Is Laying Handicap Favourites with No Previous Course Experience a Winning Strategy?

Today, I will be looking at the inverse of the “horses for courses” theory. As you probably know, a lot of punters place great faith in horses that have previously won, or at least ran well, at a specific course in the past. It is even better if the horse in question is a course and distance winner.


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Since we sometimes have such a reliance on course specialists, shouldn’t we also be wary of horses that have never run at a track before, especially if they are the favourites? After all, it is only natural to have concerns about its suitability for the course.

For example, a horse used to running in wide open courses could feasibly struggle at the tight Chester track. Then there is the small matter of preferring a right-hand track to a left-hand one, or vice versa.

In many cases, the concerns can be outweighed by a decent price on the favourite but if it is down as a clear favourite at a short price, is it worth looking at laying opportunities? This is especially the case in handicap races where the favourite will probably be up against opponents with course experience.

All data comes from the beginning of 2014 unless stated. Unlike most of my articles which include ROI from backing horses, this guide will add profit from laying only.

Confirming or Dispelling the Theory?

The logical place to start is to look at the performance of all clear favourites at courses they have never run at before.

BetsWinsStrike RateLay ROI (BF)
12,6623,85730.46%-3.61%

It seems like a relatively promising start as little over 30% of these bets win. However, we still end up with a loss of 3.61%. Also, the win rate is only marginally higher than for all favourites in handicap races.

Let’s see if there is a difference according to race code:

Race CodeBetsWinsStrike RateLay ROI (BF)
National Hunt4,5301,34029.58%-0.71%
Flat6,1051,87130.65%-5.98%
All-Weather2,02764631.87%-2.95%

National Hunt

National Hunt favourites perform the poorest, and with a strike rate of just 29% and a loss of only 0.7% from over 4,500 races, there is potential for profit if we filter it down. Here is a look at NH favourites with no experience at the track according to odds ranges. I am using Betfair odds, NOT SP.

Odds (BF)BetsWinsStrike RateLay ROI (BF)
1.01 - 1.9922913860.26%-7.14%
2.00 - 2.991,20746738.69%-1.07%
3.00 - 3.991,51342428.02%-1.37%
4.00 - 5.991,34028321.12%-2.32%
6.00+2372610.97%20.54%

It is losses across the board until you look at favourites at odds of 5/1 or longer. Clearly, it is a big risk to lay horses at such odds and is not something I recommend, but it is the only odds range that offers profit since 2014. I expected the profit to be uneven but in reality, there have been four consecutive years of double-digit profit. Fewer than 7% of these horses have won so far in 2018.

When you divide things even further, into race Class this time, things get even more interesting:

ClassBetsWinsStrike RateLay ROI (BF)
160711.67%5.58%
24648.7%36.26%
347714.89%1.17%
448510.42%27.81%
53638.33%41%

One might expect there to be more high-priced favourites in quality races, but there are plenty of laying opportunities when you delve into Class 4 & 5 races.

All-Weather

The loss in Flat races seems a little high for filtering to be possible, so let’s focus on AW races instead. From the initial loss of 2.95%, let’s see if things get any better according to odds:

Odds (BF)BetsWinsStrike RateLay ROI (BF)
1.01 - 1.991468860.27%-7.56%
2.00 - 2.9965024537.69%2.16%
3.00 - 3.9963718729.36%-4.96%
4.00 - 5.9954111922%-6.47%
6.00+53713.21%-7.16%

Odds-on favourites fare well, to the point where you would make a 3.31% profit by backing them all. Overall, laying favourites on all-weather courses does nothing for your bank balance no matter the odds. For the record, I also investigated Flat races, and it was the same story.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the theory that favourites are worth laying if they are running at a track for the first time holds no water. While you can enjoy profit from laying National Hunt favourites at odds of 5/1+, it is a risky endeavour. Although their win percentage is extremely low, all it takes is 2-3 consecutive winning favourites to tank your balance completely. As always, I cannot recommend laying horses at high prices.