Backing favourites is something we all do- but how many of us actually make any money? In this special feature, PPM's David Whitney unveils details of how you can have fun, and make some money, following the favs.

There's an old saying in racing that 'you can never go broke backing winners'. Well, that's true. No-one argues with it. The problem is to find the winners!

Many punters give up the form fight and simply settle for backing favourites no matter what. They won't win, in the long run, but they will have a lot of collects along the way. Favourites win around 30 to 32 per cent of all races, but the average price is never high enough to give you a level stake profit.

The lower the odds, the bigger the percentage of wins for favourites, and that's as it should be. Again, though, the margin is unfavourable to the punter. Favourites are apt to run at 2/1 and under most times. As the odds go higher, the strike rate thins out accordingly.

I did a test recently on a random bunch of 100 races. The favourites won 29 per cent, and ran 2nd or 3rd 67 per cent of the time. The average price of the winners was 7/4. This meant that a $1 win bet on each would have shown a loss on the stake of $100 of $20.25, or just over 20 per cent. See what I mean?

But I believe the average punter can have a lot of fun playing the favourites, as long as he is selective and prepared to bet only a certain percentage of races. You can beat a race, but you can't beat all the races, as the age-old piece of advice goes.

What you need to do is sift through the favourites to ensure that you back only the best of them. Bear in mind that around seven out of every 10 favourites will not win. Approximately three out of 10 will not run a place.

Win strike rates are one way to pin down the good favourites. The 'super consistent' gallopers are the ones you must latch onto. Now I regard a Grade 1 ‘super consistent' galloper as a horse which in its career has totted up a win record of 40 per cent or more, and a place strike of at least 50 per cent.

Why not put all the favourites through this test? Discard any that don't meet the criteria, and back only those that do. Your bets will be kept down to a manageable size and you'll be backing tried and proven gallopers.

Example: The Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane meetings of March 11. There were seven bets altogether for four winners, one 3rd and two losers.

You can extend this idea even further. If you desire more betting action, you could lower the win strike rate needed to 25 per cent, with the place strike remaining the same at 50 per cent plus. Then you could bring in a further rule that the horse must have finished in the first three places last start.

Then there's an adaptation of the Favourite Place Plan which Statsman introduced about 18 months ago. It's mainly for the very patient punter who likes to plunge on good, solid place bets, using the favourites as the key. The idea is to follow favourites from, meeting-to-meeting, and race-to-race. The opening bet is one unit a place on the favourite in the first race. If it's placed, you go for the double on the first race at the next meeting. At this second meeting you also start a new double on this first race.

You follow the same procedure with each race on a day's programme. Each favourite is to be linked with the favourite in the same race the next meeting. So favourites in the first races are linked, as are favs in the second races, and favs in the third races, and so on.

It can be quite effective. The main thing is that you can have a great deal of fun with it. In a recent test, on three Melbourne meetings in January, there were seven doubles struck, and this was in a period when the favourites won seven from 24 races and missed placings in nine races.

My research into the winning patterns of favourites shows that for a long-term profitmaking approach you have to keep backing the consistent horses. So what are these consistent horses, and how do you back them? In this case, the plan I am suggesting is one put forward several years ago by Martin Dowling.

It goes as follows:

  1. Consider only those favourites with a win strike rate of 20 per cent or more.
  2. The horse must have had its last start within the previous 11 days.
  3. The horse must have finished l st, 2nd or 3rd in one, or both, of its last two races.

You can look forward to a win strike rate of around 35 per cent with this plan, as well as a 75 per cent place strike rate. Dividends, according to my research, should generally be around the 11/4 mark. A strike of seven winners from 20 bets at this average price would see you with a 31 per cent profit on turnover very handy indeed.

Taking this idea even further, we can examine the prospects of yet another interesting plan which relies on the favourites for its bets. In this one, you consider only those favourites which had their last run within the previous 21 days. It must also have a win strike rate of at least 25 per cent and a place strike rate of at least 60 per cent.

A further rule is that the favourite should not have finished more than six lengths behind the winner at its most recent start. If it won last start, it must not have won by more than a length. Eliminate any favourite which has won its last two starts.

Very often this method can throw up some wonderful winners. Mostly, you end up with a most consistent horse who will run a terrific race.

Moving on, we come to the clash between on and off-course betting. Now it's my contention that anyone seriously wanting to make money from favourites HAS to become a racegoer. And he must start placing his bets with bookies and tote--obviously betting each time with the one which offers the most value.

Statistics indicate that if a punter wanted to back every favourite, he would need to secure, on average, a price at least 15 per cent better than S.P. He could do this only by attending the track and betting late with bookies or the tote.

Betting at the track and at the TAB are two completely different propositions. The course punter who has done his homework, assessed the form and done some arithmetic in relation to chance and true price, doesn't just rush into the ring and take whatever odds are on offer. He can take his time, and wait until the last horse is being led into the barrier before he makes a bet.

This gives him a definite edge over the TAB punter, who has access to tote monitors but not to bookmakers' prices. Can you get a 15 per cent edge on the favourites? It's hard, but could be done.

If a horse opens at 2/1 and firms into 6/4 and you took the opening price, you have gained an edge of seven per cent. If a horse opened at 3/1 and started 7/4, and you got 3s, you would have achieved an edge of just over 11 per cent. A typical 15 per cent edge would be if you got, say, 7/4 about a horse that started at even money.

As you can see from these figures, it would be a diabolical assignment to set out to achieve an overall 15 per cent edge. You might, though, be able to get a six or seven per cent edge, as long as you were prepared to attend the track, and were blessed with the ability to always take the best odds.

Bearing all this in mind, with favourites, it's my experience that more and more you have to get back to PLACE betting. Why? Because we know for a fact that between about 65 to 70 per cent of favourites are going to run a place.

Why not, then, try for race-to-race doubles in some way? A typical meeting might well go like this: Race 1, 2nd 4/7, Race 2, Lost, Race 3, WON 9/10, Race 4, 2nd 2/1, Race 5, WON 4/7, Race 6, 2nd 2 / 1, Race 7, Lost, and Race 8, WON 7/2.

Had you coupled the favs race-to-race (Races 1 and 2, then Races 2/3, 3/4, etc.) you would have scored with three place doubles. You could also have linked the favs in Races 1/3/5/7 for another two doubles, and the favs in Races 2/4/6/8 for yet another two doubles. In all, then, 13 sets of doubles for a total of seven collects. (By the way, this is not a theoretical meeting; it's the Randwick meeting for January 28).

Let's take another meeting, this time a country fixture at Yarra Glen in January. The favourites ran as follows: Lost, WON 6/4, 2nd 7/4, 2nd 7/4, WON 6/4, 2nd 5/2, 2nd 4/1 and Lost. So the race-to-race doubles came up five times, and on the two sets of alternating doubles we hit with another four doubles, making a total of nine doubles up from a possible 13.

Naturally, you are not going to be getting big prices for the place. But you are maximising your prospects by linking them in doubles. A place double of a 7/4 chance with a 5/2 chance would return you odds of about 11 /8, or a return of around $23 for a $10 double. If you could average about 8 doubles from your 13 doubles each time, at 11 /8, you would be staking $130 (at $10 a double) and receiving back around $184, for a profit of about $54, or a profit of more than 40 per cent on turnover.

Many times your doubles will pay much more than 11 /8. A 4/1 chance with an 11 /4 chance, for instance, would return you $34 for your $10, or close to 5/2.

Only terribly poor performances by the favourites-and they DO happen--could make your day a sorry one. But I believe your winning days will far outnumber your losing ones.

For punters who like lots of action, this method, of course, is just what the doctor ordered. You are right into the action from the first race and it doesn't let up until the last.

Taking this one step further you could even link up all the eight favourites for the day in multiple doubles. Eight races would give you a total of 28 doubles, which means you would have every favourite coupled up with every other favourite.

Should you strike with, say, six placed favourites you would have a total of 15 doubles. At 11/8 each, you would get a return of $345 for an outlay of $280. At 7/4 each, you would receive more than $412 for your $280 outlay. A magnificent percentage return, given that you are backing the best-fancied horses in each race.

At Doomben on March 18, a total of seven of the eight favourites were placed; at Rosehill, the favs' place strike was seven from eight, while at Moonee Valley the favs were in the money five times. So you would have hit with a total of 21 doubles at both Doomben and Rosehill, and with another 10 doubles at Moonee Valley-a total strike of 52 doubles from a possible 84.

By David Whitney