Not All Favorites Are Created Equal: Part 1 – Strong and False Favorites


Many horseplayers live by the rule of thumb that favorites win about 33 percent of the time for a 17 percent loss per wager. While not too far off the mark, you need to consider that there are several different kinds of favorites to consider.

For the sake of this study, the analysis of favorites excludes maiden races and races for two-year-olds, since I consider them to be among the least predictable. This left 16,065 races for me to analyze, focusing on the morning line favorite. I then divided these horses into three categories: strong favorites, false favorites (no qualifier), and false favorites (with qualifier).


As you can see from the chart above, the overall win percentage for all favorites in this data sample was about 34 percent and showed a loss of just over 14 percent. Strong favorites outperformed the overall figures with a 38 percent win rate and about half of the loss. False favorites with no qualifier made up 56 percent of the overall sample and performed about as well, while false favorites in races with a qualifier went the opposite way of the strong favorite, dropping about 5 percent in the win percentage column and losing over 10 percent more on the wagered dollar than the overall data.

The criteria I used to assess favorites includes:

  • Recency – the horse must have run in the last 31 days.
  • Class – the horse must be at the same level or lower than their previous effort. If the race is the same level, the horse must have finished in the money in its last start.
  • Conditions – the horse must show a win at today’s distance and over today’s surface.
  • Non-Maiden Last Race – the horse cannot have competed in a maiden race last time.
  • Record – the horse must show a win in its running lines and won 10 percent or more of its races (last year, this year and this year and last year combined).

STRONG FAVORITE – meets all the five criterion above.
FALSE FAVORITE – if the horse violates one or more of the five criterion above with no exceptions. 

By now you are surely wondering what a “qualifier” is and how well they perform.

A qualifier is a horse that meets all the requirements of the strong favorite with two exceptions — it is not the morning line favorite and it ran in the money at this level or higher last out.

If more than two horses are qualifiers in a race, you select the top choice by using the horse with the higher percentage of in-the-money races over the last two years shown in the horse’s record.


While the hit rate is not high enough to warrant an automatic wager, the diminishing loss at only 2 percent of the wagered dollar coupled with the 24 percent loss of the false favorite show how much money that the favorites burn under these conditions.

How does one use this information?

In races that have a false favorite and a qualifier, they (the false favorite and the qualifier) combine to win 49.3 percent of the time. So, roughly half of the time you have a good sense of what horses you should consider including on the top half of an exacta.

If you like a favorite to win, you can add some confidence if you feel it is a strong favorite or back off a bit if you feel it is a false favorite and include another contender in your exotic wagers.

By qualifying what kind of favorite you are looking at today, you can gain a slight edge either playing with or against it when structuring your bets. In Part 2, I will discuss how various factors can affect the win percentage for all three types of favorites and how to use this information to your advantage.

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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