The Invincibles – Should You Back Unbeaten Horses?

I have often discussed the backing or laying of favourites. For newcomers at least, looking at favourites to win is usually not a terrible decision since around 36% of them win UK races on average. What I haven’t yet explored is the betting on unbeaten horses angle.

In most cases, it is tough to fully analyse the potential of an unbeaten horse because it is common for horses to rack up wins at a lower level. As the handicapper begins to catch up, it gets harder for these runners to sustain their winning streak. If a horse turns out to be capable of beating all-comers, it is typically running in Class 1 affairs and ends up becoming unbackable such is the shortness of the odds.


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Even so, perhaps we tend to dismiss unbeaten horses because of the unanswered questions or the short odds. Is this a mistake? Should we pay more attention to the invincibles?

Invincible Horses Are Everywhere!

As I am expecting relatively few horses once I’ve narrowed things down a bit, I have taken the liberty of analysing data going back to the beginning of 2009. As you would expect, blindly backing unbeaten horses is not a smart idea:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
6,2771,51524.14%-2.31%

Between 580 and 720 unbeaten horses enter races in the UK each year. A loss of slightly over 2% isn’t bad, but the low win rate of 24% is very surprising. To be fair, there are plenty of races with two or more invincibles, but even so, unbeaten horses only win 32.63% of all races they enter.

Let’s see how unbeaten favourites fare:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
2,13991542.78"%-3.55%

As expected, a higher win rate and also higher than all favourites but the loss increases to 3.55%.

Going back to all unbeaten horses, it is worth dividing them into the three codes:

CodeBetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
National Hunt2,52365726.04%4.35%
Flat3,17269521.91%-5.23%
All-Weather58216328.01%-15.3%

There aren’t many unbeaten all-weather horses, and the ROI is extremely poor despite having the highest strike rate. The strike rate with NH horses is slightly better than average, but the ROI is the big story; we are finally in profit!

You might expect clear favourites to perform well in National Hunt races, but the ROI is poor at -10.91%. In fact, laying unbeaten favourites in NH races will yield a profit of 5.73% including profit in each of the last eight years, though admittedly not much more than a couple of percent.

It stands to reason then that unbeaten non-favourites are the ones to follow in National Hunt events:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
1,55924115.46%12.37%

Alas, the last ten years are split into five profitable ones and five bad ones; no surprise given the low win rate.

One final suggestion is to look at horses according to how many wins they have. After all, horses that win their first race could be badly found out in a higher-grade event next time out. Let’s see if it is profitable to look at unbeaten horses in all codes with several wins under their belt already.

Prior WinsBetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
14,7561,09322.98%-1.99%
21,09527925.48%-8.67%
32808731.07%16.51%
4872225.29%-3.03%
5+593457.63%1.36%

It seems as if 3 previous wins is the ‘sweet’ spot with a profit of over 16%, including double digit profit in seven of the last ten years. As you would expect, horses with 5+ successive wins have the highest success rate by far. Alas, the bookmakers are well aware of these exceptional horses and price them accordingly.

Horses with a single win to their name are hard to read. Are they likely to step up and prove their class or will they run into much better horses in their very next race? A strike rate of under 23% suggests it is very much the latter. This is even the case when they are entered in non-handicaps in their second race. The strike rate is almost identical, and the loss is only cut slightly to 1.22%.

If you recall, National Hunt racing was best for unbeaten horses, so I decided to look and see how invincibles with one career win did in non-handicap races.

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
1,78142924.09%5.09%

Again, you may remember that non-favourites performed well and once again, it holds true for one-win wonders:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
1,17018615.9%16.24%

Although it is good profit on paper, three of the last four years have resulted in losses. 2018 has been particularly dismal with just 9% of these horses winning.

Lower class events are your best option. Here are the statistics from Class 4, 5 and 6.

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
69513719.71%22.32%

Final Thoughts on Unbeaten Horses

Ultimately, there doesn’t appear to be much to recommend backing unbeaten horses. Younger runners with a win or two to their names are hard to predict, and their low win rate doesn’t make them appealing prospects. Once they show true class, bookies slash their odds and profit remains hard to come by. Although you can make a profit by looking at non-handicap National Hunt races, the data shows that unbeaten horses in this sphere are very much hit and miss.