Everyone knows (or should know) that the process of blindly backing favoured horses will always lead you to the poorhouse. As far back as the 1980s, it was assumed that 80% of races were won by horses in the top 5 of the betting market.

This certainly makes sense but let’s see if it is true today. And more importantly, let’s figure out if we can make a profit with this information.

Since the beginning of 2015, horses in the top 5 in the market (not including horses that are a joint fifth favourite), have won 84.76% of races! In other words, you can pretty much take it to the bank that horses in the top 5 of the betting win between 80% and 85% of races no matter what.

Is there any difference according to code?

  • National Hunt: 85.53%
  • Flat: 81.84%
  • All-Weather: 83.98%

As you can see, National Hunt races are the most reliable for focusing on the top 5 horses in the market.

As you would expect, a higher percentage win in races with fewer runners:

  • 1-10 Runners: 88.6%
  • 11-20 Runners: 73.75%
  • 21+ Runners: 55.94%

Get the best value for favourites and long shots alike at:

Betting Site
100% up to $100 + Up to $500 Cash Back21+ to Play, T&Cs Apply

Do Punters Listen?

As it is “common” knowledge, surely punters listen and back horses in the top 5 in accordance with the statistics above? Not so. I checked a few races at random on Oddschecker to get an idea of where the money is going.

On a 9-horse race in Beverley, only 62% of bets were going on the Top 4 horses in the market.

On an 8-horse race at the same course, only 65% of bets went on the Top 5.

In a 10-horse race at Thirsk which featured an odds-on favourite, a little over 50% of bets went on the Top 5 horses.

And it went on and on. In practically every race, far more than 15-20% of punters wagered on horses outside the Top 5 of the betting market.

While no one is suggesting that you forget about outsiders (there are occasions when a good horse slips through the net or else a horse has a lucky day), it seems odd that punters practically throw their money away time and again.

Which Odds Market Position Offers The Best Value?

I was very interested to find out if there is a specific position in the odds market where you are more likely to make a profit. For the sake of clarity, each of the positions includes joint or co-favourites, etc. So second favourite includes horses that were the joint second favourite and so on. The fifth horse in the market is the only one that does not include a joint or co favourite. All figures are from the beginning of 2015.

Position in Odds MarketWin %ROI (BF)
Second 19.69%-5.03%

While it is not a surprise to find that the win percentage falls as you go down the list, it is a touch surprising to learn that your ROI also dwindles.

We can see that cutting your focus to the first 3 horses in any given race is a better strategy than looking at the top 5. This is good news because it is a little easier to narrow down our criteria to make a profit. The top 3 horses in the betting market win over 66% of races overall.

If you bet blindly on all 100,000 entries that were in the top 3 in the betting market (and I hope NO ONE did that!), your ROI loss is just 3.85%. When dividing by code, we get the following ROI figures:

  • National Hunt: -3.81%
  • Flat: -3.59%
  • All-Weather: -4.88%

Perhaps we should focus on Flat racing to see if we can do something about that percentage. When you focus on non-handicap races, the loss drops to 2.61%, but you have to remember; you’re technically betting on several horses per race, so the ROI figures to this point are worth ignoring. The most striking aspect of non-handicap flat races is that over 77% of winners are in the top 3 in the betting market.

In terms of trying to make a profit; you effectively break even by betting on horses that are third or joint third in the betting market. You earn a small profit of 3.26% by looking at races with 1-10 runners. It is worth point out that the win rate is just 14.46%, but that is reasonable for third favourites.

Further research showed that by focusing on Class 3 and Class 5 races, your ROI is 9.2%. Here is a quick recap of the criteria:

  • Flat
  • 1-10 Runners
  • Class 3 & 5
  • Non-Handicap
  • Clear or joint third favourite


While I would never encourage punters to ignore horses primarily due to their position in the odds market, a huge percentage of horses in the top 5 spots win the race. Sometimes, a ‘no-hoper’ is precisely that!

Horse racing experts understand the importance of the process of elimination. It is possible to make a long-term profit by getting little more than 20% of your selections correct; and in some cases, as I have proved in these strategy guides to date, you can profit with an even smaller win rate.

While you should not focus on horses solely because of their odds and position in the market, it can be a useful tool to narrow down the field. If you can eliminate 2 or 3 of the top 5 horses, your chances of winning increase significantly.