Do they Really Know? – An analysis of horse racing’s biggest gambles

Horse Racing is a sport synonymous with betting. A lot of people who go to the day at the races like to have a small bet on a race. However, every day, big gambles of a lot of money are put on horses in both Ireland and England. Andrew Blair White analyses whether these gambles are worth following or whether the old racing cliché that ‘the connections knew’ is not quite what it lives up to be.

Picture by Andrew Blair White.

First and foremost, what is a ‘gamble’ in horse racing terms? A gamble is when a lot of money is bet on a singular horse to win a race, often making the odds with a bookmaker contract as a result. The market support is sustained and is often assumed that it will go on and win. Over the last three weeks, many different races have been analysed to conduct this study. 220 races between Ireland and England – both with flat racing and jumps racing have been examined. 

To make it easier to look at different types of market support, they have been split into three categories based upon the money on them. The first category is for horses who have been supported by up to three points in the betting book. (For example, from the odds of 3/1 into 2/1) The second category is market support from three to six points in the book. (For example, odds of 6/1 into 2/1.) And the final category is for much larger support at bigger prices, so from over six points downwards in the betting book. (For example, odds of 10/1 into 2/1.)

The results that were garnered show that the market support for horses did usually give a decent long term effect for how well the horse ran – although that being said, there were many gambles that did not materialise. Of the category one support – there were 1462 horses that were in this criteria. Of those horses, 387 of those horses won and 516 were placed in either second or third. Overall, that meant that 62% of those horses that were backed in this category went on to run very well as a result. 

In the second category, only 348 runners qualified for the criteria of being within that area of market support. Of this group of horses, only 58 horses ended up winning and 60 horses placed in second or third of their races. This was a percentage overall of 34% success of running well – which is well down on the previous category and maybe shows off that the bigger the price move, the less certain they are at times.

The final category is for horses who have been backed from a bigger price into a short price by some distance and as a result – all winners in this category would be good gambles landed. There were 650 horses who ran across the races analyzed that were in this category, of which there were 53 winners and 165 places. Overall, this was a 34% strike rate of horses running very well in this category. 

CategoryRunnersWinnersPlacedWin %Overall %
Category 1 146238751626.561.7
Category 2 348586016.733.9
Category 3650531658.1533.5

Barry Orr, Chief of Media Relations for Betfair, told  “Everyday we get a lot of activity both on the Betfair Sportsbook and the Betfair Exchange. This gives the opportunity for punters to try to find overpriced horses and back them accordingly. We get a lot of steamers (well backed horses) each day and as a bookmaker – we have to be very cautious about which prices we are willing to lay (the odds being offered).”

The data provided over a month long period shows a particular backing of horses at shorter prices and showing an overall decent percentage of good performances from those well backed horses. Also the percentage of good runs from bigger priced horses would make one more tempted to maybe back horses at bigger prices down the line. As is always the case with betting, if you’re backing horses at bigger odds – it doesn’t take as many winners to make a profit long term. 

Orr said: “The customers that we are most concerned with are the shrewd punters. They look at overnight markets and highlight overpriced horses – if a punter is beating the price, he is well capable of beating the bookie.”

Therefore, the data provided would indicate that despite the cliché ‘the connections knew’ – it is not as straightforward as that. Well supported horses have a chance of winning races there is no doubt about it, but horse racing is a complex sport and it is never just as simple as following the money. 

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