How to Start Winning Using Beaten Favorites

Many horseplayers dismiss horses that went off as the post-time favorite and lost in their previous race.  Often these horses are not worth playing back, yet there are occasions when they are worth backing.

Beaten Favorites

In my early data collection, I looked at all beaten favorites, regardless of lengths behind, finish position, or any other factors.  The raw results were encouraging as shown in the table above.  The win rate was 23 percent and a straight win bet on these horses was showing a loss of only 5.4 percent.  This is still better than playing the post-time favorite in every race, but we can do better!

Beaten Favorites Breakdown

When we start looking at horses that finished second, third or fourth in their last race, the results start to show even more promise.  Horses that failed as a favorite and finished second in that race show a much better win percentage at just about 32 percent and a small loss of -2.0 percent.  (In this study, the initial 1,287 horses showed pitiful results at fifth place and beyond, so those horses were no longer tracked.)

By further filtering the second-place finishers in their last race, we arrive at what makes this a solid spot play:

  • The horse must have been the post-time favorite in its last race, which was at least three weeks (21 days) ago.
  • Horse must have finished second in its last race and been beaten by no more than four lengths.
  • The horse must show that it has finished in the money at today’s race distance and over today’s surface (dirt, all-weather, turf).
  • The horse must show a win percentage of 10% or greater over the course of its lifetime and in the last two years (both individually or combined).
  • The horse must be dropping in class today.
  • If there is more than one contender that meets the above criteria, play the horse that was beaten by fewer lengths last time out.

Beaten Favorites Angle

There can be any number of reasons that the horse lost as the favorite last out.  Be sure to check the comments and see if the horse experienced a troubled trip.  Quite possibly the horse may have stepped up in class and finds itself back at the right level today.  Perhaps the pace was too fast for a horse that is a one-dimensional frontrunner.

While this angle typically produces short-priced plays, it does hit over half of the time.  This is an excellent angle to use when keying a horse in an exacta or trifecta and/or when singling a horse in a multi-race wager such as a daily double or Pick 3, 4, 5 or 6.  By coupling use of this spot play with your normal race handicapping and pace analysis, you will find that it hits consistently.

Ray Wallin
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.

Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.

Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.

Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at

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