Too Long in the Tooth: Is Laying Older Favourites in Handicap Races a Profitable Strategy?

In our previous article, I looked at whether older sprinters enjoying a resurgence were worth backing. Today, I have taken a different turn with old horses to see if favourites in handicap races are under-priced. When analysing old guns as sprinters, I pointed out that they are extremely prone to rapidly alternating good and bad form periods.


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The same holds true for older horses in races of all distances. Backing 5yo+ favourites in handicap races is asking for trouble because they are so unreliable. Consistent form is hard for them to achieve and it is rare that they are on an upturn. It is also typical for such horses to still be running off high handicap marks attained during earlier successes.

As a general rule, the longer a horse’s losing sequence, the harder it is for trainers to find good opportunities to win. It is an even bigger problem if the horse’s form is such that it manages a few respectable runs which ensure it remains in the handicapper’s grip. Therefore, it surely makes sense to begin laying older horses at short prices…right?

Let’s try to find out.

Flat Performances

To be clear, this set of criteria only applies to Flat and AW horses as NH runners are a long way from even reaching their peak as 5yos. In this article, I am focusing on clear favourites only in UK handicap races from the beginning of 2014 onwards. To begin, let’s look at the performance of backing favourites of ALL ages to use as a point of comparison.

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
17,9715,43530.24%-2.09%

Despite the low strike rate, your Betfair loss isn’t bad at a little over 2%. Next, let’s check out backing horses according to their age from 5yo+.

Horse AgeBetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
52,51573129.07%-2.36%
61,35037427.7%-4.35%
773321028.65%3.7%
8+66818627.84%-1.41%

One would expect 7yos to be less predictable, but you end up with a slight profit. If you only focused on Flat races, your profit would increase to 7.13%. You wouldn’t perform badly with any of the age groups, and crucially, laying would result in a loss every time.

It isn’t the ideal start but remember; we are looking for horses that are on a patchy run of form. Therefore, I decided to eliminate all horses that won their last race.

Horse AgeBetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
51,77449527.9%-0.96%
698526126.5%-2.74%
753015128.49%6.6%
8+48813928.48%4.59%

Amazingly, 7yo+ favourites that failed to win last time outperform best of all! The first laying opportunity actually comes from 8yo+ favourites that won their last race! If you laid such runners, your ROI would be a healthy 11% as they have only won 26% of their races since 2014. You will maximise profit by focusing on laying Flat favourites as their dire 23%-win rate means laying would have resulted in a profit of almost 22%.

Let’s take a look at horses that failed to even place in their last race.

Horse AgeBetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
588425428.73%3.75%
649812825.7%-4.18%
72997625.42%-1.48%
8+2387029.41%10.37%

8yo+ horses once again perform extremely well; at least when you look at the surface. However, the data is slanted by a remarkable 2014 where almost 42% of these horses won for a profit of 70%.

Even so, it seems as if laying older favourites in handicap races is NOT a good strategy at all.

The final step is to look at these favourites according to their price. Here is an overview of how all favourites aged 5yo+ perform in Flat and All-Weather handicap races.

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
5,2661,50128.5%-1.9%

As I am using Betfair ROI figures, I am also going to use Betfair prices for these favourites to avoid confusion. I have placed the odds in four separate groups and provided the profit/loss for laying these horses.

Odds: Betfair SPBetsWinsStrike RateROI Laying (BF)
1.01 - 1.991499261.75%-11.22%
2.00 - 2.991,08343239.89%-5.17%
3.00 - 3.991,73352830.47%-9.94%
4.00+2,30044919.52%-1.38%

Laying odds-on favourites aged 5yo+ is a bad idea as you would lose over 11%. On the flipside, backing such horses would yield a profit of almost 7%. You fare slightly better with horses at odds of 2 – 2.99, but when you go for horses at odds between 3 and 3.99, your loss is almost 10%.

It is only when you look at favourites at odds of 3/1+ that you fare reasonably well. A loss of just over 1% from 2,300 bets means we could potentially find a profitable laying angle. I finally found one by laying 6yo favourites at odds of 3/1 or longer with a profit of 4.57%. By focusing on Flat racing only, your laying profit increases to 6.12%.

There is also money to be made from laying 8yo+ favourites at 3/1+. You would have made a profit of 8.75% which increases to a hefty 16.7% when focusing on Flat races only. Interestingly, you make more profit by laying such horses that placed in their last race. A profit of 29.78% is very good, and it has been profitable in each of the last five years, but there are only 20-30 opportunities a year.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it is generally NOT a profitable angle. Older horses may be unpredictable, but you lose money by laying favourites in most instances. The exception is 6yo and 8yo+ horses on the Flat who start off at Betfair SP odds of 3/1 or longer.

Even though it is technically a profitable strategy, laying horses at long odds is asking for trouble and is not something I would recommend. Remember, back at high odds and ‘lay’ at short odds! If you ‘lay’ at 4/1 trying to win £10, your liability is £50! Don’t be the guy who loses his betting bank chasing foolish punts.