Are Favourites in Low-Prize Money Races a Hidden Goldmine or a Money Pit?

I was originally going to write about unnamed favourites, but it proved to be exceedingly difficult to find enough data to create an informative article. However, it is a fact that the unnamed favourite phenomenon tends to manifest itself in low grade races where the prize money is not worth shouting about.


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In horse racing, you can bet on an unnamed favourite in races where there are no odds available, and you have the option of betting on the SP. The horse with the lowest SP is the unnamed favourite.

Rather than focusing on this action, I have decided to switch focus to low prize money races. As you probably know, following the market is often misleading in high profile races. At festivals such as Cheltenham and Royal Ascot, causal punters often plough money into favoured horses which guarantees an artificially low price and no value. In low value races, casuals have no interest which makes it easier to spot clever money.

How Do Our Low Prize Money Favourites Perform?

As per usual, I am concentrating on UK racing from the beginning of 2014 and will only be looking at clear favourites. For the record, 35.23% of favourites have won during this timeframe. Backing the more than 44,000 favourites would yield a Betfair loss of 3% or 1,347 units!

In Money Talks, I looked at horses that were clear favourites in their last race. This time, I am only looking at how clear favourites perform in the existing race. Although the BHA is trying to raise the prize money in races, you still find races with fairly insubstantial rewards for the winner.

If you go to the Racing Post website and check out their race cards, look at the top right-hand corner to discover how much money the winner earns. I saw a Class 6 race at Wolverhampton with the winner earning the princely sum of £3,105! Even Class 4 events won’t often offer much more than £6,000 for the winner. When you consider the costs of training a horse and the fact the money is divided in several ways, one wonders if it is even worth a trainer’s while to enter such races.

It isn’t as easy to find out the total prize money of a race as the BHA provides different percentages according to the race type. For example, the owner of a horse that wins a Flat Pattern and Listed Race gets 49.6% of the total prize money. The trainer gets just 5.89%, the stable gets 2.95%, the rider gets 4.33% and there are other fees. If you purchase a race programme at the track, you get a full picture of how much a race is worth.

As I can only access data relating to a winner’s prize money, I decided to focus on how favourites perform in races with prize money below certain levels. There is a slight problem: The BHA announced changes which means more prize money in most races. As a result, data relating to races with extremely low prize money for winners may no longer be reliable.

When I looked at races where the winner received a maximum of £3,000 for example, there were 11,400 such events in five years, but just over 250 in 2018; approximately one-tenth of previous levels. There were 1,800 races with a winning prize of £2,000 or less but only 27 in the whole of 2018. As a result, I checked out the performance of favourites in races with a winning prize of £3,000 to £5,000:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (Betfair)
17,6496,53237.01%-3.24%

Your loss is almost identical to what happens when you bet on ALL favourites even though the strike rate has increased a little. Although National Hunt offers the best strike rate, Flat races provide the lowest level of losses:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
6,3492,26735.74%-2.17%

It is an improvement, but our goal should be something more ambitious than not losing too much money! When you stick to handicap races only, the results improve a little more:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
3,7521,16931.16%-0.25%

The strike rate falls dramatically, but we are almost at evens with a loss of just 9 units in five years. However, it is still an unacceptable state of affairs. You would expect races with £3,000-£5,000 for the winner to be Class 4, 5 and 6 events. While you would experience heavy losses in Class 4 and 6 races, Class 5 events are a different story:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
2,38376332.02%4.32%

A profit of 4% is better than what the banks offer you, but it won’t do for most punters. On the plus side, you would have earned a profit in the last four years. It pays to stick to races with 1-10 runners as the profit increases marginally, as does the strike rate:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
1,78861634.45%5.22%

While it is best to back odds-on favourites as you end up with a 9% profit, you only get 25 or so opportunities a year. Also, your profit dwindles the longer the odds get.

Final Thoughts on Favourites in Low Prize Money Races

Overall, this is not an angle I would recommend following. While it is true that you can make a little profit from Flat races, you have to adhere to these criteria:

  • 1-10 runners
  • Class 5
  • Handicap

As well as focusing on races where the winner gets between £3,000 and £5,000. As always, it is a question of picking and choosing your bets. As a rule of thumb, I would advise punters to stick to systems with a fairly high strike rate. While systems with profits of 30%+ are great, if the win rate is 20% or thereabouts, you must be aware that long losing streaks are a certainty. Make sure your betting bank can handle bad spells, or risk total failure. Finally, be patient! Horse racing is not for get-rich-quick punters.