Can Conventional Wisdom Help You Become a Flat Track Bully & Beat The Bookies?

If you’re an avid follower of RacingBetting.com (thanks by the way!), you’ve probably already read our guides on finding the best Flat trainers and jockeys. We discovered that Aidan O’Brien is an excellent trainer to follow and that Frankie Dettori, William Buick, and Silvestre de Souza are jockeys that offer the potential for profit.

Therefore, this guide will take a look at other criteria to look for to gain that all-important edge on the bookie. What I intend to do in this strategy piece is to put cold, hard data to use in order to either prove or disprove certain pieces of conventional wisdom surrounding Flat racing.

Isn’t It the Same As Betting on National Hunt?

Not really. In fact, there are several differences to consider:

  • The most obvious one is the existence of obstacles in NH races.
  • Flat races are over shorter distances, so speed trumps stamina.
  • The horses tend to carry less weight in general.

I also read an interesting article where the author asserts that it is worth waiting for a specific period during the UK racing season when the ground and weather settles down. It normally happens between June and August and results in good or fast ground which makes the form book a lot more reliable. It is certainly true that we see more ‘unusual’ results in races where the ground is soft than when it is firm.


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The Specialist Distance

There is a suggestion that in Flat racing, certain horses are ‘specialists’ in races of between 6.5 and 7 furlongs. The theory goes that specialists have an advantage over everyone else because they are up against failed milers dropping down in distance and failed sprinters trying to move up. The initial statistics are not promising. Bear in mind that this relates to Flat racing (not AW) since 2013 where the horses have at least 2 wins over the distance.

BetsWinsWin %ROI (BF)
554055710.05%-8.8%

To be fair, the theory also states that you should bet on the shortest priced horse with 2+ wins over the distance. In the statistics above, you would be betting on three horses per race on average. Let’s see how favourites fare (including joint and co).

BetsWinsWin %ROI (BF)
64116325.43%-4.06%

Better results but still a loss. I also checked the performance of these horses with odds of 3/1or less but still a loss of over 6%. In essence, we must reluctantly state that the idea of the ‘Specialist’ distance does not hold water.

When in Doubt, Bet on the Classiest Horse in the Race

According to this theory, a horse’s superior class can pull it through even when it isn’t performing well. When looking at the top rated horses, I found you would sustain a loss of 6% but this is from thousands of bets, and you would also be betting on several horses in a race.

If you filter it down and check out favourites only, the loss is still 4.5%. It is only when you focus on favourites at Class 5 events do you see even a sliver of profit at 0.5%. For real profit, you have to go to Class 1 events where you see a profit of 8.02% but from only 555 bets since 2013.

If you filter things one more time, this time looking at races with 10-20 horses, the ROI jumps to 24.7% over the last 4.5 years. The problem is, there are only 172 bets; 20 so far in 2017.

In summation, you can make a profit from the classiest horse in the race. Here is a reminder of what to look for in Flat races:

  • Top or joint top in the Official Ratings.
  • 10-20 runners.
  • Class 1.
  • Favourites.

Top Weighted Horses

This theory states that you should look at the top weighted horses in Handicap races. The horse that carries the most weight is considered the best in the race. There is a belief amongst some punters that the effect of weight is overstated because high-quality horses can overcome it regularly.

The following set of criteria led to a small ROI of 2.94% since 2013:

  • Handicap
  • Top-weighted horses
  • Between 5 and 10 pounds heavier than the second heaviest horse.

One might expect the gap in quality to be more apparent in the lower grades so let’s see how you would fare according to Class:

  • Class 1: Irrelevant as there have only been 2 qualifying races in 5 years.
  • Class 2: 5.5% ROI
  • Class 3: -22.53%
  • Class 4: 4.36%
  • Class 5: -7.89%
  • Class 6: 26.7%

As expected, the lowest grade races offer the best profit, but with only 55 races a year, you’ll need to wait for a good bet! Then again, it is better to wager correctly than to wager often.

Place Betting On Races with 5 Runners

The merits of each-way or ‘place’ betting is a hotly contested subject. from a pure value perspective; it usually doesn’t pay to back a horse each-way. For example, a horse that finishes second in a large event at 20/1 usually offers the same value as a winner at odds between 6/4 and 2/1 depending on whether the bookie pays one-quarter or one-fifth odds on the place.

As such, punters are switching to Betfair Exchange and utilising the ‘Place Only’ market. However, before you decide to do this, have you considered an each-way bet in a 5-horse race? You tend to receive one-quarter odds, and your horse has a 40% chance of placing compared to 37.5% in an 8-horse race with 3 places or 25% in a 16-horse race with 4 places.

The theory also suggests that you’re better off looking at the second favourite because it is likely to beat the other three horses while also carrying a decent chance of winning. Let’s see if this is true.

BetsWinsWin %ROI (BF)
211955425.19%-8.74%

The above is the ROI for backing a straight win. If you went on the Betfair Place Market, your loss is 3.31%. I also checked the results when the second favourite was at a variety of SP odds, and the losses for the win only and placing remain consistent. You perform marginally better when you back the favourite!

Final Words

The trouble with conventional wisdom is that too many people take it as Gospel. I looked at four pieces of advice, and although two of them showed some profit, only one offered a reasonable ROI. The other two ‘dictums’ are actually falsehoods more or less.

To make a profit from horse racing, you have to follow the statistics and perform careful research; not listen to clichéd advice that will only send you to the poorhouse.