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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? What to lay in 2023?


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Fate of Festival SP favourites since 2008. When the fav becomes 3/1 and under at a lot of Festival races, then perhaps we should be reassessing the value.  Bookmakers like best to take on favourites priced between 4/6 and 3/1. These are the prices that you are going to get them 'in the bag.' Simon Nott's excellent daily accounts for Starsports and AK Bets in Ireland would suggets that 1/3 and 1/4 shots are never that easy to lay for cash and more often or not remain winners for the book. That happens. Sometimes with a real shortie we will bet distances just to be something different. Ah Samcro, 1/4 at Down Royal, there's a story. As an on course clerk, 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 so you stand it for your usual projected loss. But it doesn't always work that way.

However my self imposed 3/1 reassessment barrier should change with each individual Festival race. For example In the Queen Mother, this century the 22 favourites have ranged in price from the beaten 2/9 Douvan to winner Altior 4/11 to beaten 2/5 Defi du Seuil to beaten 8/13 Chacun Pour Soi to winner 11/4 Sire De Grugy. Sire de Grugy has been the biggest priced QM favourite this century. 11 of those 22 favourites since 1999 started odds on. Only three of the eleven won. Yes, I had to check that again. 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, then have another think before wading in as a punter.

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.

In 2022 we had Gaellic Warrior 13/8f Boodles. Not in a handicap but Dinoblue, 11/8f for Mares Novice. The above grid shows that last year was the first time ever in the 28 races that there were 20 favourites 3/1 and under and of those 11.5 won (Constitution Hill being a jt fav). Four of the first five favs obliging on GC Day when most cash is taken. After Vauban in the Triumph, I'm told that WPM's State Man at 11/4fav in the County was a killer. I'm also not sure much profit would have been made from those tight second favs, Stattler and Elimay A well known Northern Irish on course bookmaker confessed to me that 2022 was his first ever losing Cheltenham. And the family have been attending for some years. Murder picture.

In 2021 there were only two shorties in the handicaps. Both won. The Shunter at 9/4f and Mount Ida at 3/1f. May have been something to do with Kevin Blake have them as his Thursday treble on The Morning Show along with Mrs Milner. 19 favourites started 3/1 or under, eight winners. All eight winning favs were 3/1 and under. There were seven odds on shots, apart from Chacun Pour Soi, both Concertista and Kilcruit at 10/11, and Envoi Allen at 4/9 left their money in the bag.

2020 was slightly different. 7 favs and a joint fav won, 4.5 of those in handicaps. The shortest of those winning 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 in GC (not particularly so). A Bookies Benefit. 

So, only as a guide, level stake laying at SP of all 252 SP favs priced 3/1 and under since 2001 would have given you, as the bookie, a profit of +29.5 units. Wouldn't seem a great return for your 21 yrs work but depending on level stakes stats is very much an inexact science. If you like to back the short ones, 2015 ,'16, '19 and '21 would have all yielded a punter's profit. Bookmaker loss last year -5 units 2021 1.5 pts, Last year the first three conditions races on the Tuesday won by the jolly. In 2021 it was five of the first seven conditions races from Appreciate It to Monkfish, all winning favs. And Galvin wouldn't have been much help at 7/2 in the Nearly Four Miler. In 2020 Bookmaker profit 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 that year 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 five 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.

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 with 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 GB/IRE that year. The first race on GC Day. Think of all the races throughout the whole racing calendar in these islands. A small field, Grade 1 four yr old race takes all that cash. Vauban for the punters last year. First winning fav in five renewals. 2021 second fav Quilixios at 2/1. A Rachael ridden winner never tends to be good news. That year Zanahyir had been the rage since Hattons Grace day in early December. 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, at 6/5 fav, is backed as if already home and hosed. Not. Possibly the best bookie result of each respective week. 

All seven races on Gold Cup day are usually in the top twenty betting races for the whole calendar year. The first five races on Gold Cup Day are regularly in the top 15 of biggest UK betting races of the year. Last year the favs went in. In 2021 no favourites won on Gold Cup Day. Punters have to win sometime. In 2021 Zanahyir at 11/8, A Plus Tard 9/4, Billaway at 2/1 and Elimay at 6/5 all leaving it behind would suggest that the clerks may have been getting steak for dinner. Saint Roi, Al Boum Photo and Chosen Mate along with Defi Du Seuil 2017 Triumph and Hazel Hill 2019 Foxhunters had been only 5 favourites to have won any of the 35 races over the five Festival Fridays form 2017 to 2021. Then last year. People laugh at me but it always comes round.

The Ascot Gold Cup tends to be the only Royal Ascot race ever to make it into the top twenty betting races. (usually just behind the (Fox)hunters, I ask you).

WILLIE MULLINS SHORTIES - Punters fight back. 2022 he saddled seven at SP returned under 2/1. Five won, not Gaelic Warrior nor Dinoblue. But had the first race winners on the Wednesday and Friday and a Gold Cup Day five timer. Ouch, methinks. In 2021 WPM saddled six at 15/8 or under. Only Appreciate It 8/11 and Monkfish 1/4 obliged. Concertista, Chacun, Kilcuit and Elimay didn't (also Billaway at 2/1). That's 15/8 or under, 27 wins from the his last 45. Running profit to back a tenner to £1 SP level stake Hmm. 26 sent out evens or shorter over the past 15 Festivals, 11 losers.  Both Sir Gerhard and Allaho romped it last year. Five odds on losers over the previous two Festivals.

2020. Willie saddled seven 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 that he didn't win. Min won the Ryanair for him in 2020 at 2/1 but A Plus Tard was the favourite. 

The shortest shorties to get turned over this century are, in order, Douvan, Envoi Allen and Annie Power in that 2015 £40 million fall. Alloha was the shortest shortie last year at 4/7.

BACKING SP FAVS BLIND - A daft idea but some do. Punters win +5 last year with a bumper year. 2021 not such a good year, Punter loses 7.5 pts. 8 shorties won but biggest prices Allaho and Mount Ida, both at 3s In 2020, for only the second time in the last six, 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 helped to bolster it. Similar +5 success in 2019 with A Plus Tard 5/1, Sire De Berlais 4s, both at 7/2 giving decent SP Fav 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. 

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 38 handicaps between then and 2022, 10.5 of the favs won, two in 2021, four and a jt fav in 2020. 'Too many for me, time for another gap?' I wrote last year. First eight handicap favs were beat in 2022 and then State Man. aagh!

'WHICH ONES TO LAY IN 2023? - At this point last year I put up four shorties to take on, all of them won. 'Eight yr olds don't win Arkles.' No George Cross won by me, that's for sure. I can hear Dan saying 'We are playing with live bullets here now, you clown.' The 2023 short priced beauty parade should include (writing post DRF) .Jonbon, Constitution Hill, Gaillard Du Mesnil, Energumeme, Delta Work, Mighty Potter, Allaho, Lossiemouth, Galopin Des Champs, Allegorie De Vassy.

Prediction time. No Grahams Preview this year, a pity, so I don't know what the offers will be. Big field of shorties this year. I'll take on Jonbon (that Arkle favs thing can't go on forever, surely to God), Energumene (yet to beat a good horse they say, jumps to his right), Mighty Potter in the Turners (wrong race imho) and Lossiemouth (just too short). That'll do. God, I feel like Johnny Dineen.

OVERROUNDS - This topic is questionable as you will very rarely lay all the horses in any race, never mind Cheltenham. And despite what the world thinks, not all bookmakers go the same prices at the same time, In 2021, for the first time, the overrounds came from the off course firms. There are 14 G1s and since 2021, 9 handicaps. Figures are in percentages.

The averages: - 

Grade 1s - 2022 115, 2021 - just under 116.  2020 - 123,  '19 - 121, '18, '17, '16 all three were 120%  Certainly a bit of a drop over the last three Festivals. Approaching Downpatrick Maiden Hurdle levels. Last year ranged from 127 in the Albert Bartlett to 108 in the Turners (which was basicallly a match) GC itself was 112, 115 in 2021, 117 in 2020 and 132 in  2021. 

Last year the 'best' handicap overround race for punters was the Plate on 124. Average for the nine handicaps in 2022 was 131 up from 2021 127.5 down from 134 in 2020 and 135 in 2019.  

The overrounds on GC Day 2022. went 120 Triumph, 139 County, 127 Albert Bartlett, 112 GC, 135 Martin Pipe. I know in a hectic day with everyone backing everything, clerks rarely have the time to push out non liabilities but if I was there, sorry, I'd be on the exchanges. Usually little or no overround.

But be wary. Personal experience from internet firms. When Frodon drifted to 16s in the 2021 GC  (Skybet 5 places) just before the off, I tried to get a oner ew. Knocked back, only allowed 25ew). Hmm. As the SPs now do not come from the on course books, look for discrepancies. If you're lucky enough to be on course, at some stage on the smaller fields bookies will be bigger than the machine on the front three. If not, they may not lay them. Unless, of course, you have AK's charm. Because we've all got phones. But they won't be bigger for the full 15 mins before the race. You have to go looking for it. Exchanges win book will usually be bigger on those 10/1 and above.

In my 15 years clerking I have never seen any conspiracies in a ring especially in these times of exchange trading. On course Bookmakers may need each other to spread liabilities (at times), but they are still competing against each other. Not sure about off course SPs. For only the second time in some years, Gold Cup Day 2021 did not have the biggest average race overround prize. Went to Stayers Hurdle day on 122.6. Gold Cup Day 2020 was 126% as opposed to 131% in 2019. 2020 Stayers Hurdle Day on nearly 129%. Gold Cup day, as we know, is the day when the bookies hold the most money. However the Thursday is the only day, at present, with three handicaps.

For punting purposes, Matt Tombs. expert trends man and all round good guy, did some work a while back on the Pricewise tables in the Racing Post. In the morning there will be many occasions when those prices are already gone but the tables for each race come to about 100%. Matt simply explained with bigger SP overrounds at race time, prices may be stronger before noon each day. Especially value if you are still getting BOG. But James Knight in Corals may now be wise to this!

Other betting stats -. 3/1 and shorter favourite winners in handicaps since 2002 are 5 from 31 (Gaelic Warrior negated State Man 11/4. The Shunter 9/4 and Mount Ida 3/1 2021 not helping. 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).  In amateur rider only races they are 5 from 20 (No amateurs allowed in 2021, so can't count Mount Ida win, Last year Billaway won, Run Wild Fred didn't. 2021 Escaria Ten 11/4, Billaway 2/1 vanquished. Carefully Selected and Billaway unsuccessful 2020, Ballyward and Measureofmydreams beat in 2019, no qualifiers 2018, Cantlow 9/4 and On The Fringe losing in 2017.  It does take a lot of cash/impetus to make a horse 3/1 fav in a Cheltenham Festival handicap.

Billaway and Delta Work 5/2 and party pooper last year, 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 (28 others have tried). Tbh this stat is only left now with the X country and the (Fox)hunters.

ODDS ON - In the last 25 Festivals 28 of 60 odds on shots have been beat. Nearly half. Always think that's quite amazing. Galopin and Shishkin last year. Seven in 2021, four losers. Envoi Allen at 4/9 the shortest. Six in 2020, losers 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. Bumper bookie 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). With 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). A ballsy team.

WHICH RACE 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 Champion Hurdle with eight winning favs from the last 10. Only Jezski and Espoir D'Allen spoiled the party. Constitution Hill. It's neck and neck with the Arkle where eight of the last 11 have obliged and 11/4 jt favs filling the places in one of the others. But Shishkin was the first winning fav in three. All bar Edwardstone of those eight were odds on. Jonbon In the JLT/Marsh/Turners three and a co fav of the last eight have obliged. And Galopin Des Champs was about to...In two of the other years the Marsh was won by 4/1 shots. Envoi Allen at 4/9 spoiled those figures. Five of the last eight Brown Advisory/Broadway Ch jollies have obliged. Four of the last seven Triumph Hurdle favourites have won. Six Ryanairs in the last 11, Eight of the last 19 World Hurdle jollies have gone in but only Thistlecrack and Paisley Park from the last 10. Four of the last five Mildmays have been won by three favs and a second fav. 2021 and 2012 will go down as the years when Mildmay and Kim Muir favourites both won on the same day. Well, to me anyway. W Mullins has taken five of the seven versions of the Mares Novice Hurdle but neither of the last two. Four of the last five favourites have obliged in the Ballymore, none of them bigger than 6/4 SP but only Willoughby Lodge in the last 13 had a bigger price than 7/1.

WHICH FAVOURITES ARE DUE? - The Coral Cup fav Dame De Compagnie obliges in 2020. First time since Xenophon in 2003. And then bang. We're back to a 33/1 winner in 2021 and a 50/1 shot last year. The three before Dame De Compagnie were priced at 28s, 20s and 16s respectively.  What's due now? State Man and Saint Roi 2020 take the County off the list. First favs since  Sporazene 2004. Delta Work and Tiger Roll in 2019 the only Cross Country favs in the last 15 to oblige 'on the day'. The National Hunt Chase hasn't had a winning favourite since 2013. The Supreme has now had two on the bounce. Coo Star Sivola 2018 and Wichita Lineman 2009 are the only Ultima winning favs since Antonin in '94. Band Of Outlaws only Fred Winter winning fav in 11. Mount Ida only Kim Muir fav in 10. Sir Des Champs in 2011 the only fav ever to win any of the 14 Martin Pipes. But the two races that I really think the fav is due are the Albert Bartlett (none in nine) and the usually small field Mares Hurdle (only Vroum Vroum Mag in the last eight, some were pretty short). That's also hard to believe. Since Quevega left the stage there's been some catastrophes there.

BEATEN FAVOURITES LAST TIME - I like this one. My theory here is, a beaten favourite is usually a disappointment to punters and connections. If they have disappointed last time out, should we give them another immediate chance in what is very likely to be a higher grade, these Olympics? In 2015, a total of 64 ran at the Festival having been a BF last time out. No one believed me but not one of them won. In 2016 I was nearly distraught when six Festival winners were fecking BFs last time. Thought it was over between us. 55 ran 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, the punter, 10.5 pts but it took me a while to get over it.

It's always good to see a friend return. In 2017, 53 were PPDs (Punters' Previous Disappointments). 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 BF information is always beside the horse's name 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 and worst of all, the wonderful Pacha Du Polder at 25s in the Foxhunters. Despite all those, still a level stakes loss of 7.5 pts if you had backed them all at SP. In 2019 the stat comes back to daddy, 62 qualifiers, only one winner A Plus Tard at 5/1 fav in the Close Bros, bookie 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. Luckily for me, 21 of the rogues ran on GC day, all beaten. Seven in the County. 2021 44 came, only Minella Indo at 9/1 obliged. +35. 2022. Not a great one. There seems to be less of them taking their chance. 45 PPDs produced winners Corach Rambler 10s, Coole Cody 22s and obviously, A Plus Tard at 3s in the GC. Backing all 45 still lost you 7 units. The funniest bit was that there were only three BFs last time running in the 2022 Ultima and they finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd!

Since 2015 the Foxhunters, the GC and the Ultima are the only Festival races to have produced two winners who were BF last time.

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Drum roll, please. Since the turn of the century, 1027 horses have run at the Festival having been beaten favourite last time out. A total of 41 of the PPDs won for just under a 4% strike rate. About a 25/1 chance for each winner. Since 2000 on £1 stakes you will only show a profit of £24 in the RSA, £22 in the County Hurdle and thanx to Pacha du Polder, you're only £2.25p down in the Foxhunters. No other race in profit. Backing all beaten favs last time blindly SP to £1 would have left you £532.25 adrift. It had been suggested in the RP 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. 10 of the 41 winners had been beaten last time out at evens or shorter (A Plus Tard 8/11, Champ 4/9, Samcro 4/6, Apples Jade 2/5, Black Hercules and Baracouda, both at 4/11), 15 were Irish trained, six Nicholls, 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 2023 include A Plus Tard, Facile Vega. Paisley Park, Protekorat, Blue Lord, Lossiemouth, Rare Edition.