Are Favourites a Good Bet in Horse Racing?

July 15, 2022

horse racing

One of the most polarising topics of conversation in the sport of horse racing is that of favourites. To back? Or not to back? At one end of the spectrum, we have those who insist the market leader is the best bet, as the odds suggest they are the most likely winner. And at the other, the anti-favourite brigade, who believe that backing horses at short prices is a sure-fire route to the poor house.

But which, if either, side of the argument has it right? As with many aspects of gambling, there is no definitive answer to this question. Over the course of the season, there will be both good and poor value favourites, with opinions on which is which always being somewhat subjective. We can however gain a little insight by looking at the overall trends, in an effort to see how favourites compare with runners in other odds brackets.

Favourites the Best Option?

Looking at the results of all British horse races between 2002 and 2021 – over 170,000 races in total – returned the following results.

Win %

Return on Investment




2nd Favourite



3rd Favourite



A higher win rate for the favourite compared to the second and third favourites was only to be expected. However, the greater ROI figure is pretty significant, suggesting that favourites represent a better value bet than those second or third in the betting market – albeit still not enough to produce a profit if blindly backing each and every one.

Delving a little further into the results - moving past the third favourites and down through the bigger priced runners - we find that the above trend continues. i.e. the bigger the price of the runner, the lower the win percentage, and crucially - the lower the Return on Investment.

The key takeaway from this is that, in the absence of any other information, a wager on the favourite represents a better value option than any of the available alternatives.

Avenues to Profit

All of the above is all well and good but does little to help achieve the ultimate aim of betting, i.e., making a profit. Backing every favourite may be the best blind betting strategy but will still return an average loss of 7% per bet.

So, if backing every market leader will result in a loss, might it not be possible to edge into profit by backing favourites only in certain types of races, or at specific tracks?

It turns out that it might. When examining the results of British races over the past five seasons, we found a number of track and race type combinations which yielded a positive return to a strategy of blindly backing the favourite. Highlights including:

Track Race Type Win % ROI Goodwood All Handicap Races 36% 128.60% Windsor All Non-Handicap Races 47% 104.50% Thirsk All Non-Handicap Races 48% 107.50% Ludlow All Handicap Races 41% 109%

These types of statistics do admittedly always merit a degree of caution, as patterns can change over time. Nonetheless, an interesting set of results, and something to consider when picking out those singles and Lucky 15 bets.

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