Horseracing Betting: How to pick a winner
Have you ever been so caught up trying to analyse a race that you can't see the blindingly obvious staring you in the face? If so, Wayne Bailey knows your pain.
I'm sure most readers have been there before... You spend hours studying form, you find your best bet, and you get the money on. Your horse is a nice outside price on Betfair, and you're confident. Very confident. You're in the zone, and are starting to feel like you can actually crack this sport. Within moments, your dreams of telling the boss to stuff it are dashed, as the short price favourite you ignored romps it home.
From trainers to trends, runners and ratings - there's a million and one ways to try pick a winner in this business. Each approach has a good and bad side, but unfortunately there's no magic formula.
Whenever you find yourself muddled up and can't see the forest for the trees, I'd recommend taking a step back from it all and returning to pure basics.
One of the most basic starting points for anyone looking for winners is to begin with the favourite. Sure, it's not very original and relies on the collective wisdom of the betting masses. Indeed, blindly following the favourite will be frowned upon and even laughed at in some betting circles. However, consider for example, that the favourite wins almost 40% of non-handicap flat races, and it becomes a little more appealing.
So with that basic starting variable in place, we can already expect to have around four winners in ever ten bets. Of course, that won't make profit on its own, so another angle is needed. In my opinion, the intricacies of each course have a huge effect on the favourites chances and are still a massively under-utilised aspect in race analysis. If we look at the non-handicap favourite broken down by track, you will see exactly what I'm talking about (flat turf racing only, 2003 - 2008):
It doesn't take hours of form study to figure out that if a horse is fancied at Chester, you can be far more confident than if it's fancied at Epsom or Ascot.
To take it one step further, I isolated any tracks that had a 40% strike rate or greater and also showed a profit in three of the past five years. That left just three tracks to back at - Carlisle, Chester and Windsor. However, with over 100 bets per year, I'm more than happy to wait for qualifiers to arise. Here are the results in backing the non-handicap flat favourite at those tracks down through the years:
Period Bets Wins Profit to £10 stake Strike Rate
2008 30 14 £120.40 46.67%
2007 110 53 £225.90 48.18%
2006 109 49 £63.20 44.95%
2005 136 63 £295.20 46.32%
2004 137 53 £56.10 38.69%
2003 136 65 £189.00 47.79%
Following the favourite is hardly ground breaking stuff, and won't win any awards for ingenuity. In fact, it'll probably be frowned upon as being basic and lacking imagination. However, with some selectivity, this simple approach can yield considerable profit and give you nearly one win in two. In my book, that's more than enough reward for any criticism received!
For those interested, I researched something similar for Irish racing that has continued to show a profit in 2008 since published:
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