Money Talks: Should You Focus on Former Favourites Competing for Less Prize Money?

The Jockey Club says that “prize money is the lifeblood of the sport,” and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has listened. It recently announced plans to increase funding and as a result, lower and middle tier races now mean more prize money for those involved. At the time of writing, a large percentage of races now have a total prize fund of at least £6,000. It is hoped that the added investment will further increase participation and improve the quality of fields.

In Irish racing, you can typically grade a race according to the amount of prize money as it doesn’t use the same Class system as the UK. However, even in Britain, the prizes on offer is a good indication of the ability of the horses involved. Likewise, a horse’s career earnings give you a decent idea of how much quality it possesses.


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Lowering the Sights

A significant number of favourites are beaten in UK races. Sometimes it is a case of the horse not being as good as perceived although there are many instances where a horse just had a bad day. In any case, it is theoretically a good idea to look at runners that were favourites in their last race and are competing for less money today.

Typically, lower prize money indicates an inferior standard race although it isn’t always the case. You will occasionally find Class 5 races that pay less than some Class 6 events for example, but in general, prize money is an excellent indicator of field quality.

It is also worth analysing horses that were favourites in their last race where more prize money was at stake. After all, if it attracted enough interest to be favourite in what was probably a higher quality race, it should have a reasonable chance of success against lesser opposition. It is also possible that the connections of such horses are trying to claw back some losses on the horse’s upkeep against its earnings. In any case, let’s see what I can dig up.

Four-Figure Races

For this strategy to have a chance of success, it is best to stick to races in the four-figure range initially because it is rare for horses to drop from a race with say £20,000 to one with £7,000 or less. Despite the BHA’s best efforts, most races of Class 4 and below have total prize funds of below £10,000 with Class 5 races often offering less than £4,000.

Some Class 6 events offer below £3,000, and unsurprisingly, such races usually have 4-7 runners. In theory, then, a potentially classy horse dropping into such company should have an opportunity to win.

As a result, I elected to focus on the following criteria from the beginning of 2014, and the data initially relates to all race codes:

  • Today’s Prize Money – £4,000 or less.
  • Last Race Prize Money – Between £5,000 and £10,000.
  • Clear favourites in the last race.
BetsWins Strike RateROI (BF)
123233727.35%3.2%

Right off the bat, we have a profit of 3.2% although looks are definitely deceiving in this case as four of the five years would actually have resulted in a loss. It is only an exceptional 2016 that gives the impression that this is a profitable system.

Just when you think that it is a bust, along came this set of data when I focused on non-handicap races only.

BetsWins Strike RateROI (BF)
54220938.56%34.67%

A profit of almost 35% is exceptional in any instance, and the strike rate of over 38% also reduces the likelihood of significant losing runs. The main issue is that it hasn’t been a successful strategy in 2017 or 2018 to date. Indeed, when I divided the above into the three-race codes, it became apparent that the ‘golden’ age for this tactic was 2014-2016. All codes offer profit over five years, but none are useful beyond the start of 2017.

It’s the same story when you check out non-favourites in non-handicap races:

BetsWins Strike RateROI (BF)
2625922.52%63.35%

Another great ROI on paper but the last two years have been a wasteland with losses across the board.

Five Figure Races

I decided to up the stakes a little and check out the performances of horses that meet the following criteria since 2014:

  • Prize money of today’s race – £5,000 to £9,000
  • Last Race’s Prize Money – £12,000 to £20,000
  • Favourites in the previous race

One would hope that we would find a few horses that have dropped in class significantly. There are Class 2 events with prize money below £20,000, and there could be a few entrants that have fallen as low as Class 5 in the above scenario.

BetsWins Strike RateROI (BF)
45311124.5%1.35%

As expected, there are not that many opportunities, but the sliver of profit is more consistent with three years of profit and two of loss. Unlike the first set of criteria we looked at, these horses perform better in handicap races:

BetsWins Strike RateROI (BF)
3397923.3%9.45%

You would also have made a profit since the beginning of 2017. Incidentally, laying such horses in non-handicap events would yield a profit of 15% since 2014 but slight losses since 2017. Profit goes up when you look at non-favourites in the upcoming races.

BetsWins Strike RateROI (BF)
2013416.92%16.54%

The above includes four profitable years of 19% with a bad year in 2016 (12% loss) bringing down the average.

Final Thoughts on Horses with Lowered Sights

It is a good idea in theory, and you could do reasonably well if you analyse races where horses were favourites last time out in five-figure races but are now competing in four figure handicap events. However, there is nothing exceptional about such horses, and they may have been merely overrated in their last race. It is not a ‘system’ that will yield a long-term profit but it could prove useful as part of your ‘narrowing down’ criteria.