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Fate of the Favourites - A Clerk's View

How did they fare last year? Which race favourite is due/not due? Beaten Favourite last time out? Which are lays?

Fate of Festival SP favourites since 2008. That Festival was the when there began to be more odds on shots. Amongst others, Chris Cook in the Guardian believes this to be because the number of races increased and the 'quality was diluted.' Possibly. In my view when the fav becomes 3/1 and under at a lot of Festival races, then we should be reassessing the value. Bookmakers like best to take on favourites priced between 4/6 and 3/1.

As an on course clerk with plenty of experience in a small but reputable firm, I know that the theory of calculating level staking punting on favourites proves 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 we stood Douvan for the same amount as we 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 not all John Hughes in Pitches Nos 1 and 2. It's 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'

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 20 favourites have ranged in price from the beaten 2/9 Douvan to winner Altior 4/11 to beaten 2/5 Defi du Seuil to winner 11/4 Sire De Grugy. Sire de Grugy has been the biggest priced QM favourite this century. 9 of those 20 favourites since 1999 started odds on. Only three of the nine won. Yes, I had to check that, too. At 1/4 and 4/11 twice. Five winning favs of the 11 priced Evens or bigger. Therefore more 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 late, on course. For every Unsinkable Boxer cantering the Pertemps at 5/2 fav, there are several plots each year that go awry. 2020 was slightly different from other years. 7 favs and a joint fav won at last year's Festival, 4.5 of those in handicaps. The shortest of those winning favs was Simply The Betts at 100/30 in the Mildmay. In handicaps 4/1 or 5/1 the field, bookies will normally 'stand' three or four unless badly hit with one or have a strong opinion. And as we know from Gary Wiltshire, a bookmaker with an opinion can be a dangerous thing. Only 3 favourites won any of the 18 conditions races in 2020. They were Epatante and Envoi Allen (well backed on course) and Al Boum Photo (not particularly so). A Bookies Benefit. And not only for that reason. More below. The on course gambles that went awry in 2020 included Blacko's 16s overnight to 5/1 jt fav in the Boodles (who knows why?), Shantou Flyer 9/2 to 3/1 in the Foxhunters (good God), Galvin 13/2 to 4/1jt fav in a flash in the nov h'cap chase, Thosedaysaregone 14s to 10s Coral Cup, and Death Duty 16s to 8s in the five minutes before the Mildmay start. I might be wrong but none of the prices of the handicap winning favs seemed to shorten drastically in the 15 minutes before the off.

So, level stake laying at SP of all 213 SP favs priced 3/1 and under since 2001 would have given you, as the bookie, a profit of +38 units. Not a great return for your 19 yrs work but it's explained above. If you like to back the short ones, '14, '15 ,'16, '19 would have all yielded a punter's profit. Not last year. Bookmaker profit 2020 12.5pts. There were 16 favourites priced 3/1 and under. All of them in the 18 conditions races. The only two conditions races that didn't have a 3/1 or under favourite were the Albert Bartlett and the Gold Cup. Only 2 of the 16 won, Epatante at 2/1 and Envoi Allen at 4/7, both admittedly hammered on course. Now, I'm not saying that the on course bookies made a lot of money out of second favs Honeysuckle, Easysland or Samcro but if you think of the money just for Asterion Forlonge. Carefully Selected, Appreciate It, Defi Du Seuil and Goshen, then you'll begin to realise that 2020 should have been a fine harvest. Rule of thumb is, if there are two or more shorties in the same race, 'we stand one.' And there's more, below.

The 2019 Festival was 'normal'. As the box shows, there were 14 favs at 3/1 and under year and only 5 won. All that money stayed in the satchels for Apples Jade, Buveur D'Air and Laurina in the Champion Hurdle (and two of those weren't even favourite). Benie Des Dieux 10/11 (F, ouch Ruby) and Ballyward (RIP) 9/4 fav in the 4 miler. Delta Work was sent off 15/8 fav in the 12 runner RSA. On the 2019 Thursday we had 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. All beaten. On the Friday Sir Erec (RIP) evens. 12/1 shot wins GC, 66/1 skinner in the Grand Annual.

In 2019 the punter was in front by +2. In 2018 and 2017 he or she 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.

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). The first race on GC Day. Think of all the races throughout the whole racing calendar in these islands. A small field, G1 four yr old race takes all that cash. The 2020 renewal was being won a furlong by Goshen the 5/2 jolly until.. In 2019 Sir Erec Evens RIP. In 2018 Apples Shakira Jade, at 6/5 fav, is backed as if already home and hosed. Not. Possibly the best bookie result of each respective week. In 2019 all seven races on Gold Cup day were in the top twenty betting races for the year. Lowest being the Martin Pipe placed 19th. The first five races on Gold Cup Day are regularly in the top 15 of biggest UK betting races of the year. Saint Roi, Al Boum Photo and Chosen Mate along with Defi Du Seuil 2017 Triumph and Hazel Hill 2019 Foxhunters are the only favourites to have won in the 28 races over the last four Festival Fridays. Is it any wonder Paddypower/Betfair slip out their yearly results on Cheltenham Monday when there are more interesting 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, I ask you.)

Now, I wrote last year 'The W Mullins shorties are paying.' Before the 2020 Festival, '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.'

Well, things changed a bit in 2020. Willie saddled 7 winners, none priced under 3/1. He saddled 7 favourites, all 3/1 or under, all losers. All in conditions races. In order Asterion Forlonge 9/4, Benie Des Dieux 4/6, Carefully Selected 10/11, Alloha 5/2, Appreciate It 15/8, Faugheen 3/1, Billaway 11/4. Amazing to think that his shortest priced horse on GC Day was in the fifth race and the first one that day he didn't win. Bookies drive big cars. Min won the Ryanair for him at 2/1 but A Plus Tard was the favourite. Makes it now, 15/8 or under, that's 20 wins in the last 32, running profit £8.10. 19 sent out evens or shorter over the past 13 Festivals, 8 losers.

BACKING SP FAVS BLIND - A daft idea but some do. Last year, for the second time in five, backing the favourites blind at SP would have given you the punter level stakes of +5. Saint Roi, 11/2, Dame de Compagnie 5/1, Chosen Mate 7/2 helped to bolster it. Similar +5 success in 2019 with A Plus Tard 5/1, Sire De Berlais 4s, both Band Of Outlaws and Hazel Hill at 7/2 giving 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, the true picture is difficult. Getting Getabird beat in the Supreme was a big start in 2018, and all favourites were beat on Gold Cup day.

Enough, now.

Another beautiful thing 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 29 handicaps since, 8.5 favs have won, four and a jt fav last year. Too many for me. Time for another gap?

'WHICH ONES TO LAY IN 2021? - In 2019 I put up six shorties to lay. One NR but got five beat. Wasn't I the clever guy. This time last year i suggested laying Shishkin, Epatante, Champ, Altior, Min and Minella Melody. Not such a clever guy. Might have been looking for different employment after that. Can hear Dan saying 'We are playing with live bullets here, no George Cross please.' The 2021 short priced beauty parade should include (writing 10th February) Check

Prediction time. I wonder what interesting offers Grahams will come in with on Belfast Preview Night? What say you, Ronan?

OVERROUNDS - Always controversial stuff. Last year the overround for the 14 G1s averaged 123% up from 121 in 2109 and 120 in each of 2016, '17 and '18. 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. The 2020 Festival G1s overrounds ranged from the the QM with 111% to the bumper with 134% The Gold Cup itself went from 132% in 2109 to 117% last year. Maybe punters without stronger opinions last year as it was 100/30 the field on both occasions? The bigger the field, usually the bigger the overround, the exception being when you have a shortie such as Altior at 4/11 in the 2019 QM field with 8 or 9 runners. That QM overround that year was 131%, second and third favourites were shortened up to deter the each way thieves. Min was the 7/2 second fav (finished 5th). Compare last year's QM. Defi Du Seuil 2/5 fav, only seven runners, that 'bet to nothing' perceived as not being that easy. The overround was the smallest of the week at 111% as bookies had to 'chase' after the punters a bit. Always think that 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 2020 the best overround race for punters each day was (in order) 122% Arkle, 111% QM (beat the RSA for the first time in 5 years), 114% Ryanair (fourth year in row), 117% GC. The average for the 10 handicaps in 2020 was 134% down 1% since 2019 but well up from the 130% in 2018. Coral Cup topped the overrounds with 140%. It had a strong 5/1 favourite and late money for Thosedaysaregone 14s to 10s and Carnardier 8s to 13/2. No on-course bookmaker would turn their nose up at these numbers. 140% had been hit in the 2019 Martin Pipe, the first time in a while. I know it's not the Grand National (163% in 2019!) but it's 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 all my 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. For the first time in years Gold Cup Day did not have the biggest average race overround prize. Only 126% as opposed to 131% in 2019. That went to Stayers Hurdle day on nearly 129%. Gold Cup day, as we know, is the day when bookies hold the most money.

For punting purposes, Matt Tombs. expert trends man and all round good guy, did some work on the Pricewise tables in the Racing Post. In the morning there will be many occasions when those prices are gone but the tables for each race come to about 100%. Matt simply explained with bigger SP overrounds, prices likely to be stronger before noon each day. Especially value if you can get BOG.

Other betting stats. 3/1 and shorter favourite winners in handicaps since 2002 are 2 from 27 (no qualifiers in 2020, Janika and Measureofmydreams both beat in 2019, 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 only races they are 4 from 19 (Carefully Selected and Bill away unsuccessful last year, Ballyward and Measureofmydreams beat in 2019, 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, only 4th in the Foxhunters).

Tiger Roll 5/4 Cross Country 2019, On The Fringe 2016, Back in Focus, Salsify (lucky) are the only favourites 3/1 and under to win conditions races outside G1 or G2 company since Heads on the Ground in the 2007 Cross Country (26 others have tried).

ODDS ON - In the last 24 Festivals 22 of 48 odds on shots have been beat. That's quite amazing. Six odds on shots last year, remember Benie Des Dieux 4/6, Carefully Selected 10/11, Defi du Seuil 2/5, Tiger Roll 8/11, Paisley Park 4/6. Only Envoi Allen at 4/7 obliged. Did I mention something about a bumper harvest? Two odds on in 2019, Benie Des Dieux (F). 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, I believe, but in 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. I enjoy Pinno showing his screen to Matt Chapman on ITV. Makes it interesting. It was just before the GC, Al Boum Photo was a 'taker' but Kemboy would have cost him £9k. Well done, son. '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, it's horse racing, it just happens. The race with the current best rate for favourites is the the Champion Hurdle with 4 winning favs from the last six. And Espoir D'Allen. It takes over from the Arkle where six of the last nine have obliged and 11/4 jt favs filling the places in one of the others. But the last two have been unplaced. All those six winning Arkle favourites were odds on. In the JLT/Marsh three and a co fav of the last six have obliged. The other two years in the Marsh were won by 4/1 shots. Something bigger due there. Three of the last six RSA and Triumph Hurdle favourites have won. Three Ryanairs in the last seven, Eight of the last 17 World Hurdle jollies have gone in but only Thistlecrack and Paisley Park from from the last eight. The last three Mildmays have been won by two favs and a second fav. That's enough of that. It was 2012 when Mildmay and Kim Muir favourites both won on the same day. 2012. W Mullins has won all five versions of the Mares Novice Hurdle. . Two of the last three favourites have obliged in the Ballymore, both odds on but only Willoughby Lodge in the last 13 had a bigger price than 7/1. Four of the last eight QM winners have won/lost. Two novice h'cap chase winners have won in a row. Hmmm.

WHICH FAVOURITES ARE DUE? - The Coral Cup. Hard to believe, but it's over. We've all lived long enough to witness Dame De Compagnie take the mantle from Xenophon. Back in 2003 Pricewise 8s that morning to an SP of 4s when Tom had clout. Mick Fitz drove him clear. (Friendly scorn heaped upon me last year for tipping a Coral Cup unnamed fav. Going to happen. Sometimes, Gault just knows). What's due now? Saint Roi burys Sporazene 2004 as the last clear County Hurdle winning fav. Well due. Since the same horses seem to be involved all the time, seems strange that Tiger Roll 2019 is the only Cross Country fav in the last 13 to oblige 'on the day'. The National Hunt Chase hadn't had a winning favourite since 2013. Coo Star Sivola and Wichita Lineman are the only Ultima winning favs since Antonin in '94. Band Of Outlaws only Fred Winter winning fav in nine. No Kim Muir fav in eight. Sir Des Champs is the only fav ever to win any of the twelve versions of the Martin Pipe. But the two races that I really think the fav is due are the Albert Bartlett (none in eight) and the usually small field Mares Hurdle (only Vroum Vroum Mag in the last six). That's also hard to believe. Been some catastrophies there, since Quevega.

BEATEN FAVOURITES LAST TIME - The theory here is, if they have disappointed last time out, do you give them another chance in, what is the Olympics? One of my favourite stats. In 2015, a total of 64 ran having been a beaten favourite last time out. No one believed me but not one of them won at the Festival. In 2016 I was nearly distraught when I realised that six of the Festival winners were fecking beaten favourites last time out. 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 10.5 pts but it took me a while to get over it.

But it's always good to see a friend return. In 2017, 53 of the PPDs (Punters Previous Disappointments) ran at the Festival. One winner, Apples Jade SP 7/2. A lay profit on the beasts of 48.5 pts on the week, or if you are like me, gives you something to strike out in the comic when pouring over the big fields. The information is always on each race page. In 2018 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 in the Foxhunters at 25s. Despite that, still a level stakes loss of 7.5 pts if you had backed them all. In 2019 the stat comes back to daddy, 62 qualifiers, only one winner A Plus Tard at 5/1 fav in the Close Bros, profit of 56 pts. In 2020, we weren't off to a good start. The Conditional 15/2, Imperial Aura, Champ and Samcro, each at 4/1 meant we were only 8.5 ahead by close of play Thursday. However 21 of the rogues ran on GC day, all beaten. Seven in the County.

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, 938 horses have run at the Festival having been beaten favourite last time out. A total of 37 of the PPDs won for a 3.9% strike rate. About a 25/1 chance for each winner. Since 2000 on £1 stakes you will only show a profit of £25 in the RSA, £26 in the County Hurdle and thanx to Pacha, you're only 25p down in the Foxhunters. No other race in profit. Backing all beaten favs last time blindly SP to £1 would have left you £490.25 adrift. It had 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 hmmm. Nine of the 37 winners had been beaten last time out at evens or shorter (Champ 4/9, Samcro 4/6, Apples Jade 2/5, Black Hercules and Baracouda, both at 4/11), thirteen were Irish trained, six Nicholls trained, four Henderson. Fantastic stuff. This is the Olympics. Do you get a second chance to disappoint? Those that may be involved in this poser for 2021 include CHECK.

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