Should You Bet on Horses Coming Back From Long Layoffs?

So-called experts sometimes suggest that you should avoid horses that return after a lengthy layoff. In racing circles, this often means horses that haven’t run for at least 90 days. The theory is that horses need a run or two to ‘get the rust off.’ However, it is folly to place all horses in the same category. While some do need a couple of runs, others perform well straight away.

We can’t pretend to know what is going on behind the scenes. Perhaps the trainer is deliberately sending the horse out in the knowledge it won’t win with the goal being to get the horse in race shape. However, they could also be bringing it towards peak fitness with a view to springing a surprise. In other words, you need to look at the evidence to come to a conclusion rather than making lazy assumptions. The bookies love it when punters rely on ‘schools of thought’ because it practically guarantees them a profit.


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The Broader Picture

The best place to start is by comparing the performances of horses after varying spells away from the track. I am focusing on statistics from the beginning of 2015, and the ROI is from the Betfair Exchange.

Days Since Last RanStrike Rate ROI
1-714.61%0.94%
8-3011.18%-9.62%
31-9011.07%-7.43%
91-1809.52%1.1%
181+9.64%-8.43%

The strike rate of horses certainly decreases the longer they are off the track, but interestingly, you would earn a slender 1.1% ROI on Betfair if you blindly backed all horses returning from a 91-180 day break. This is from 17,294 bets, but before we get too excited, the extremely low strike rate is a cause for concern. Clearly, there are more than a few long odds winners amongst these selections.

The only thing for it is to focus on 91-180 days and see if we can improve a punter’s ROI.

What is the Best Code?

Logically, it is worth dividing the stats into National Hunt, Flat and All-Weather.

CodeBetsWinsStrike RateROI Betfair
National Hunt 80047689.6%3.38%
Flat48494058.35%-2.86%
All-Weather444147410.67%1.31%

As you can see, the strike rate remains low, but Flat racing is the odd one out in terms of making a profit.

As a result, I will discount Flat from the equation and focus on National Hunt and All-Weather racing.

Is It The Favourite’s Fault?

As there is profit to be made despite a low strike rate, I looked at the performance of favourites to see if they hurt punters in the pocket. As it transpires, favourites fare reasonably well. If you combine clear, joint and co-favourites, the ROI goes up slightly to 3.56%.

I decided to investigate further and looked at the odds of clear favourites to see if there was a pattern.

Odds of Clear FavouriteStrike RateROI Betfair
1.01-1.9159.57%-3.83%
2 – 2.8841.5%3.8%
3 – 4.529.72%11.32%
5+12%-33.11%

The ‘sweet spot’ for favourites is between 3 and 4.5 or 2/1 and 7/2. An ROI of over 11% from 360 bets since 2015 is a very good return indeed.

Incidentally, if you want an even better ROI, stick with All-Weather racing only as you would earn 15.53% or an ROI of 9.82% with SP prices from 132 bets since the beginning of 2015. The strike rate of 30.3% is extremely good when you consider that every horse starts off at odds of at least 2/1. It may not represent enough bets for the hardened punter, but there have been 30 such selections in 2017 on All-Weather courses at the time of writing.

What About Very Long Layoffs?

The stats above relate to horses that haven’t raced for between 91 and 180 days. The initial data for horses with 181+ days out isn’t encouraging. A strike rate of below 10% and an ROI loss of over 8% is the stuff of nightmares. Let’s see if there is any way to make a profit.

While it is best to avoid Flat racing in the 91-180 day category, it is by far the best for 181+ day layoffs. The other codes result in ROI losses of over 10% but with Flat racing, you ‘only’ lose 1.79% on Betfair from 8,453 bets since the beginning of 2015 so it is a good starting point. It is worth noting that the 9.96% strike rate is still pretty low.

I went down the same route in terms of looking at the odds of favourites and once again, clear favourites in the 3 to 4.50 odds range came up trumps with an ROI of 6.87% from 270 bets.

Final Words

Once again, we have shown that punters must take ‘conventional wisdom’ with a large bag of salt. The data above shows that you can make a profit from horses returning after a long layoff if you narrow your focus and look at favourites at decent odds. Here is a quick recap of what to look for:

91 – 180 days since last ran

  • National Hunt & All Weather
  • Clear Favourites
  • SP of between 2/1 and 7/2

181+ days since last ran

  • Flat
  • Clear Favourites
  • SP of between 2/1 and 7/2

Remember, the above is just a starting point. We encourage you to use the data as a base for your own research.

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