Three Popular Horse Racing Punter Myths Debunked

Although it is possible to earn money long-term from sports betting, the percentage of punters who achieve such sweet victory is painfully small. The fact is the bookmaker has an edge on most markets (barring the odd blunder here and there). It is significant enough and frequent enough to ensure they remain ahead of the game.

In other words, the punter is already at a severe disadvantage, and most of us make things worse by taking nonsense myths at face value. In this article, I will tackle three of these bank-balance-busting myths and show them up for the rubbish they are. If you are guilty of believing any of them, stop right now and save some cash!


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1. Back Sir Michael Stoute’s Horses in May

The famed trainer is a wise old fox who has trained countless horses and achieved thousands of victories in a glorious career. It seems like folly to reduce the great man’s work to such a simple system, but there is a widely-held belief in punting circles that Stoute does his best work in May.

The theory is that Stoute is a slow-starter, but once he gets into his stride, he begins to train winner after winner, especially in May. I decided to go back to 2009 to see if this is true – a total of 10 Mays.

BetsWinsStrike Rate%ROI (BF)
66914822.12%-1.81%

While it is not the worst myth ever, you still end up with a loss of almost 2% over a decade-long period. When you dig deeper, however, the myth becomes even more damaging to your bankroll. You would only earn a profit in four of the ten years, and this includes two years with a profit of less than 3%. Keep in mind these results come from actual betting data from Betfair.

Interestingly, Stoute fares much better in All-Weather only with a profit of 25%. However, this includes just two profitable years and there are only 79 bets in total. For what it is worth, Stoute does better in June with a profit of 5%. Once again, there are only four profitable years out of ten, but it does include three good years in the last four.

2. Back the Outsider of Three

This is unquestionably one of the favoured punter myths, and on the face of it, it seems to be worth consideration. In theory, a three-horse race will be run differently than a race with a larger field. This is especially the case if there are two evenly matched horses. You end up with a tactical race rather than a truly run one, and the overlooked outsider sneaks past at the end.

It is also possible that the market ignores the outsider to the point where its odds begin to look like value. Let’s see what backing the outsider of three in all UK races since the beginning of 2010 does to your bank balance:

BetsWinsStrike Rate%ROI (BF)
120117214.32%11.5%

This is another myth that stacks up well on first glance. However, there have been four losing years in the last eight, and most of the big profits happened up to and including 2013.

As you might expect, you are better off focusing on handicap races only. The profit since 2010 on these events is 19.35% and five of the last seven years have been profitable. However, things are going very badly in 2019 to date with a loss of 74%!

3. When in Doubt, Back the Odds-On Favourite

Some punters only back odds-on favourites on the basis that a high strike rate means they don’t need to worry about long losing streaks. On the other hand, some punters would sooner saw off an arm than back a horse at odds-on. The argument here is that you need a very high strike rate to make a profit.

While this is true, if you are selective and back a horse at value odds, you can win in the long-term. If you learn to play the markets and know when an odds-on favourite is likely to shorten in price, you will be well ahead of the game.

Imagine getting odds of 1.87 on the Betfair Exchange for a horse that ends up going off at a price of 1.61! Alternatively, you can decide to trade odds-on favourites (back to lay) rather than backing them outright. When you get it right and steal a few ticks per trade, your profits will add up.

However, backing odds-on favourites because they are more likely to win is pure folly. Never bet on a horse unless it offers value. A horse at 1.45 is not good value if his real odds should be 1.55. False favourites plague betting markets and do a great job of luring in uneducated money.

Incidentally, here is how all odds-on favourites (by SP) have fared in the UK since the beginning of 2010:

BetsWinsStrike Rate%ROI (SP)
13808826259.83%-4.49%

 A loss of almost 4.5% on the SP is very bad news, and there hasn’t been a single profitable year in ten. As for losing streaks, there have been three occasions where nine odds-on winners have lost in a row! There have been 13 occasions where seven in a row have lost and 90 occasions where you would have lost five bets in a row.

On the other side of the coin, there was one 15 bet winning streak and 33 occasions where odds-on favourites won ten in a row.

Final Thoughts

In the end, you are only doing yourself a disservice if you follow “conventional wisdom” without doing any of the hard work needed to fine tune your own system. While Sir Michael Stoute is an excellent trainer, it does you no good to only back his horses in May. Occasionally, the outsider of three is good value, but an odds-on favourite is not always worth your money.

Ultimately, those who believe in luck are destined to lose, while winners believe in cause and effect. If you do things right most of the time, you are likely to be successful more often than the person who places blind trust in luck.

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