Knocking the Favorite
There�s a favorite in every race, and often the key to beating a race is determining whether that favorite is legitimate or not.
When handicapping, you�re always looking for a factor that�s under-weighted by the crowd. It�s human nature to look for hidden gems that point toward the horse to bet. But unearthing negative angles on horses is equally important � you can gain just as much of an edge on a race by finding horses with less chance to win than the public thinks as by finding horses with more chance to win than the public thinks. And finding negative angles is especially useful with favorites. The favorite controls so much of the money in a race that if you can find one that�s vulnerable, it becomes much easier to find an overlay among the second, third, and fourth favorites.
It�s hard to truly "throw out" a favorite, but the following characteristics may indicate a weak favorite:
�A layoff of 45 or more days between its last and second-to-last races. These type of favorites tend to bounce, and generate a lower win percentage and an ROI well below the benchmark ROI for favorites. (Older studies of favorites that I�ve seen tend to put the ROI for favorites around .90, while more recent ones seem to generate a lower ROI, around .80. It looks like favorites may be winning about as often as ever, but pay less when they do.)
�A dirt route race on an off track. Too much can happen going around two turns with mud in your eye or a slippery surface underneath. These favorites have a low ROI. (Interestingly, this doesn�t apply to off-track turf courses.)
�Shipping in from a higher-class track. If they�re so solid, why are they at the cheaper oval? Expect a low win percentage and ROI from these horses.
�Hasn�t won in the last six tries. Legitimate favorites win often. Close doesn�t count.
�Has a low-percentage jockey. A jock with a hit rate of less than 5% over 40+ races is a liability on a favorite, and will tend to win less often and generate an inferior ROI to favorites in general.
�Last race�s speed rating was greater than or equal to the horse�s lowest bounce point. The lowest bounce point is the lowest figure where the horse always regressed the next race. It�s not set in stone -- there are too many factors going on in horse races and too small a sample to be really confident of it, but it gives an indication that a horse may regress in today�s race.
�Has won only at one track, and is at a different track today.
�A publicity horse. If you wouldn�t bet the horse if you covered up its name and looked at the past performances without know who it was, you shouldn�t bet it, period. This is one of the best sources of weak yet heavily-bet favorites. These horses are especially weak in non-graded stakes and classified allowances. Be careful applying this rule because stakes favorites tend to be legitimate. Look for the ones who are running on celebrity status rather than current form. The more articles in the Form or the local newspapers touting a weak favorite, the better.
�Its last victory was wire-to-wire or against a soft pace, and that doesn�t figure to happen today.
�A four-year-old or up who has never won at today�s class level. If they haven�t done it yet, they may do it today but they don�t deserve favorite status, no matter how well they�re doing at lower levels.
�A come-from-way-behind horse with a great stretch kick may provide a dramatic finish, but is an unreliable favorite. Early speed is the universal bias. That bias can be overcome, but it shouldn�t come with a low payoff.
(There are plenty more weak favorite angles � please feel free to post yours on The Grandstand.)
So, after you�ve picked your contenders, try to knock the favorite. If it shows signs of weakness, you can look at the other contenders for your play. If not, you need, at the least, to respect it in your exotics. Then you can hunt for the little handicapping gems that point toward the horses you�ll lay your money on.NC
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