02/25/2010 8:57PM

More Favorites


It began with an innocent inquiry to DRF from someone updating a book, wanting to know if favorites still won roughly a third of the time as they did a decade ago. One very long database search later, it turns out that the ancient rule of thumb that favorites win one-third of all races may need a longer thumb: In 2009, favorites in fact won 36.66 percent of the 55,984 thoroughbred races run in the United States and Canada. That's 20,521 winning favorites, 10 percent (1,860) more than the rule of thumb's 18,661.

Listed below are the 71 tracks that ran 150 or or more races last year, and the number of races and number and percentage of winning favorites. They are not broken down by surface, distance or various other factors that it may be interesting to query as part of an even longer search some other time, simply by where they were run. The data is presented alphabetically by track on the left and then reiterated ranked by highest to lowest percentages of winning favorites on the right.

Of the 71 tracks, 54 had more than 33.33 percent winning favorites while only 17 had less. Favorites won at 39 percent or higher at 18 tracks, and at 40 percent or higher at 10.

Shorter fields probably has something to do with the upward creep in the number of winning favorites. It's also worth noting that none of the 10 tracks where the rate tops 40 percent is one that presents any Grade 1 races, while the three most prominent short "boutique" meetings -- Del Mar, Keeneland and Saratoga -- are all in the bottom 10.

Besides the higher percentages, the most startling thing to me was the sheer volume of races being run at some venues, led by the 2,131 at Mountaineer and 2,114 at Charles Town. Add in Philadelphia Park, Penn National and Presque Isle, and about 1 out of every 6 races run in North America last year was in either Pennsylvania or West Virginia.

blackseabass More than 1 year ago
unrelated subject Steve, read the profile on you in Harvard magazine. The minimum wage comment was pretty accurate for those of us that can actually produce that but heck there is a lot of people making those wages doing what they hate rather than what they love. Ego is the one common denominator among the players. As a former baseball player that wasn't good enough to make it the track gives me the feeling of being a professional athlete.All the grass and stadium atmosphere is something like being on the yard. I am the inventor/owner of three mechanical methods that will produce 5-20% profits annually if greed is kept from the equation. Ofcoarse if I told anybody I'd have to ---- them and as a believer I couldn't do that, so I can't tell.I assure you there are formulas that exist but if made public would destroy them. You seem to be a smart guy with a head for numbers and a willingness to study someday with imagination and serendipity you may stumble over what I call El Dorado. Admittedly I'll never get rich employing these methods but they keep me in action and off somebody elses payroll. I don't expect you to post this but thought you might want to know that there are secret formulas. Good luck
blackseabass More than 1 year ago
C, This particular type of research has been done to death by umpteen authors over the last 100 years if added to the previous studies the 2009 numbers won't move the overall number very much. It is quite possible that it is a temporary wobble in the long term norm. only a long term study of many years will reveal weather its a wobble or a new norm.
blackseabass More than 1 year ago
Steve, again I say nice chart. What I find hilarious as an old school research guy that uses Drf charts for my raw data is the number of guys clamoring for you to do more research and give the fruits of the labor to them. I know the answers to some of the questions these guys asked such as the number on 1st+ 2nd choice exactas and so on. I've done the research pouring over 1000s of charts the old fashioned way which takes time and effort...
Christian P More than 1 year ago
With more and more handicappers relying on speed figures obviously horses with the best figs are going to draw the money. With all this money being concentrated on one or two horses it's not surprising that the percentage of winning favorites is going up. It does make it easier for traditional class handicappers to find overlays and harder for speed handicappers
Michael Thomas More than 1 year ago
I know I'm late to this dance, but isn't it worth considering that not all favorites are created equal. A 1-5 shot is not the same as a 9-5 favorite or even a 3-1 choice (which you sometimes have). Doesn't that render the data, if not moot, less useful that generally assumed. Just a thought.
Kent More than 1 year ago
To bernard_downes, I really can't claim any insight into Dubai racing: I can only say that the sample you cite from the new racetrack is too small for this comparison. There will be a regression to the mean. Read hellelmer; he illustrates the numerical obvious.
hellelmer More than 1 year ago
What Steve needs is a list with average # of runners. Some of these tracks run so few horses per race that favorites winning is no big deal. If a track ran only two horses per race, it would not surprise anyone to have a favorites ratio over 50%!
Bernard Downes More than 1 year ago
To Kent, ken.puck, dan.c and others, please see my earlier post. You are wrong on the favourites issue. The new racetrack in Dubai has good size fields (always 8, often 12 to 14), and a synthetic surface, and yet betters have managed to back 40% of winning favourites in its early weeks. The secret surely is that good reliable horses produce worthy favourites and then the outcome is purely down to the chance elements associated with all racing. Why should it be any different in the US? Regards - Bernard
SherpaGuide More than 1 year ago
Walt, There is absolutely no way NBC shows the Apple Blossom in prime time. It's 2010, we're lucky the TC races are televised. They'll show the race recorded the next day prior to the Arkansas Derby...maybe.
Robert Slifer More than 1 year ago
I play Charlestown on a regular basis and this year a super trainer has shown up his name is Ollie Figgins right now he is at 46% winners and this isn't a small sample also they have Rodney Brown and Jeff Runco all high % guys themselfs. On the jockey front Travis Dunkleberger rides only 1 to 2 races a night and he is like 50% winners its sometimes ill just to watch because when these name show up especially off claims they are must uses in any form. I did what Steve showed us a 2 years ago and noticed the longer the races got there the more favorites won. Bob In PA