Old Guns: Should You Bet on Older Horses Enjoying a Sudden Resurgence?

Horse racing is an intrinsically unpredictable sport. It always strikes me as odd that so many punters seem to act and speak as though horses are almost robot-like in their consistency. In human sports such as soccer, rugby, and basketball, for example, it is normal and even expected for players to have “off” periods.

This is also the case with horse racing. Just like their human equivalents, the best horses tend to be the most consistent, but even they have a bad day at the office here and there.


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Perhaps the most unpredictable horses of all are older sprinters. It is normal for them to be completely out of form until suddenly, with just one good run, they begin their resurgence. This period of improvement soon dies off, but could punters theoretically make a profit by focusing on these old guns? Let’s find out.

An Indian Summer

In this article, I am focusing on races to a maximum of 7f. The goal is to see if horses that were previously out of form, only to find a good performance out of nowhere, performed well enough in their next race to help us make some money. Here are the general criteria I will use throughout the article as a base:

  • Placed in its last race.
  • Unplaced in the three races before the last race.
  • 5f-7f
  • Last ran 1-30 days before this race; this means its good run was relatively recent.
  • From the beginning of 2014.

All horses that fit the above criteria had a win rate of 17.37% for a loss of 9.55%. The next step is to focus on older horses, so I have divided horses into age categories:

Horse AgeBetsWinsStrike Rate %ROI (BF)
41,57023214.78%-7.89%
51,11514913.36%-15.62%
676610013.05%-1.26%
7+1,42516611.65%21.16%

This is a discouraging set of results, especially for 5yos and 7yo+ horses. If you had laid all 5yos, you would have a profit of over 7%. Laying all 7+yo horses would result in a profit of over 13%.

Only 6yo horses offer any solace with a reasonable loss of just over 1%. As the strike rate is extremely low, you are looking at some nice prices if you get it right. The outcome gets even more interesting when you eliminate non-handicap races featuring our 6yos. Here is how they perform in non-handicaps.

BetsWinsStrike rateBOI (BF)
4745.51%-73.52%

That’s an incredibly poor set of statistics unless of course, you wish to lay these horses. In that case, your profit would be 68%! Moreover, only one such horse has won out of 24 attempts since the beginning of 2016. It also means that the handicap statistics make for decent reading.

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
7199613.35%3.475

Suddenly, we have a profit of 3.47% to contend with and a minimum of 135 such opportunities each year. The main issue is that the data is compromised by one significant win of 65% in 2017 with losses in every other year.

As I mentioned before, you are relying on longer odds wins, and the following set of data proves it. Here is how 6yo clear favourites perform in handicaps:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
1062220.75%-28.69%

A strike rate of below 21% is incredibly poor for favourites which is why the loss is so crippling. Laying these favourites would yield a decent profit of just over 20%. It stands to reason that avoiding favourites is the best play and here is the proof:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
5796811.74%10.71%

The above data relates to the performance of 6yo non-favourites in handicaps. Once again, an exceptional 2017 skews the figures, but at least 2016 and 2018 also show a small profit.

A funny thing happened when I looked at our 6yo old guns in races of 6f-7f:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
4155312.77%29.86%

The win rate only increases slightly, but your profit now comes close to 30%. Aside from the enormous 114% profit in 2017, you would have earned a 21% profit in 2016 and 26% so far in 2018. It makes me wonder: Are trainers doing a better job of getting the most out of old guns in recent years?

If you wish to narrow things down even further, focus on Class 2, 4 and 5 races only:

BetsWinsStrike RateROI (BF)
1992814.07%58.95%

The win rate increases a little but your profit almost doubles. This also equates to a minimum of 36% in each of the last four years. For the record, 2018 is going very well with a win rate of almost 20% and a profit of 123%.

Final Thoughts on Old Guns

My research revealed that you have to be extremely specific if you hope to benefit from older horses showing signs of resurgence. For best profit, here is a reminder of the full list of criterion:

  • Races between 6f – 7f.
  • Class 2, 4 and 5 races.
  • Handicap events.
  • 6yo horses only.
  • Non-favourites.
  • 1-30 days since last ran.
  • Placed in the last race.
  • Unplaced in each of the three previous races leading up to the last race

Although the potential for significant profit is there, it is my duty to point out the issues. First of all, you are dealing with a low strike rate which means long losing streaks are almost guaranteed. After all, the basis of this particular method is winning long shots. There are relatively few opportunities so if you miss a winner; it will badly hamper your ROI.

There are an awful lot of criteria, and as I mentioned in a previous article, most systems have too many ‘rules,’ and their rigidity is their undoing. Above all else, study each race thoroughly and don’t be afraid to write off any horse that seems to be a no-hoper. In reality, if you manage a few early winners, leave this particular system alone and count your winnings!