005 – 2006 all weather season in full swing, I decided it was worth trolling through some stats. As most readers will know, my preference is for handicap sprints, but I wanted to look further than just sprints and hence I began by concentrating on 3yo+ / 4yo + all age handicaps (all weather races only).

Racing experts constantly “bang on” about the key word “value”. I agree that finding good “value” is extremely important when it comes to trying to make money at this game. However, for some time I have long held the view that you must look away from “the obvious” to gain that vital edge. My personal betting rarely sees me backing favourites, or the “obvious” horses. I try to look for bigger priced animals that are not near the head of the betting market and are often dismissed by the majority. Of course the strike rate is quite low, but the winning prices over a sustained period of time tend to make up for it. For this piece of research though, I have chosen an unusual path for me, which is trying to find “the obvious” – and is there money to be made from doing so.

The data collected is from 1989 to 2005 (around 6000 races). Only all age handicaps on the all weather were considered in the main body of the research. I looked at four key areas : the market, last time out performance, weight carried and fitness (measured in days since last run). This is what I found :


THE MARKET

Backing favourites produced a winning strike rate of 24.6% and returned a loss of 11.2% on investment.
Backing second favourites produced a winning strike rate of 16.9% and returned a loss of 10.6% on investment.
Backing third favourites produced a winning strike rate of 12.4% and returned a loss of 18.2% on investment.
Backing horses 7th or worse in the market produced a winning strike rate of only 3.2% and returned a loss of 42.2% on investment.
Points to note : the top two in the betting accounted for 41.5% of the winners. The betting market, as we would have hoped, gives a very accurate guide of the chances of the runners. However, clearly there is no edge to backing them “blind”.

FINISHING POSITION LAST TIME OUT

Backing horses that finished 1st last time out produced a winning strike rate of 17.2% and returned a loss of just under 16% on investment. That seemed a fairly big loss for last time winners.
Backing horses that finished 2nd last time out produced a winning strike rate of 14.1% and returned a loss of 23.3% on investment.
Backing horses that finished 3rd last time out produced a winning strike rate of 11.3% and returned a loss of 20% on investment.
Backing horses that finished 7th or worse last time out produced a winning strike rate of 5.1% and returned a loss of 37.2% on investment.
Points to note : recent form as you expect is an important factor, but it seems that position in the market is slightly more influential.

WEIGHT CARRIED

The top three of the weights provided 39.5% of the winners. Backing all three in every race would have returned a loss of 18.4% on investment.
The bottom three of the weights provided 21% of the winners. Backing all three in every race would have returned a loss of 37.3% on investment.
Points to note : the top three in the weights are roughly twice as likely to win as the bottom three in the weights.

FITNESS

Backing horses that were returning after a break of less than 4 days produced a winning strike rate of 13% and returned a loss of 13.1% on investment.
Backing horses that were returning after a break of 4 to 15 days produced a winning strike rate of 10% and returned a loss of 27.3% on investment.
Backing horses that were returning after a break of more than 80 days produced a winning strike rate of 4.7% and returned a loss of 41.6% on investment.
Points to note : as expected the shorter the time the since a run, the better.

CONCLUSION

Clearly the four factors discussed are very important. Indeed a profit would have been made combining the best of each idea :
System –
1. All weather all age handicaps only.
2. Favourite
3. Last time winner
4. Top weight
5. Last run less than 4 days ago

This system produced a 36% winning strike rate and a 17% profit on investment. Only problem being that there were only 33 qualifying bets from 1989 to 2005. For system fans out there I did some tweaking which included opening it out to all handicap races, and the best “obvious system” I can come up with is the following :

1. All weather handicaps (2yo / 3yo / all age).
2. First three in betting
3. Last time placed 1st, 2nd or 3rd
4. Top three of the weights
5. Last run less than 4 days ago

This produced 283 bets with 93 winners (strike rate 32.8%) for a profit of 68.7 points (1 point level stakes) with a percentage profit of 24.3%. It should be stated that qualifying bets per year are limited, but in the last two years numbers have increased with 66 qualifiers, 19 of which who won. It is also worth mentioning about this system is that 8 of the last 10 years have produced a profit.

So there are profits to be made by backing “the obvious”. For many punters that is good to know!


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