What is the secret to backing favourites-and, in the long run, winning money on them? This is a question that will be asked for as long a time as there are racehorses being sent around a track!

I believe I have come a long way along the road to discovering that secret-and it hasn't been easy. Along the way, I have stumbled into many, many potholes. But I'm not going to tell you about the past - I want to reveal what I know so you, too, can benefit from my "Magic Key" idea.

Firstly, though, a few thoughts about favourites. Now, one of the great fallacies of racing, and one which has caused the downfall of more punters than probably any other factor, is the theory that because favourites win approximately one-third of all races then they are naturally a good bet. You have to look way beyond the simple fact of a horse being made favourite in a race. It may well be favourite because everyone else has totally misinterpreted the race, and the form of other runners! It is, in that case, a FALSE favourite.

Ask yourself what makes a horse a favourite? You'll probably answer that it's favourite because it has the most money bet on it (which is true, to a certain extent). But there's more to it than that. Why has there been so much money placed on it? Why are the newspaper tipsters selecting it?

The newspaper tipsters are a powerful force in racing. They can sway the public into making favourites out of horses which simply do not deserve to be in that key position. It's also a fact that many punters do not place their bets until they see what other punters are doing. They are, then, easily led.

Let's face it, you go along to your local TAB, you look at the odds on the monitor, and you see that the most money has been for Horse X. You back it, because you are following all those unknown punters who have gone in before you.

But you know nothing about their background and experience! So why do you follow their lead, without doing some thinking and research of your own? People still think that betting on a favourite is as good a method as any of getting a winner, and making some money, since the favourite represents a consensus of all punters and tipsters, and also-supposedly-the knowledge of certain owners and trainers.

But remember this fact-there is absolutely no relationship between a horse's true chance of winning and the fact that it is favourite. For all you know when you back a favourite, the horse may well be a 20-1 chance. You haven't done your homework, so you don't know. You are following, blindly, the mob.

One reason for the poor returns on favourites is the fact that the betting public 'over bets' them. Consistently! You can't make a flat bet profit backing favourites because of this reason. The prices of the winners are not enough to cover your outlay.

To bet on favourites and WIN you have to (a) ensure the horse is a true favourite; and (b) obtain overlay prices; in other words, you must try to set a true price for the horse and bet on it only when you secure that true price or a better price. Never bet under the true odds.

How, then, do you determine a true favourite? How do you weed out the horses which should not be favourites?  Well, you do it with hard work-and a little help from me!

Before I reveal the complete details of my own Magic Key method of chasing the true favourites, let me fill you in on a few interesting details. In the past 18 months, I've collated figures covering Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and South Australian races. These reveal that you can, in fact, pinpoint the favourites which are going to PERFORM WELL.

What you need to do is apply a few basic rules. Once this has been done, you will know-instantly-whether a particular favourite fits the 'winning image' of favourites that have won in the past.

The factors I have discovered are clear cut. They DO produce a very high percentage of winning favourites. From the research period I did, I selected, at random, a total of 800 races which were won by favourites. Using a method I call "The Magic Key", I can reveal to you now the strikingly important facts which emanated from this research into the 800 winning favourites:

  • A total of 657 of the winning favourites carried the TAB (saddlecloth) Nos 1, 2, 3 or 4.
  • And 599 of them finished l st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th at their previous start.
  • Close to 50 per cent finished lst or 2nd last start.

I thought about these rather amazing statistics for some time when I first unravelled them from my many pages of research. I had found a crystal-clear picture-not from just a handful of races, but 800 of them.

Winning favourites, I decided, fell into a narrow category-they carried 1, 2, 3 or 4 on their saddlecloths, and they had finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th at their previous runs. It was a fascinating time.

Of course, I then had to delve into the backgrounds of the favourites that lost and, of course, some of them fitted the above category-but not enough to shoot the whole idea down in flames. The losing favourites, for the most part, DID NOT fit the category. They fell outside it.

Another interesting statistic my survey revealed is that almost all winning favourites are between TAB Nos 1 and 8. You can just about rule out anything below that.

What I suggest to you now--especially to those who may doubt the claims I make-is to make some checks yourself. Look at any month's racing from any of the cities I have mentioned and see if the same pattern does not emerge.

Make it a 12-months' check-to ensure the reach is great enough for a discernible trend-and I am totally sure you will reach the conclusions I did. When you stop and think about the whole situation, it does become quite an acceptable matter.

The favourites that WIN come from a particular group of statistics. Evidence enough of their worth, taking the past as the guide, is that if a favourite fits into this statistical group the percentages indicate it has a strong winning chance.

What you have to do is make sure you obtain a VALUE price. Don't accept any silly old price, even if you know the favourite fits the bill in the statistical area. You must adopt a position of not taking any price about the favourite, but a price that gives you some chance of winning.

And this is where we come to the next vital aspect of this article. How can you get value? I point you now in the direction of even more statistics (but not difficult ones to understand, mercifully). The research of not only myself but other leading handicappers and professional punters, shows that in a certain price bracket it is possible for a punter to shoot ahead with profits over a period of time if the punter can obtain only a minor advantage over the offered price.

These are horses priced between EVENS and 7-2. For instance, if a horse is 5-4 you only have to look around and obtain 6-4 to secure the percentage edge you need to end up ahead. Or, as another example, secure 3s about a 5-2 pop.

I refer you now to the great professional Don Scott, whose tremendous research into this factor is contained in his best-selling book, Winning More (punters are crying out for a reprint, Don!).

Says Don: "Horses from the evens to 7-2 price group are the horses punters should support if they want to earn their bread and butter. Backing these horses, punters with a knowledge of class, form or weight can transform a 5 per cent disadvantage into a 5 per cent advantage simply by getting the best of the odds.

"When I realised this simple fact in 1955 I knew I would make a success of betting. Not only did I have my knowledge and memory of form to help me, I also had the prospect of a mathematical edge. In their anxiety to lay horses in the evens to 7-2 group, the bookmakers were defeating themselves by offering prices that were too generous or liberal."

By incorporating the statistics on favourites, with the above punting information, you have a golden opportunity to start betting profitably. Decide on a true price for the favourite that fits into the statistical category, and back it only if it's in the evens to 7-2 bracket, and when you can obtain a 5 per cent or more edge.

If you require further help in deciding which favourites to bet, I suggest you take careful note of what is written in another article in this issue of P.P.M.-the one on form study on pages 8 and 9. This article contains the unique Tick Test, which determines the best prospects in any race through simple, but very effective, form evaluation.

I am convinced that by taking into account all I have said in this article, by betting to overlay prices in the evens to 7-2 area, and by using the Tick Test to advantage, you can go an enormously long way to turning your punting on its head, and making it profitable over a long period of time.

By Jon Hudson