Odds On, Look On

People get really annoyed when their odds-on favourite gets rolled but it happens more often than you think.

We had a look at the main meetings at four big tracks over the last 8 weeks – involving 502 races – and found that half of all these hotpots crashed out. Of the 119 odds-on starters, 49% won but 51% lost. Since they paid an average of under $1.70 this means that a dollar on each would result in a loss of at least 20% of your stake money.

Here is how they stacked up (Albion Park figures covered its two main weekly meetings).

Wentworth Park 150 races 39 odds-on favourites 20 winners 49% lost
The Meadows 96 races 23 odds-on favourites 8 winners 65% lost
Sandown Park 96 races 14 odds-on favourites 7 winners 50% lost
Albion Park 160 races 43 odds-on favourites 23 winners 47% lost
Total 502 119 58 49%


Two reasons for the failures seem to dominate. First, many gamblers have a sheep-like attitude and follow the favourite on down in price, even when it is not worth it. That’s the “better than bank interest” syndrome. In some cases they may be betting when the price is better but the late money often tends to depress the price and so they get a surprise when the dividend emerges.

Changes like that seldom occur at the gallops but it is routine in the small greyhound pools.

The other factor is that the price may be terrible for the dog in question. Punters are assessing the dog on what it might do, or what it has done in the past, without properly considering its current form or its position in the race.

One example is Renegade Chief, sent out at $1.70 at The Meadows last week from box 3.  It has had some good wins in the past but it had failed to win in its most recent six starts and was looking as though it lacked a bit of zip. In the event, it came out moderately and finished moderately, running fourth in average time. That form justified nearer $5.00 than odds-on yet the big move was still on.

Another was the in-form Farmor Las Vegas at $1.80 at Sandown last week. From box 8 it had to jump well, which it did, but three other dogs jumped quicker to make life difficult as they rounded the corner. That’s always a potential danger for outside dogs. The early pace was fairly predictable so those odds did not represent good value, never mind whether it was the best dog in the race or not.

Then an either-or situation prevailed at Albion Park on October 17 when that very smart racer Honey Bouquet drew the 8 box in a six-dog field. Seeing it listed at $4.50 in NSW, I thought that was great value and took an interest. In the event it just failed to cross the field and finished 3rd. But I would have been very disappointed as it finished up at $1.90 in NSW ($2.80 in Queensland). Smallish pools always pose that danger but the difference is stark. The following week, from the same box in an almost identical field, it managed to cross and lead even though its first sectional was almost identical to the previous week. But punters were wary this time and it paid $4.70 in NSW and $3.30 in Queensland. In neither of those races was an odds-on price justified. From the inside, maybe, but not from the 8, where luck plays a bigger part.

Obviously, both circumstances and ignorance of all the facts play a part in these ups and downs. Too many punters these days trust their emotions rather than the hard data (which they probably do not look at).

In that vein, consider this comment in a report on high school students by Fairfax Media (23 Oct), “enrolments in standard two-unit mathematics have declined steeply over the past decade and a significant proportion of students do not study maths at all”. Could that be where these punters are coming from?

Whatever the influences, poor value on the Win tote would no doubt be a factor in the rise in popularity of exotic bets in recent times.

Wait, There’s More

The education of punters is not helped by the way tipsheets and formguides rate the runners’ chances.

It has now become a universal habit for them to list the chances of each runner by some mysterious device which churns out a set of numbers like 100, 98, 96, 94 etc. Apparently, this is meant to tell us who the best and worst are. But what do the numbers mean? How can we apply them in practice?  Of course, we can’t. They are meaningless.

There was an extraordinary example in the TOPGUN where the GRV formguide rated all dogs in the range 100 down to 95. Two were at 100 – Ernie Bung Arrow and Dyna Nailin – and three were at 99 – Peter Rocket, Punch One Out and Tomac Bale. Those numbers bear no relationship whatever to the real pricing so how can that help the punter?

Pricing is the other conundrum. That same formguide, as well as the TAB and online bookies Fixed Odds, display a list of odds for each dog. In every case those odds amounted to a book of around 130%, which is way outside what the totes (114%) or genuine bookies in a competitive market would charge. It’s a complete rip-off for unsuspecting punters. They are trading uncertainty for a price that will never allow them to make a profit. Winners will never really be winners.

You might say the commercial operators are entitled to do what they like – buyer beware. So be it. But there is no excuse for state racing authorities to do likewise. Their responsibility is to serve and protect the public, not to lead them down the garden path.

The end effect is to degrade the concept of value pricing and instead encourage gamblers into quickie bets, much as would happen with a poker machine.

In either of these cases, those official formguides should tell the reader what the figures mean, how they were derived, and what the built-in profit was. Or, better still, get rid of the 100, 99, 98 nonsense.