Favourites are so unreliable - that's why I hate 'em! Any bet that fails twice out of three is no good to me, unless the odds are super-high, which they aren't when your favourites fail.
Even if you managed to back a 2-1 winner every three starts, you'd only break even, and who wants to break even? All of us want to WIN. We don't want to be like the pessimistic punter who troops into the racetrack, or TAB agency, and says to his pal: 'l hope I can break even today, I need the money.'
The thing to remember about favourites is that up to HALF of them could be false favourites - horses who simply do not deserve to be sent out favourite, but who end up in that position because of certain moves among the mass of the punting public. How many instances have you seen where the presence of a certain highly-regarded jockey saw a horse backed into favouritism, when he should really have been a third or fourth favourite?
Then there are the horses that nobody seems willing to get off. They receive substantial public support start after start - and never win. The punters get hooked on them and, because they have so much 'dead' money invested in them, they desperately seek to get it back.
The facts about favourites are well known - they will win, approximately, one out of three races. Of course, you cannot depend on them winning races in pristine order. Sometimes they will go entire meetings, and more, without winning a race, burning the fingers of punters to stubs. I can remember losing runs of 20 and more for favourites at tracks all over Australia. So, although over a lengthy period of time, you could expect one out of three favourites to win, you cannot be guaranteed they will pop up regularly.
My advice is never to look at a favourite which is (a) odds-on (b) priced at less than 2-1. Consider, and I repeat CONSIDER, only those which are at 9-4 and longer in the betting market, and try to ensure that you are on course to watch betting fluctuations. Sometimes, a horse can be favourite in the pre-race betting market, and end up being at very generous odds due to heavy support for other runners (often runners not deserving of displacing that early favourite).
If you want value in a bet - and we all want that, unless we are slightly touched in the head - you must closely examine the prospects of the horses who will, two times out of three, actually beat the favourite. There is often a clue lurking in a horse's form which could tell you that it should be the race favourite, and not the horse which the public is sending out the No. 1 elect.
Newspaper tipsters have a notorious record for sticking with favourites. They figure that by picking the top choices, they will at least have a fighting chance of ending the season with a 25 to 30 per cent winning record! Whether you could actually have made any money following their winners is another question altogether. It may well be that the tipster who selects only one winner in five is providing his followers with a profit, because his selections are at VALUE odds.
Why are we attracted to favourites, and why do we often think they have a better chance of winning than horses we have selected, which come up at double-figure odds? Psychologists say it's all to do with the herd instinct. We feel safer, protected, if we stick with the crowd. It's a lonely feeling, perhaps, to be all on your own on a 25-1 chance when Joe Blow and the rest of the crowd are confidently throwing their cash on the 6-4 favourite. Do they know something you don't know? Yeah, they must have information! Maybe your horse can't win, after all ? If it could, why are the bookies silly enough to offer me 25s? You'd be mad if you didn't follow the money!
All these thoughts can run through your mind, can't they? Most of us know the feeling of worrying about whether you are staring a gift horse in the mouth.
A newspaper tipster told me the other day: 'The public want re-assurance. I don't think they really want me to tip unknown horses. They want me to go with the form and select the horse they themselves saw finish 2nd or 3rd last time out, and not the smokey from the bush. The punters like to bet on horses they know well. If you give them an unknown horse, and it fails, they'll criticise you, so I often just tip the one I know they'll like rather than one I think will win. I place the potential winner as my second selection.'
There are many punters around who won't bet on favourites at all. They just draw a line through them when considering a race. This is extreme stuff, naturally, because there are favourites which can still be a value bet despite being on top of the market.
What I do - and, remember, I HATE favourites - is to avoid studying the form of favourites until I have closely looked at all the other runners in the races. When I have sorted out the best of them, I then look at the favourites and, after a close perusal of their form, I ask myself in each race -: 'Can the favourite beat my selection?' Usually, you can answer that question pretty easily.
If I'm not sure, and the prices are right, I'll back my selection and take a saver on the favourite. My horse might be a 6-1 chance, with the favourite at 2-1. Okay, I'll just save on the favourite, with a 33 unit bet and plonk the remainder on my own selection.
I will NOT save, though, if the favourite is below 2-1. It's not worth it.
Finally, think about these points before you dash in and back a favourite: There are too many ways a horse can lose a race to risk your money for a paltry return on short-priced horses. If your selection is such a standout bet that you honestly cannot give another horse a chance, but the odds on your horse are poor, then exercise your right to give the race a miss.
You will find after a while that you enjoy passing races, especially when the races you do bet on produce big profits for you. Bear in mind that one reason for poor returns on the favourite is the fact that the public consistently overbets the favourite.
If the horse you select happens to be the favourite, you can bet on it - but only when the price is good enough. If it isn't, you should pass the race. Never go off a horse because he is favourite but watch the odds closely.
If you punt up too many times on too many favourites, you'll end up, I assure you, HATING favourites. Just like me.
By Mick Collins
PRACTICAL PUNTING - AUGUST 1986