We’re Not Worthy: How to Identify False Favourites

We’re Not Worthy: How to Identify False Favourites As a general rule of thumb, approximately one third (33%) of the horse races run in Britain are won by the starting price favourite. In other words, approximately two thirds (67%) of starting price favourites lose, which is good news for anyone looking to profit from laying favourites. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because favourites start at short odds and lose two out of every three races, on average, you can make a profit simply by blindly laying the favourite in every race. You can’t.

 

Some favourites are overrated by the betting public and some are underrated, so what lay punters need is a methodology that allows them to determine which favourites are worthy of their position at the head of the market and which are not.

 

The majority of horse races are won by horses with good recent form, running in their normal sphere, against limited opposition, while at, or approaching, their peak. If, having analysed its form, you discover that the favourite in any race has profile that doesn’t match these criteria, for whatever reason, it may represent a lay betting opportunity.

 

Of course, there are many different reasons why a favourite may, in fact, be a “false” favourite, so perhaps the best thing to do at this point is to have a look at a real race and see what we can make of the favourite’s chance. The race that I’ve chosen, more or less at random, is the Royal Regiment Sussex Stakes (4.40) at Goodwood on Tuesday, September 3, the racecard for which is shown below.

 

I say more or less at random because I’ve deliberately chosen a handicap – so that all the runners, theoretically, have an equal chance – and, moreover, in which all the runners have thoroughly exposed form.

 

According to the betting forecast, William Haggas’ three-year-old Argent Knight is favourite and, at first glance, it’s not difficult to see why. Argent Knight has a progressive profile, having won his last two races, including over today’s distance of two miles at Newmarket 24 days ago, and acts on the prevailing good to firm going.

 

However, closer inspection of his form reveals that he’s 5lb worse off for 1½ lengths with Waterclock on their running at Newmarket, so he’s not guaranteed to confirm the form. Looking slightly further back, the horse that he beat by a neck at Sandown on his penultimate start has since finished last of four, beaten 6¼ lengths, in a lower grade handicap at Nottingham, so the form may not be as strong as it first appeared. He’s 8lb higher in the weights in a better race and has recorded all three career wins on galloping or testing courses, whereas Goodwood is fairly sharp.

 

Of course, the chance of any favourite can only be assessed relative to the other horses in the race so, before considering laying the favourite, you should identify at least two other horses that you confidently expect to beat the favourite. Subject to finding two such horses in this race, Argent Knight has enough doubts about him to suggest that he may, indeed, represent a lay betting opportunity at his forecast odds of 3/1.

 

Roger Charlton’s lightly raced four-year-old Waterclock has shown improved form since stepping up to two miles on his last two starts and is an obvious danger to the favourite, particularly with his 5lb pull in the weights. So, too, are Mutual Regard and Broxbourne, who both have proven form over two miles at this level and Arch Villain, who’s 10lb better off for 6 lengths with Argent Knight and 5lb better off for 4½ lengths with Waterclock on their running at Newmarket. Stuart Williams’ 4-year-old Aquilonius is more exposed than most of the others, but his one attempt over two miles, on a similarly sharp track, at Lingfield yielded a convincing win. Diomed in the Racing Post suggests that he was allowed to steal that race but, as one of just four distance winners in the field, it may be dangerous to underestimate him.

 

In summary, there are at least five horses in the race, besides Argent Knight, that have demonstrated, recently, that they are capable of winning a race of this nature. In other words, Argent Knight, who is 3/1 favourite according to the betting forecast, should realistically be double that price and represents excellent value as a lay bet.

 

For the purposes of this exercise, the result of the race was unsatisfactory, not because Argent Knight won, but because he ran no race at all, losing his place with three furlongs to run and weakening to finish last of the nine runners. Aquilonius made all the running, as he had at Lingfield, and stayed on well to beat Mutual Regard by 2¼ lengths with Arch Villain and Waterclock close up in third and fourth.

 

In any case, I hope this example has surveyed to illustrate some of the principles involved in identify weak or false favourites. To recap:

 

Analyse the form of the favourite, paying close attention to any disparity in class, distance, going, weight, etc compared with its previous races that may adversely affect its performance. If no disparities exist or, in other words, the favourite has no apparent weaknesses, the race is probably one to leave alone.

 

Take note of any good fortune that the favourite has experienced in its previous races, such as being allowed a “soft” lead, or being left in the lead by another horse falling, unseating its rider or running out.

 

Analyse the form of the main market rivals to the favourite – the next three or four in the betting market is usually sufficient – in the same way, looking for concrete evidence that at least two of them can beat the favourite. If you can’t identify two such rivals, again the race is probably one to leave alone.

 

Analysing form takes time and practice, so don’t lose heart if your analysis is a little wide of the mark to start with. If you want to sharpen up your skills without risking your hard-earned cash, try analysing a few races on paper only to see if you can spot favourites that aren’t worth their salt. You may miss a few profitable lay betting opportunities along the way, but the experience will stand you in good stead for the future.

Corbiere

Corbiere We all have ‘favourites’. Whether it’s a favourite song, or colour or dare I say it even a person. Of course in the sport of kings that translates to a favourite jockey, trainer, owner, you get the idea. What elevates one above another is a question with a thousand possible answers. In racing it may well be a jockey that has managed to grind out a win for you that places them on a pedestal, or a trainer that’s generous with the level of detail in his pre and post race assessments, hopefully to your financial benefit down the line.

It’s a little harder, for me anyway, to hone in on what makes a horse one that I cheer on or remember fondly above all others. Grit? Determination? An underdog story? A legend of the sport, such as Red Rum? I do know though that I don’t tend to go for the obvious, much in the same way that some people suddenly support whoever’s top of the Premier League, whereas others would never dream of it. One stand out horse for me though, would have to be Grand National winner Corbiere.

Although not quite on a par with the legendary Red Rum, Corbiere was nevertheless one of the best Grand National horses of his generation. Named after a Jersey lighthouse, Corbiere will always be remembered as the horse that resulted in Jenny Pitman the first woman to saddle a Grand National winner. That’s heartening to know as we’re pondering 2020 Grand National tips to follows. What is, perhaps, less well remembered is that ‘Corky’, as he was affectionately known to his connections, did so under 11st 4lb, as an eight-year-old in his first season over fences, and making his first appearance at Aintree.

Of course, Corbiere had also won the Welsh National at Chepstow and finished second in the Ritz Club National Hunt Handicap Chase en route to Aintree in 1983. That doesn’t in any way take away from the achievement of winning the National though. The chestnut gelding went on to run creditably on three of his four subsequent appearances in the Grand National. In 1984, he finished third behind Hallo Dandy, in 1985 he finished third, again, behind Last Suspect and, following an uncharacteristic fall at the fourth fence – considered one of the hardest fences to jump, along with Becher’s Brook – in 1986, he finished twelfth behind Maori Venture in 1987. A collection of efforts over the years that stand out from the crowd – and against top class opposition too.

However, it was certainly his performance under 23-year-old jockey Ben De Haan in 1983 that was to carve his name, indelibly, into Aintree folklore. A little one-paced, but a brilliant, enthusiastic jumper blessed with an abundance of stamina, Corbiere relished the prevailing soft going and was one of just four horses in contention turning for home. At the final fence, he held a three-length lead over Greasepaint, but then came with a strong late run inside the last hundred yards or so and, as they crossed the line, Corbiere had just three-quarters of a length to spare. Another Irish challenger, Yer Man, finished third, but fully 20 lengths behind the front pair.

In fact, many understandably hold a fondness for Corbiere. He even has his own postage stamp (putting him in fine company)  in Jersey, due to the aforementioned Lighthouse connection!

Greville Starkey

Greville Starkey The late Greville Starkey, who died of cancer, aged 70, on April 14, 2010, rode 1,989 winners, including five British Classic winners, on British soil, in a riding career lasting nearly 35 years. Born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, to a working-class family, Starkey became apprenticed to Newmarket trainer Harry Thompson ‘Tom’ Jones straight from school and rode his first winner, Russian Gold, at Pontefract on June 9, 1956. The following season he became champion apprentice with 45 winners.

Starkey won his first British Classic, the Oaks, on Homeward Bound, trained by John Oxley, in 1964 and, in 1978, completed a notable ‘double-double’ by winning the Oaks and Irish Oaks on Fair Salinia, trained by Michael Stoute, and the Derby and Irish Derby on Shirley Heights, trained by John Dunlop. He also won the 2,000 Guineas twice, on To-Agori-Mou in 1981 and Dancing Brave in 1986, both trained by Guy Harwood, to whom he had become stable jockey in 1975. Indeed, it was in 1975 that recorded his biggest victory abroad, partnering 119/1 apparent no-hoper Star Appeal to victory over a huge field, which included the likes of Dahlia and Allez France, in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.

In an era dominated by Lester Piggott, Willie Carson and Pat Eddery, Starkey was never champion jockey, although he did ride over a hundred winners in a season four times in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Sadly, though, he will always be remembered for the one race he probably should have won, the 1986 Derby, aboard Dancing Brave. In a race run at a muddling pace, Starkey adopted exaggerated waiting tactics and, although Dancing Brave made up ground hand over fist in the final quarter of a mile, the hot favourite failed to overhaul Shahrastani in the closing stages and was beaten half a length. Starkey was pilloried by the press for having ridden an ill-judged race, thereby setting Dancing Brave an impossible task, and the defeat was to haunt him for the rest of his riding career, and beyond.

Jamie Snowden

Jamie Snowden Nowadays, Jamie Snowden is an established trainer with over 200 winners to his name and, at the time of writing, is already enjoying his most successful season ever, numerically, with 43 winners from 171 runners, at a strike rate of 25%. A graduate from the point-to-point sphere, Snowden was, in his earlier days, a highly accomplished amateur rider. In fact, as ‘Mr. J. Snowden’ and ‘Capt. J. Snowden’, during a brief career in the King’s Royal Hussars, he won the Grand Military Gold Cup and Royal Artillery Gold Cup, both at Sandown, four times apiece between 2002 and 2008.

Nevertheless, having served his apprenticeship as pupil assistant to Paul Nicholls and assistant trainer to Nicky Henderson, Snowden took out a public training licence in his own right at a rented yard in Ebbesbourne Wake, in rural Wiltshire, in 2008. In his first three seasons, he saddled just 15 winners in total, but his move to Folly House in Lambourn in 2011 paid immediate dividends. His very first runner from his new yard, Knighton Combe, was a convincing winner of the Listed English Summer National at Uttoxeter on June 26, 2011.

Snowden still has just a solitary Cheltenham Festival winner, Present View in the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase in 2014, to his name, but Listed wins for Pacify and The bannerkingrebel in the latter part of 2019, not to mention a wide-margin victory for Hogan’s Height in the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase at Aintree, provide plenty of cause for optimism. Novice hurdler Kiltealy Briggs has already won two of his four starts over obstacles and finished a creditable third in the Grade Two Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, so could be another to keep an eye on. Either way, Jamie Snowden looks likely to continue his progress through the training ranks for a good while yet.