Wayne Bailey: 'York stats point to opposing favourite and punting on 'Cape''
As a librarian by profession, I quite enjoy looking back through old non-fiction books about history, politics and sport to see how the theories in them stand up today. I recently came across a book by 'Statistician' from the early 1990s about horse racing betting systems and strategies.
In that book, the author says: "It is obvious that for the most part the top courses, which feature competitive racing between horses of the highest class, have the worst record for favourites. You should, therefore, make it a rule not to bet on favourites at Ascot, Doncaster, Hamilton, Newbury, Newmarket, Salisbury, Sandown, Warwick and York."
I'm normally quite partial to backing the favourite in high-class races so out of interest, I've had a look through the stats for about 90 courses in Britain and Ireland over the last decade - and of those nine courses he mentions, seven of them are still in the bottom half for winning favourites in terms of strike-rate.
So it looks like he was on to something, although the raw figures don't take account of field size, race type and a lot of other variables which have an effect on the favourites' strike-rate at any racecourse.
Still, readers might be interested to know that Folkstone had the best record for the jolly with 42 per cent winners over the last decade (633 bets) and a profit of 21 points to SP if blindly backed, while the worst course of all was one of those he mentioned: York.
Racing at the Knavesmire has taken place for hundreds of years, but in the last 10, favourites have only won 27 per cent of all contests and show a hefty loss of 112 points to SP if blindly backed (1,172 bets).
You might assume then that the best approach here is to lay the favourite at York, but when you take into account the higher prices you have to offer on the exchanges, plus commission, that's not actually profitable either.
The best two courses for laying the favourite were Irish, namely Cork and Roscommon, which showed a profit of 68 points each (1 point lay at Betfair SP over a total of 2,064 bets).
Of course, backing and laying horses is never as simple as looking at past data and assuming it will apply in the future. Things change over time and almost all betting edges are usually eliminated by the market eventually.
But with those York stats in mind, I feel a little more comfortable opposing the favourite, Laurens, in the Sky Bet City Of York Stakes (3.0), which is generally available at 2/1.
Don't get me wrong, Karl Burke's stable star is highly respected, with a number of Group Ones to her name, but the four-year-old filly is usually best over a mile and it's a bit of an experiment dropping her back to seven furlongs.
She did win at this distance in the past, but that was her debut in a maiden race more than two years ago. Burke has been studying the timings of her races and reckons it will suit her but even if he's correct, there will be a number of others snapping at her heels and I'm keen on Roger Varian's Cape Byron, which is trading at 5/1 at the time of writing.
While he's yet to win at Group level, he's been a very good handicapper, winning the Victoria Cup at Ascot in May and following up with a Wokingham Stakes victory at the Royal meeting in June. Those were two very impressive displays which suggest he could take a Group race, and while he flopped at Group One level last time out, a Group Two should be within his grasp under jockey Andrea Atzeni.
Readers will have to forgive my inconsistency today, but I do fancy one favourite at York, Wissahickon. He trades around 7/4 for the Group Three Strensall Stakes (1.50) for the formidable team of John Gosden and Frankie Dettori, which have a strike-rate of 32 per cent this term.
Priced as low as 1/3, he was beaten by Matterhorn last time out in the Easter Classic AW Middle Distance Championships Stakes at Lingfield. I've said before that I'm not sure I trust this horse fully, but he won a Group Three previously and he's a couple of pounds superior to these on all known form.
His main rival is Zaaki from Michael Stoute's yard, but that one has been beaten twice in his latest Group Two races and I'm wondering if Group Three level is as good as it gets for the four-year-old.
Do the double
Betting on the Premier League can be tricky at the start of the season as new players settle in and teams find a rhythm, so I’m always cautious in August and September. However, I have to have some of the 11/8 for Brighton to beat Southampton at home this afternoon. Under the guidance of Graham Potter, the Seagulls have bagged four points from their two matches, but the Saints have yet to get off the mark.
Trained by Ralph Beckett, Manuela De Vega looks overpriced around 2/1 for the Group Three Ladbrokes March Stakes at Goodwood (3.50). She was out of her depth in a Group One at the Curragh in July, but wasn’t disgraced when second to the talented Enbihaar in the Lillie Langtry Stakes here earlier this month. She’s got more to come.
Odds of 33/1 would suggest that Making Miracles’ chance of winning the Ebor Handicap (3.40 York) is less than three per cent, but I reckon Mark Johnston’s gelding will run better than that price suggests and has a reasonable chance at landing one of the places in this 22-runner field. A two-time winner this season in handicaps, including the Chester Cup, he’s struggled with a rating around 108 and he appeared a little weary when finishing well down the field off 107 at Newbury last time after a busy few weeks. But a little bit of a break will have done some good and the handicapper has also dropped him by another pound which leaves him with an outside chance.
1.50 York: Wissahickon
2.40 Goodwood: Shadn
3.0 York: Cape Byron
3.40 York: Making Miracles (e/w)
3.50 Goodwood: Manuela De Vega