Finding Super Favorites

By Derek Simon

Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths (photo via

Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths (photo via

Several years ago, I revisited and revamped the work of one of my early handicapping heroes, William L. Scott. And the results were… well, awful. However, I still believe that Scott’s seminal work, “Investing at the Racetrack,” is worth studying.

In fact, in today’s column, I will show you how the application of one of Scott’s basic tenets coupled with my pace figures — or any pace figures, really — can produce great betting profits. But, first, some background:

In the winter of 1996, I quit my job as a bank teller to become a professional gambler. I had $674 to my name, rent to pay and a baby on the way… OK, OK, I’m kidding about the baby, but you get the picture. On the surface, things looked bleak. Yet, I’d never been happier in my life, because, for the first time, I had decided to pursue a career I was passionate about.

And for three glorious weeks I beat the game like the Carolina Panthers beat my beloved Seattle Seahawks last weekend. By restricting my wagering to horses with superior relative turn times that were going to post at odds of less than 3-1 (a concept I stole from Scott), I turned Gulfstream Park into my own personal ATM machine.

After cashing on a horse named Fuzzy Risque (for the second time) in the third race on February 22, 1996, my record at the Hallandale, Florida track stood at 15 winners from 20 selections, an astounding 75 percent success rate.

I won’t bore you with all the details of my professional gambling demise — suffice it to say it involved a lost wagering voucher and a car accident — what’s important is everything that I learned from the experience. For example: How pace figures can be used to identify strong and/or phony favorites.

To demonstrate this, let’s take a look at the Breeders’ Cup.

Of course, when most people reflect on the BC races, they think of the full fields and massive longshots that seem to dominate the two-day event. Yet, overall, betting favorites have performed OK (one of the great strengths of using final odds as a wagering criterion is the consistency they provide).

Since 2007, Breeders’ Cup sole betting favorites (no entries) have produced the following results:

Number: 198
Won (rate): 61 (30.8%)
Win ROI: -11.39%

Minus the foreign favorites, for which pace figures are unavailable, the numbers stand at:

Number: 145
Won (rate): 48 (33.1%)
Win ROI: -2.86%

Now, look at what happens when we insist that the favorite have a median late speed ration (LSR) ranked among the top three in the field (you could also use the Brisnet late pace figures and/or the Randy Moss late pace numbers):

Number: 63
Won (rate): 23 (36.5%)
Win ROI: +6.03%
Place ROI: +10.40%
Show ROI: -9.44%

Obviously, the number of betting opportunities is reduced significantly, but both win and place bets produced a positive ROI.

We can use these figures to ferret out false favorites as well.

Below is a summary of all the BC favorites since 2007 with a median LSR that ranked fourth or worse:

Number: 82
Won (rate): 25 (30.5%)
Win ROI: -9.70%
Place ROI: -11.04%
Show ROI: -20.24%

What all this tells us, of course, is how important a horse’s finishing kick can be, particularly if the horse is the favorite. And it’s one of the reasons I always poo-poo (not literally, of course) horses that continually record poor pace figures.


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