Much has been said over the years about favourites and how frequently (or infrequently) they win a race. It's when you begin probing the bare statistics a little deeper that you begin to understand more about which favs to ignore, and which to back.

In his book The Good Betting & Racing Guide, writer Malcolm Knowles presents far-reaching research into this aspect of racing. (As you will know by now, Malcolm's book is being sold to raise funds for the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Sydney).

Size-of-the-field certainly has some bearing on how favs perform. Says Malcolm: "Favs tend to win more races in smaller fields than they do in bigger fields. The betting public does compensate for the greater difficulty experienced in big fields by sending them out at progressively bigger odds than in the smaller fields."

If we start with a field size of only 4 runners, Malcolm's chart (see right) shows that the strike rate for the favourite in Sydney was a massive 62.5 per cent in the lengthy period he studied. This produced a 16-cents-in-the-dollar profit on level stakes - but there weren't many four-horse races! In Melbourne, the strike rate was only 25 per cent in similar-size fields, with a massive loss of 57 cents in the dollar.

Fields of 5 in Sydney showed a strike rate of 31.8 per cent and a loss on every dollar invested of 38 cents. In Melbourne the strike rate hit 50 per cent but there was still a loss of 20 cents in the dollar.

In fields from 6 to 10 runners in Sydney the favourites returned a loss on every dollar invested. In fields of 11 it was break even, and after that there were losses in fields of 12, 13, 14 and 15, until a small 6-cents-in-the-dollar profit was achieved on favs in fields of 16.

Fields of 18 produced a $1.03 return for every $1 invested (3% profit) but, amazingly, in fields of 19 there was a strike rate of 28.6 per cent and a return of $1.46 for every $1 invested.

In Melbourne, the only sized field to produce a profit, and a slim one at that, was 8 runners, and here the 'profit' was a niggardly 2 cents in the dollar! All other-sized fields returned losses.

Strikes rates were about the same across all field sizes - though in fields of 8 it lifted to more than 42 per cent, yet still managed only that tiny 2-cents-in-the-dollar profit. Sydney had much better strike rates for the favs overall.

What do we make of it all? Again, it only serves to emphasise that backing favourites is a path paved with peril. Yes, you will get the winners, but the prices will kill you. It's a sad fact, but true.

On the other hand, there's always a chance you can eliminate a few favs and thus put your betting into a profit. This is an area we have traversed many times in Practical Punting Monthly and it's one that continues to intrigue and frustrate most punters.

Looking at favs by distance range is another angle on the old subject. How do the favs fare over various distances? In his book, Malcolm presents some interesting research in this regard. Again, though, the potential for making a profit is slim indeed.

The best strike rate in Sydney was for favs racing between 1651m and 1750m. There was a 50% strike rate and a return on the invested dollar of $1.19. Between 2451m and 2950m, the Sydney favs had a similar 50% strike rate and returned a profit of 29 cents on every dollar invested.

Despite decent strike rates for other distances, all returned losses.

In Melbourne, the strike rates were generally lower. Between 1451m and 1550m there was a strike rate of 32.3% and a profit on the invested dollar of 12 cents.

The best strikes below 50 per cent in Sydney were 39.7% for races up to 1150m. There was a 36.4% strike rate in races between 1151m and 1250m.

In Melbourne, the highest strike rate was 100 per cent in races between 1851m and 1950m but there was only a very small sample. Outside this, the best was 36.5% in races up to 1050m. These returned a 92 cents in the dollar outcome, a loss of 8 cents for every buck invested.

Favs in races between 1151m and 1250m had a 31.9% strike rate and lost 5 cents in the dollar.

Favourites by field size


4 62.5 1.16
5 31.8 0.62
6 43.6 0.96
7 43.2 0.98
8 38.0 0.87
9 35.1 0.84
10 34.0 0.88
11 37.8 1.00
12 33.1 0.94
13 32.3 0.96
14 28.0 0.83
15 31.5 0.93
16 30.6 1.06
17 17.6 0.50
18 33.3 1.03
19 28.6 1.46
20 21.1 0.77

4 25.0 0.43
5 50.0 0.80
6 42.9 0.91
7 4.3 0.52
8 41.2 1.02
9 37.0 0.98
10 32.1
11 29.6
12 28.3
13 27.9
14 29.2
15 27.8
16 27.2
17 27.8
18 20.3
19 23.5
20 15.4
By Alan Jacobs