In this article, Jon Hudson looks at the entire factor of the performance of favourites at the major metropolitan racing venues. His research contains much information from Malcolm Knowles' book The Good Betting & Racing Guide, which is being sold to raise funds for the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Sydney.

When it comes to favourites, the average punter is, well, something of a mug. He loves 'em a little too much for his own good.

While it's nice to have reasonably regular collects - though not regular enough at times – the plain facts of the matter are that without careful selection (i.e. the elimination of certain favourites) the punter who backs the most-popular picks will slowly bleed and bleed, financially speaking that is.

In his new book The Good Betting & Racing Guide, writer Malcolm Knowles has come up with some valuable statistics regarding favourites and their performances over the last few years. Malcolm's tables, covering seven years for Sydney and Melbourne and four years for Brisbane and Adelaide, reveal a rather depressing landscape.

For instance, in Sydney the strike rate of favourites has slumped from a high of 36.7 per cent in 1989 to 31.1 per cent in 1993. In Brisbane, the strike rate in 1990 was 35.7 per cent but in 1993 this dropped to only 28.5 per cent - a really significant fall.

In Melbourne, the favourites' strike rate in 1987 was 31.8 per cent, and then it rose to 33.9 per cent in 1989 before beginning a drift downwards to 25.1 per cent in 1992 and 29.1 per cent in 1993.

The Adelaide situation also shows a decline - from a high-strike of 38.1 per cent in 1990 to 33.2 per cent in 1993.

The best year to bet on favourites in Sydney was in 1992, when you would have lost, on average, one cent for each dollar invested. The worst year was '93 when you would have lost an average 15 cents for each dollar invested ( that is, 85 cents back for each $1 bet).

The poorest betting year in Brisbane was '93 when punters dropped an average 10 cents per invested dollar. Melbourne punters had a positive return of 3 cents per dollar in '90 but then came a terrible year in '91 when 14 cents would have been lost on average for every dollar invested.

Finally, in Adelaide the good news is tempered by bad. Despite a staggering strike rate of 38.1 per cent in '90 the favourites produced only a break even result!To solve the riddle of the hotpots, the punter has to seek out selective bets. It's impossible to win money backing all favourites, so the key is to eliminate as many losers as you can.

Let's see what results were achieved betting only on the favourites in fields of 7 runners. In Sydney, the strike rate went to 43.2 per cent, but the return - each invested dollar was still only 98 cents - thereby giving the punter a 2 per cents per dollar loss.

In Melbourne, with a poor 24.3 per cent strike rate, the return on the invested dollar was only 52 cents! In Brisbane (39.7 per cent) the return was only 92 cents, but in Adelaide (49.2 per cent) the return was $1.04 cents, a profit of 4 cents per invested dollar.

Interestingly, the only Sydney favourites to show a small profit were those in big fields. There was a return of $1.06 on favourites in fields of 16 (30.6 per cent strike rate), and $1.46 in fields of 19 runners (28.6 per cent strike rate).


$1 RET 
1987 34.5 0.93 10 5 9/2 1/8
1988 33.5 0.91 16 8 9/2 1/10
1989 36.7 0.97 11 5 5/1 7/8
1990 31.8 0.83 23 5 5/1 1/5
1991 35.9 0.93 10 6 9/2 1/6
1992 33.8 0.99 22 5 5/1 1/3
1993 31.1 0.85 11 8 4/1 1/4

$1 RET 
1987 31.8 0.92 10 5 9/2 1/5
1988 30.8 0.87 16 4 5/7 1/5
1989 33.9 1.00 12 4 5/1 1/7
1990 31.8 1.03 15 7 11/2 2/5
1991 27.2 0.86 18 4 4/7 1/3
1992 25.1 0.76 73 3 9/2 4/7
1993 29.1 0.89 12 4 9/2 1/3
In the above graphs, 'Long-' equals longest losing run of favourites, while Long+' indicates longest winning sequence of favourites. 'Best' indicates the longest priced winning fav, while 'Short' indicates shortest priced winning fav. Keen-eyed punters will probably note with dismay that the worst losing runs for favourites were 16, 18, 22 and 23!

The point about the statistics in this area (and they are covered in full detail in Malcolm's book) are that even by restricting yourself to certain sized fields you still face an uphill battle to make money from the favs.

Then there is the angle of betting them by distance range. Here the figures are most interesting. Let's look at Sydney. The highest favs' strike rate came with a 50 per cent hit in races between 1651m and 1750m and these returned $1.19 for every dollar invested.Yet all other distance ranges failed to make a profit! Brisbane races in the same distance range returned a healthy $1.76 for every dollar invested from a strike rate of 62.5 per cent! Very good indeed.

In the main distance areas, say between 1000m and 1600m, the Sydney favourites showed the following strike rates and returns:

$1 RET   
UP to 1050m
39.7 0.90c 1.26
1050-1150m 39.7 0.93c 1.35
1151-1250m 36.4 0.98c 1.68
1251-1350m 31.9 0.85c 1.68
1351-1450m 26.4 0.74c 1.78
1451-1550m 34.4 0.99c 1.88

The conclusions to be drawn are summed up by Knowles as follows: "Favourite performance is affected by field size. Favs tend to win more races in smaller fields but the betting public does compensate for the greater difficulty experienced by favs in larger fields by sending them out at progressively bigger odds than in the smaller fields.

"Because of the large odds on offer, it should not surprise that these favs do not perform as well. Nonetheless, given the option of a 2/1 fav in a field of 10 and a 2/1 fav in a field of 20 I know which I would prefer."

On 'favourite' statistics, Knowles makes the following observations: "The best category of favourite is where the $ return figure is greater. In Sydney, this occurred for favs who started at 6/4, 13/8, 7/2 and 5/1. For Melbourne, the best performing favs were at 11/8, 13/8, 15/8, 9/4, 11/4 and 15/4.

"Brisbane favs performed best when 10/9, 5/4, 13/8, 5/2, 3/1, 7/2, 15/4 and 9/2. Adelaide favs which did best were at evens, 10/9, 3/1, 4/1 and 5/1."

** THE GOOD BETTING AND RACING GUIDE by Malcolm Knowles. All proceeds aid the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children at Camperdown, NSW.

by Jon Hudson