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Fate of the Favourites - A Clerk's View

Which race favourite is due/not due? Beaten Favourite last time out?

Fate of the Favourites Table 2020

WHICH ONES TO LAY IN 2020? - This time last year I put up the 11 probable shorties as Le Richebourg, Buveur D'Air, Benie Des Dieux, Ok Corral, Champ, Santini, Altior, Tiger Roll, Paisley Park, Sir Erec and Presenting Percy. Named six to take on. Le Richeburg was a NR but the rest failed to win. Aftertiming but my best record yet. This years short priced beauty parade should include (writing 10th February) Shiskin, Notebook, Epatante, Benie Des (Mares), Envoi Allen, Champ, Altior, Tiger Roll, Appreciate It, Paisley Park, Min (Ryanair) and Minella Melody. No shorties yet on GC Day, bookies might think they're in clover.


Prediction time. A bit worrying as I've backed at least three of these antepost. (Can't resist it.) Like all clerks, although I help to pay out, its not my money. Dan, my employer will repeat, 'We are playing with live bullets here, no George Cross please.' At least six of those twelve shorties don't win. I'll take on Shiskin, Epatante, Champ, Altior, Min (Ryanair), Minella Melody. There, said it, Altior. Debbie Matthews on #goracinggreen might never speak to me again. Her favourite horse. I wonder what interesting offers Grahams will come in with on Belfast Preview Night? What say you, Ronan?


Fate of Festival SP favourites since 2003. I say this every year. It is a bit arbitrary but when it becomes 3/1 and under at a lot of Festival races, one should consider reassessing the value.

As a clerk with 11 years highly enjoyable experience for a small but reputable firm, I know that the theory of calculating level staking punting on favourites means little or nothing. The shorter the price, the bigger percentage of my screen should be on that horse. Take Douvan in the 2017 Queen Mother. The horse was beaten at 2/9, I would have expected 75% plus of the book to have been laid on it so that you stand Douvan for the same amount as you stand every other favourite. If that hasn't happened, either the clerk is at fault or the bookie has gone a bit 'caul' (cold) and couldn't see it beat. To be respectful to all on course layers, it does take balls to lay a 2/9 'certainty' for your regular projected loss. We're all not talking John Hughes here. Its dead easy if you were to take a 'two thousand to nine' early. Then there is no option, you have to work, but real life is rarely as simple as that. Bookmakers tend to be happier taking on a 7/4 favourite rather than a 4/7 shot. Obviously there should be more chance in getting the 7/4 thing beat. And especially if it hasn't been a good day so far. Nothing worse when a long odds on shot gets beat. you didn't get it in the bag and the bookie next door blows, 'yeh, well, I just didn't fancy it to win.'

So my self imposed 3/1 reassessment barrier should change with each individual Festival race. If we return to the Queen Mother, this century the 19 favourites have ranged in price from the beaten 2/9 Douvan to the 11/4 Sire De Grugy who won in 2014. 8 of those 19 favourites started odds on. Only three of the eight won. Yes, I had to check that, too. At, 4/11, 1/4 and 4/11 respectively. Therefore it might be advisable that when the QM fav approaches Evens, pause, and have another think before wading in.

I'm thinking more of those favourites in handicaps who get backed off the boards, late. For every Unsinkable Boxer ('its the biggest certainty ever' whispered M Pipe to AP) cantering the Pertemps at 5/2 fav there are several plots each year that go awry. 2019 was no different. As the box shows, there were 14 favs at 3/1 and under last year and only 5 won. All that money stayed in the satchels for Apples Jade, Buveur D'Air and Laurina (and two of those weren't even favourite). Benie Des Dieux 10/11 (F) and Ballyward (RIP) 9/4 fav in the 4 miler made sure that Willie's early Tuesday double wasn't all plain sailing. Delta Work was sent off 15/8 fav in the 12 runner RSA. Those that us punters may have difficulty recalling were the last three favs on the Thursday. Well? Thought so. Janika 3/1 in the 22 runner Mildmay, Epatante 15/8 in the 22 runner Mares Novice, and Measureofmydreams 3/1 fav in the 23 runner Kim Muir. Even the Racing TV team before the off commented on the shortness of the latter. I am as guilty as most at following the money at times, but here it does pay to think.

So, level stake laying at SP of all 198 SP favs priced 3/1 and under since 2001 would have given you, as the bookie, a profit of +27 units. Not a great return for your work. If you like the short ones, '14, '15 ,'16, '19 would all have yielded a punter's profit. In 2019 the punter was in front by +2. In each of the previous two years the the punter would have been about -2 units down. 12 shorties in 2018, 15 in 2017. In 2018 the big winners for the bookies would have been a 9/1 shot winning the Supreme getting Getabird beaten (the first fav of the festival), Un De Sceaux turned over in the Ryanair, and Apples Shakira not winning in the Triumph, the first race on Gold Cup day when they take most money on and off course. According to Ladbrokes/Corals stats the Triumph Hurdle is always in the top ten biggest betting races in UK/Ire that year (7th in 2019). Think of all the races throughout the racing calendar. A small field, G1 four yr old race takes all that money, the fav is backed as if already home and hosed and the race is won by Farclas 9/1 and then Pentland Hills at 20s (Sir Erec RIP). Results of the respective weeks. In 2019 all seven races on Gold Cup day were in the top twenty betting races for the year. Lowest the Martin Pipe in 19th. The first five races on Gold Cup Day are regularly in the top 15 of biggest UK betting races of the year. And Defi Du Seuil 2017 Triumph with Hazel Hill in the 2019 Foxhunters are the only favourites to have won in the 21 races over the last three Festival Fridays. Is it any wonder Paddypower/Betfair slip out their yearly results on Cheltenham Monday when there are more important declaration stories where punters are concerned? The Ascot Gold Cup is the only Royal Ascot race to make it into the top twenty. (12th, two spots behind the Foxhunters)

As said in 2017 Douvan @ 2/9 turned over the big talking point. 2016's bookmakers' heaven/short priced punter carnage was +3 in favour of those punters who love shorties (8 from 15 won). Un De Sceaux the only odds on shot of four not to oblige.

I always look forward to hearing what Ronan Graham from Sean Grahams will offer on the Belfast Preview Night. It used be decent enhanced singles if not particularly exciting. The 2017 offer was a 9/2 treble Altior, Douvan and Unowhatimeanharry. The SP return on this treble was under 2/1 and people were queueing to get on. Worked for them, but then, laying short priced trebles tends to always work for the bookies. The theory as old as the hills. Always too many variables. We don't know how, but one will always get beat. Belfast is a great preview night, I recommend it. D Casey and G Elliott always worth listening to.

The W Mullins shorties are paying. 20 of his last 29 sent off at 15/8 or shorter have won for a £1 level stake profit of £11.10. 17 horses sent out by him over the past 12 Festivals have started evens or shorter ranging from Vautour to Douvan. 6 losers, latest Benie Des Dieux (ouch) and Un De Sceaux. Followed Hurricane Fly and Un De Sceaux(again) at 4/6, Annie Power in that £40 million fall at 1/2 in the Mares Hurdle 2015 was the 'shortest shortie' to fail in the previous 20 odd Festivals. Until Douvan, of course.

Last year, for the first time in four, backing the Favourites blind at SP would have given you the punter level stakes of +5. A Plus Tard 5/1, Sire De Berlais 4s, both Band Of Outlaws and Hazel Hill at 7/2 gave decent SP returns. In each of the previous three Festivals, backing the 28 favs blind would have given the bookies a win. 2018 +3.5, 2017 +2.5 and in 2016, +1 on level £1 stakes. As said above, true picture difficult. Only one favourite Getting Getabird beat in the Supreme was a big start in 2018, and all favourites failed to winn Gold Cup day. In 2017 the bookies won well especially on Day 1 when a 25/1 outsider wins the Supreme and plunges went adrift on Yanworth 2s and Limini 6/4. Only favourite to win on GC day was Defi Du Seuil and plenty of money stayed in satchels after Death Duty 13/8, On The Fringe 11/8 and Le Prezien at 7/2.

2016 narrowly outstripped 2012, 2013 and 2019 as the best performing year for favourites since 2003. Nine winning favs and a co fav from the 28 races. 2013 was different again in that all 9 favourites that won were 3/1 and under. Even all three of the odds on shots were successful. Unheard of. And 4 favourites won on Gold Cup day. But even backing all favourites blindly in 2013 would still have cost you 3.5 units. In 2012 the favourites profit for punters would have been +8. That year the 4 miler was won by the 5/1 fav and three of the handicap chases were won by favourites priced 13/2 twice and 9/2.

Enough, now.

Another beautiful anomaly in 2018 was that Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima was the first Festival Handicap favourite in 37 to win. Loved that stat. Have checked, in the 19 handicaps since, 4 favs have won, three in 2019.

Overrounds - Always controversial stuff. Last year the overround for the 14 G1s averaged 121%, In each of the previous three years it was 120%. That's pretty good for layers as on a Friday evening at Downpatrick for a non handicap you might struggle to get percentages above 112-113. Last year it ranged from the the RSA with 115% to the GC with 132%. The latter might be seem as being a bit cheeky but it was 100/30 the field with lots being backed. The bigger the field, usually the bigger the overround, the exception being when you have a shortie such as Altior at 4/11. The QM overround was 131%, usually done to deter the each ways. Min was 7/2 second fav in that (finished 5th), 11s bar in a nine runner race. In 2017 the overround for that QM was 139% followed by Altior's Arkle at 134%. Probably because of the their prices 2/9 and 1/4. Bookies dislike 6/1, 7/1 second favs, 9s bar, in fields of eight or more. All the each way thieves come in for their 'bet to nothing'. Always think a daft bet myself as the bookie now holds your money and the horse has to get placed for you to get it back. And if the shortie wins, you have only two places to get your money back. Somehow it usually comes for the bookie.

In the 2019 Festival the best overround race for punters on each day (in order) were the Ch Hurdle 117% (three shorties against the field), RSA (for the fourth year running) 115%, Ryanair (third year in row) 119%, Albert Bartlett 124%. The smaller fields sometimes mean that bookmakers have to bet harder. The average for the 10 handicaps in 2019 was just over 135% the biggest for at least four years and well above the 130% in 2018. No bookmaker would turn their nose up at these numbers. It ranged from 130% in the County (the highest overround in 2018) to 140% for the Martin Pipe. Haven't seen a 140% for a while. I know its not the Grand National (163% in 2019!) but its getting a bit cheeky, especially on GC day. As a clerk, I do think it sometimes unfair to concentrate on handicap overrounds in the biggest fields. If everyone is backing everything, there doesn't tend to be time to push things out to bigger prices in those frenzied minutes before the off. The exchanges will usually offer the better win prices as they are self regulating. In 11 years clerking I have never seen any general conspiracies in a ring especially in these times of exchange trading. Bookmakers in a ring may need each other, but they are still competing against each other. Once again Gold Cup Day had the biggest average race overround at 131% (5% higher than 2018) which is handy for on course laters as yes, that is the day they take the most money.

Other betting stats. 3/1 and shorter favourite winners in handicaps since 2002 are 2 from 27 (Janika and Measureofmydreams both beat last year, no qualifiers in the previous two years, 2016 Aloomomo 3s, Josies Orders 15/8, Squouateur 9/4 all lost. 2015 Roi Des Francs beat, 2014 Big Shu beaten in X Country.) In amateur rider races they are 4 from 17 (Ballyward and Measureofmydreams beat last year, no qualifiers 2018, Cantlow 9/4 and On The Fringe losing in 2017. In 2016, On The Fringe 15/8 winner, 2015 Paint The Clouds 11/4 loser in Foxhunters, 4th).

Tiger Roll 5/4 Cross Country 2019, On The Fringe, Back in Focus, Salsify (lucky) and Alderwood in 2013 were the first favourites 3/1 and under to win conditions races outside G1 or G2 company since Heads on the Ground in the 2007 Cross Country (24 others have tried).

In the last 23 Festivals 17 of 42 odds on shots have been beat. That's amazing. Two last year, Benie Des Dieux, Six ran in 2018, Apples Jade and Un De Sceaux of the six left the money in the satchels.

On-course bookmakers will once again fight bare knuckle in the car park for a pitch (maybe not lower down in Tatts, but on 11th February 2019 Julie Williams did make the £165k reserve for her father Freddie's No 2 pitch. John Hughes now governs that corner). And with the huge expenses involved for such a tour, it must work for them. 'We are there to lay the shorties' (Brian and Ronan Graham, every Belfast Europa Preview Night, every Monday before, every year).

WHICH FAVOURITE MAY HAVE WON TOO OFTEN RECENTLY? - People don't believe me, but when you work as a clerk, you see these things taking their turn, going round. No, no logical reason, its horse racing, it just happens. The race with the current best rate for favourites remains the Arkle with six of the last eight obliging and the 11/4 jt favs filling the places in one of the other two. The last four Arkle favourites to win were all odds on. I did say last year Arkle favs may have had their turn for a while. Hardline didnt show. Notebook. In the JLT/Marsh three and a co fav of the last five have obliged. Maybe time to take on Faugheen? Three of the last five RSA and Triumph Hurdle favourites have won. Champ, Allmankind. Three Ryanairs in the last six, the Champion Hurdle is 5 from the last 9. Eight of the last 17 World Hurdle jollies have gone in but only Thistlecrack and Paisley Park from from the last seven. Paisley Park. It should will be a few years before the Mildmay and Kim Muir favourites once again both win on the same day like in 2012. Quevega won the Mares a lot followed by Vroom Vroom. Last three mares favs beaten. Ryanair has had four winning favs in the last eight. The 4 mile Chase hadn't had a winning favourite since 1992 then from 2011 to 2013 Chicago Grey, Teaforthree and Back In Focus come together, like buses. None since. Willoughby Lodge 14s biggest priced winner of Neptune in 10 years. Nothing else was bigger than 7s. But three winning favs in that race in the last eight. Three of the four Mares Novice Hurdles taken by the Willie Mullins fav plus a 50/1 shot.

WHICH FAVOURITES ARE DUE? - The Coral Cup - Xenophon 2003 (Pricewise 8s in the morning to 4s when Segal really had clout) was the last favourite to oblige in that one. Sporazene 2004 last clear County Hurdle winning fav. Since the same horses seem to be involved all the time, seems strange that Tiger Roll at 5/4 was the first of the last 12 Cross Country favs to oblige 'on the day'. Coo Star Sivola joined Wichita Lineman to be the first favs in the Ultima since Antonin in '94. No 4 miler fav in the last six, no Close Brothers fav winning since Hunt Ball in 2012. Band Of Outlaws first Fred Winter winning fav in eight. Majadou '99, Salut Flo' 12, The Storyteller '18 current roll of honour for the Mildmay. No Kim Muir fav in seven, no Albert Bartlett in six. Only Don Cossack 2016 of the last six GC favourites. Sir Des Champs is the only Fav ever to win the Martin Pipe and Alderwood 3/1 in 2013 is the only Grand Annual winning fav in 15. Favs do work better in the smaller fields conditions races. (If its any help, I'm still getting poorer backing the unnamed fav in the Coral Cup, on the theory that its going to happen sometime..)

BEATEN FAVOURITES LAST TIME - In 2016 I was nearly distraught when I realised that six of the Festival winners were fecking beaten favourites last time out. One of my favourite stats. Thought it was over between us. 55 beaten favourites last time out came to Prestbury Park that year. Winners were Un Temps Pour Tout, Any Currency (a given), Diego Du Charmil, Black Hercules, Ivanovich Gorbatov and On the Fringe. Consoled myself with the knowledge that backing level stakes on all 55 would still have cost you 16 pts but it took me a while to get over it. 

But its always good to see a friend return. In 2017, 53 of the PPDs (Punters Previous Disappointments) ran at the Festival. One winner, Apples Jade 4/1. Even backed her, on an outsider of three theory. Made a profit on the beasts of 48pts on the week, or if you are like me, gives you something to strike out in the comic when pouring over the big fields. In 2018 the doubt returned, 59 ran, winners were Presenting Percy 5/2 RSA, Penhill 12s (BF at Punchestown Festival) Stayers, Missed Approach 8s Kim Muir and worst of all Pacha Du Polder Foxhunters at 25s. Despite that, still a level stakes loss of 7.5 units if you had backed them all. In 2019 the stat comes back to work, 62 qualifiers, only one winner A Plus Tard at 5/1 favin the Close Bros, profit of 55 units.

Since 2015 the Foxhunters is the only Festival race to have produced two winners who were BF last time,

Drum roll, please. Since the turn of the century, 885 horses have run at the Festival having been beaten favourite last time out. A total of 33 of the PPDs won for a 3.7% strike rate. About a 25/1 chance for each winner. In 2015, a total of 64 ran having been beaten favourite last time out. No one believed me but none of them won. Since 2000 on £1 stakes you will only show a profit of £21 in the RSA, £27 in the County Hurdle and thanx to Pacha, 75p in the Foxhunters. No other race in profit. Backing all beaten favs last time blindly to £1 would have left you £460.75 adrift. It has been suggested by the great James Pyman in the comic that the four RSA winning 'beaten favs', Lord Noelie, Hussard Collonges, Trabolgan and Presenting Percy were beaten either at 'sharp' tracks or at a distance less than 3 miles. Maybe. At least seven of the 33 winners had been beaten last time out at evens or shorter (Apples Jade 2/5, Black Hercules and Baracouda, both at 4/11), twelve were Irish trained, six Nicholls trained, three Henderson. Fantastic stuff. This is the Olympics. Do you get a second chance to disappoint? Maybe. Those that may be involved in this poser for 2020 include Kemboy, Easywork, Aspire Tower, Elegant Escape, Battleoverdoyen, The Conditional, Imperial Aura.

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