How do favourites fare in small fields? PPM's Jon Hudson set out to find the answer with this special probe into small fields, posing the question: Can you pick winners more easily?

I know a punter who rarely bets on any races where the runners total 11 or more. He figures the odds are stacked too much against him in the big fields and he has a point. The more runners there are, the more chances are lined up against you.

This same chap is not a professional punter, but I do know that he makes a pretty healthy living 'on the side' at the races and I've seen him operate, too. He is patient and will always wait for the suitable races. Small, he says, is good.

I decided to check out a year's results in Melbourne (city tracks only) to see if any pattern emerged in regard to favourites. My reasoning was that favourites should do well in fields of eight or less runners. I was right. The average win strike rate for favourites is around the 30 per cent mark-yet in the year's racing I studied, the favourites had a win strike rate of Almost 45 per cent in those races with fields of eight and fewer runners! For the place, the strike rate was a high 77 per cent.

What this means is that of 78 bets which qualified, there were 35 winning favourites (or equal favourites) and a total of 60 favourites or equal favs, finished 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Not bad, is it? (The actual percentages were 44.87 for the win and 76.92 for the place).

On a level stakes basis, there was a slim profit only of some seven units on the total outlay of 78 win units-the winning favourites having returned 85.05 units at level bets of one unit a win each (based on starting prices). The average price of each winner was about 6/4.

I believe the betting operation of following favourites in small fields has merit and could possibly be used for a 'special bet' staking plan. Long losing runs are rarely encountered-at least they weren't in the year I studied (1988). The losing runs were as follows:

2-1-1-2-3-1-3-1-2-1-1-1-3-5-3-1-16-4.

The longest losing run, then, was only six and it happened once during the year. Of course, one swallow doesn't make a summer. It could well be that another year's checking could throw some more light on the performance of favourites but somehow, from my long experience of researching these things, I have a feeling that the results year to year will vary very little.

If you are content to operate a betting method like this and be satisfied with an average of 1.5 bets a week, you will probably be keen to go into it a lot more closely. Naturally, as I have worked out the statistics on SP returns (i.e. prices AFTER the events) you will need to check thoroughly when betting that you are backing the favourite! (It would be worthwhile to do research on pre-post favourites in the smaller fields, too; results could be just as good, if not better.)

The bets for the individual months were as follows:

MONTH BETS WINS
PLACES (2nd/3rd)
January 15 10 2
February 5 3 1
March 9 4 5
April 6 3 1
May 2 1 1
June 3 1 2
July No Bets

August 8 3 2
September
6 1 3
October 3 2 1
November 7 3 2
December 14 4 5
As you can see from these figures, the two months of January, 1988 and December, 1988 produced 29 bets for 14 winners, a strike rate of more than 48 per cent. February and March combined had 14 bets for seven winners, a strike rate of 50 per cent. April and May had a 50 per cent strike rate, too. June and August fell slightly, with 11 bets and four winners (36.36 per cent), while September and October fell again with three winners from nine bets.

Breaking the statistics down into various race groups, we had the following situation:

Jumps (Hurdles & Steeples): 12 bets, four wins.
2yo.: 17 bets, nine wins.
3yo.: 17 bets, 10 wins.
Open/Welters: 19 bets, seven wins.
Weight-for-Age: 10 bets, four wins.

These statistics clearly show that by following the favourites in races for 2yos and 3yos with fields of eight or fewer, the win strike in 1988 was a colossal 19 winners from 34 bets or 55.88 per cent! This is an amazing strike rate for any form of selection process.

The figures were as follows:

2yo. races (in bet order): WON 8/11, WON 10/9, WON 4/6, WON 4/6, 3rd 9/10, WON 5/4, Lost 2/1, WON 9/10, Lost 7/4, WON 11/8, Lost 6/4, Lost 1/1, 3rd 4/5, WON 13/8, 2nd 1/2, Lost 8/15, WON 9/10.

3yo. races (in bet order): WON 10/9,WON 3/1-2nd 3/1, WON 13/8, WON 9/10, Lost 5/4, WON 2/1, WON 5/4,3rd 2/1, WON 8/11, Lost 13/8, Lost 7/4,2nd 8/11, WON 13/8, 2nd 10/9, WON 5/4, WON4/5.

Longest losing run in the 2yo. races was three on one occasion. Longest losing sequence in the 3yo. races was four on two occasions. If you had backed only those horses in these events at 'odds against' you would have ended up as follows:

2yo. races: Seven bets, four wins (57.14 per cent win strike).
3yo. races: 13 bets, seven wins (53.84 per cent win strike).

With an impressive win strike rate like this, any punter would be well able to fashion a betting approach around it. You could safely use the favourites as 'anchors' in quinellas, trifectas and doubles, for example.

It's also very interesting to note that in races where the favourite was beaten, it was usually another well-fancied runner that got up to win. As far as 2nd favourites were concerned, they scored in 13 races where the favourite failed. So between them, favourites and 2nd favourites accounted for 48 wins from the total 74 races I checked (in four races there were equal favs).

One aspect well worth considering with these small field favourites is to take them in running doubles, race to race and meeting to meeting. In the year I checked you would have collected a total of 13 of these win doubles. Things were really healthy with running place doubles (or, if you like, all-ups). There were a total of 42 place doubles to be collected.

The more adventurous among you n-tight like to think about place trebles. There were lots of them, as you will see from the following wrap-up of the bets throughout the year:

Jan. 1: WON 10/9, WON 7/2-4th 7/2, WON 11/4;
Jan. 2: WON 8/11, WON 13/8, WON 6/4, WON 3/1-2nd 3/1, Lost 1/1, WON 13/8;
Jan. 9: WON 10/9, Lost 13/8;
Jan. 23: WON 4/6;
Jan. 26: 3rd 9/4;
Feb. 6: WON 4/6;
Feb. 13: WON 9/10;
Feb. 27: 3rd 4/5, Lost 5/4, WON 1/5;
Mar. 1: 2nd 2/1;
Mar. 5: 3rd 9/10, 2nd 15/8, WON 4/6;
Mar. 14: 2nd 2/1;
Mar. 19: WON 5/4, WON 8/11, WON 13/8;
Mar. 26: 2nd 2/1;
April 5: 2nd 4/5, Lost 2/1, WON 9/10;
April 9: Lost 7/4;
April 21: WON 7/4;
April 23: WON 10/9;
May 7: WON 2/1;
May 16: 2nd 5/2;
June 4: 2nd 2/1;
June 11: WON 2/1;
June 13: 3rd 1/1;
Aug. 3: WON 5/4, 3rd 2/1;
Aug. 6: WON 8/11;
Aug. 10: Lost 13/8;
Aug. 13: WON 5/2, Lost 8/11;
Aug. 24: 3rd 2/1;
Aug. 27: Lost 7/4;
Sept. 3: WON 2/1; 2nd 3111
Sept 6 2nd '7/2 Lost 7/2,
Sept, 24: 2nd 8/11, Lost 7/4;
Oct. 1: WON 9/10;
Oct. 12: WON 5/4;
Oct. 22: 3rd 11 /8;
Nov. 3: Lost 7/4;
Nov. 19: 2nd 9/4;
Nov. 23: WON 13/8, 2nd 10/9, WON 5/4, Lost 5/2;
Nov. 26: WON 11/8;
Dec. 3: Lost 6/4, 2nd 2/1;
Dec. 10: Lost 1/1;
Dec. 17. Lost 5/2-Lost 5/2;
Dec. 24.. 3rd 4/5; WON 13/8, 3rd 3/1;
Dec. 26: 2nd 1/2, 3rd 9/4;
Dec. 27: Lost 8/15, WON 9/10, WON 4/5;
Dec. 31: WON 5/2.

If you started a new place treble with each bet you would have struck an absolute smorgasbord of them during 1988. This could be a really profitable approach for the punter who can exercise patience and restraint, and who is prepared to wait from week to week for trebles to be completed. I began a new round of research on this method at the beginning of this year and it got away again to a fine start.

At Flemington on January 1, the second race had eight starters and it was won by the 5/2 equal favourite Tempt Me Not (the other equal favourite was unplaced), The third race had eight starters and the winner was the 7/4 favourite Cougar.

On January 2, at Moonee Valley, the fourth race had seven runners with the favourite Creek Prince winning at 8/11.At Caulfield on January 8, the first race had eight starters and the favourite, Raw Talent at 9/10, was unplaced. In the second race, with seven starters, the favourite ran 3rd at 2/1 but in the third race, which had seven starters, the favourite won at 7/4. The fourth race had seven runners with the favourite 2nd at 7/4.So you can see there is scope for this method to continue to 'blitz' ahead with a high win strike rate for the favourites. In three meetings, there were four winners from seven races.

Moving on to January 13 at Moonee Valley. We had the third race with eight starters and the winner was the 9/4 favourite At The Dock.

The next races to qualify that month were at Moonee Valley and they resulted in a 2nd at 11 /8 and a loss at 9/4.

By Jon Hudson

PRACTICAL PUNTING - MAY 1990