1 year ago - 8 minute read

Horse Racing: When to Lay the Favourite

As anyone who has spent a day at the races will tell you, it’s a lot easier to pick losers than it is to pick winners. Horse racing is a fascinating, complex, and frustrating betting contest where narrowing down the field can sometimes be a herculean task when faced with a 20-runner handicap and an almost unending stream of data points. But what if it could all be a bit simpler?

Step forward the strategy of laying the favourite, which since the introduction of betting exchanges has become a favoured approach of professional and mug punters alike. It allows bettors to focus in on one horse in a race and reduce everything to a binary decision: will this horse win or not? Of course it’s not quite this simple, but it can form the basis of a very profitable strategy.

Weak Favourites

As a general rule of thumb, around two-thirds of favourites will lose, but this doesn’t mean that blindly laying favourites is a good strategy. In fact, as betting strategies go it’s right up there with the worst of them. But to a thinking bettor it should immediately suggest there are some great opportunities out there if you’re willing to do a little research.

What you should be looking for are horses known as “weak” favourites at prices below 3.0, as above this the risk-reward ratio begins to become a bit more unfriendly. These are especially prevalent in weekend racing where punters are looking for an easy win and blindly back favourites into prices below their true odds. But they could also be a horse where you feel the market has assessed its chances wrongly.

What is very important to note is you should only lay what you perceive as a weak favourite. And to do this you need to know more than the market, or know how to interpret the market correctly. Horses that are too short in a very competitive race, horses that have been backed into too short a price or horses with a very poor course record might be three potential starting points.

It can pay to focus on just one meeting per day, particularly if you are knowledgeable about that particular course’s idiosyncrasies and draw biases. Read here to find out more about this crucial aspect of horse racing betting. And remember what you’re looking for is the 1-2 opportunities a day where the favourite is priced at less than 3.0 and looks weak.

Model Horses

There are many factors you could take into account when assessing if a favourite is weak or not, including but by no means limited to:

  • Last time out record
  • Ratings
  • Course form (does it prefer right or left handed tracks)
  • Jockey booking
  • Ground form
  • Trainer record
  • Weight
  • Distance form
  • Headgear worn for first time
  • Odds in relation to field

But, of course, it may be something else entirely. Many layers like to stick to handicaps with fields above 7 runners as this is where market makers face the toughest task to accurately price up all the runners in the field. It only takes one mistake when rating the top three or four horses to present the canny punter with a good lay opportunity here.

One well worn strategy is to look for horses that habitually get beaten as short priced favourites. For example, in a flat race at Ffos Las in July a horse named Flutterbee lined up as a 7/4 favourite. A look at its previous form, however, showed both in May and June that year it had finished second seemingly lacking that last bit of pace at the finish when similarly priced as favourite.

Sure enough it was chinned and finished second when it couldn’t catch the winner in the final furlong. Now granted you are gong to need to do more than this cursory level of analysis to find a winning lay the favourite strategy, but it shows you how easy it can be to start hunting for horses that might fit a model.

You can play around with various models at Flatstats system builder although as you will quickly note trying too hard to force a rule or being too broad in your approach will rarely lead to long-term success. It’s dangerous to ever become too wedded to a system and individual race analysis is also key to success.

False Favourites

If you start reading up on laying favourites you will quickly encounter the concept of a false favourite. These are horses installed as favourites by market makers at an intentionally incorrect price in order to exploit blind favourite backers. These are considerably less likely in the big races where the weight of money makes much more of an impact, so you’re really looking for smaller midweek meetings here.

Often you will see false favourite and weak favourite used interchangeably, but technically they are quite different concepts. And really it pays more to focus on finding weak favourites. These could be a pricing error where the last run is given an undue weighting, when the horse only beat a very poor field, or where factors such as trainer, jockey, draw, and course form haven’t fully been taken into account.

They are not easy to spot, but they are out there and they exist every day of the week. One of the most consistent tools used to spot them are speed ratings, where a horse may be short priced favourite but on the ratings is far more closely matched with the field. Another is last-time out form, which may be misleading in either overrating or underrating a horse’s chances, while sometimes a horse is simply overhyped and attracts more public money that it should.

However you begin to approach trying to spot weak favourites, take your time and test your strategies for small stakes before scaling up. Smart bankroll management and a good staking plan are crucial to long-term success and so is discipline when it comes to your lays. You are looking to profit from other people’s mistakes and that means making as few as possible of your own.