5 Reasons You Don’t Want to Bet on a Favorite in Horse Racing

By Noah Davis
Published on September 22, 2017

The first thing anyone thinks about when they hear about the next big horse race is which horse is favored. The second? Whether or not they left the oven on.

In reality, we shouldn’t be this knee-jerky. We should also know full well whether we left an appliance on that can blow our apartment into the sky.

Here’s to looking at you, Fight Club.

There are very real dangers in falling in love with the first favorite oddsmakers push out, though.

With some big horse racing events just around the corner in October and November, no time is better than now to take a step back and ponder the downside in latching onto that favorite before we really need to:

Hidden Agenda

I’m not going deep into some betting conspiracy theory when tossing around the word “agenda”. Instead, the agenda the top horse racing sportsbooks have is to provide incentive for bettors to place wagers.

They initially don’t really care which horse you’re betting on or how much cash you’re investing. They just want bets and they want them early and often.

That being said, each book can push their own agenda when it comes to the favorite, depending on how they feel about the perceived top horse, as well as the rest of the field.

In addition to their own perception of the field and what the odds should be, sportsbooks can react to other books, as well as the view of the betting public. If Horse A is looking like a strong favorite and the books agree, good luck getting playable odds.

If Horse A is a solid favorite but Horse B and Horse C both look like viable contenders, perhaps the horse betting sites add extra incentive to betting on the “favored” horse, with the clear belief that there are two other horses that could easily keep the top horse from winning.

None of this means the sportsbooks are shady or really know anything we don’t. But they’re out to make money, just like us. If they can exploit how we look at the odds and will eventually bet, they’re going to. Because of that, we need to pause initially to gauge why the odds are the way they are and see if we’re missing something the oddsmakers aren’t.

Blind Love

Perhaps the top reason to not bet on the favorite is the preconceived notion that this is a locked-in winner. This is where “blind love” comes into play, as we’re ignoring all of the extra data, expert advice, odds and potential sleepers and just betting on the favorite because they’re the favorite.

We never want to be prisoners of the moment in sports in general, but that’s surely the case in sports betting, too. That has to apply to how we look at initial odds and the top favorites for any event – especially with horse racing.

Getting locked in early on any one horse tends to be a mistake.

Even when it’s not, it’s always good to put in the time to research the race, horse history, trainers, jockeys, tracks, odds and predictions.

Blind love for the favorite can obviously lead to big winnings, too. But it’s better to cover all of our bases before going all in on a horse just because the initial feedback suggests it’s the best option.

All of the Value

By latching onto the top favorite right away, we’re really short-changing ourselves. Not only are we playing into the sportsbooks’ hands and possibly backing a favorite that won’t win, but we’re also potentially missing out on loads of value.

The favorites rarely offer upside in terms of your payout, so almost always you’re putting in extra cash to get anything back. That’s obviously because this favored horse is a “sure thing” and if they’re a borderline lock to win, you need to put in a lot of cash to get any back.

That’s how the books protect themselves and while the favorites absolutely can and do win, they certainly don’t always win.

Instead of locking in on the top horse right away, we always want to consider our outs. How many other horses provide serious value, have the talent to give the top horse a run for their money and have a good track record?

Obviously, if there isn’t any value in terms of horse talent or odds, your strategy is mapped out for you.

But if there are long odds on horses with a fighting chance or some top contenders with playable numbers, we need to go beyond just looking at the horse with the best odds.

The idea of value doesn’t stick with just the horses themselves, either. It stretches out to all wager types and all horse racing betting sites you plan on placing bets. Value knows no boundaries and if you put the time in, you’ll know it when you see it.

Stacked Field

This aligns with everything else we’ve discussed, but arguably the top reason not to bet on the favorite in a horse race is a really competitive field. This is probably the biggest reason for playable odds for a favorite and is a great opportunity for the books to make a ton of money off of heavy action on the favored horse.

There are definitely a lot of races where the favorite is obvious and the competition doesn’t come close. That can come in the form of odds and once the horses hit the track, the gap is pretty clear in the performance, too.

If the odds show us that this thing is so tight that Vegas isn’t sure how to grade the bets, then why should we have amazing confidence in one horse that has slightly better odds than the rest?

We can also look at it from another perspective – where the top horse is the easy favorite but there is a fat pack of horses with similar odds far behind it. If all of those horses combine for the overall #2 threat in the race, there is a realistic chance that at least one emerges as a serious contender to take first place.

Your interpretation and process for betting on each horse and race will be different every time.

However, by not just looking at the favorite and checking every box, you’re ensuring that you’re not missing something that you’ll later be kicking yourself over.

Things Can Change

Reason number five for not falling in love with the top horse racing favorite is that changes are bound to come. The odds change so much over time for the bigger horse races because horses are scratched due to injury or illness or owners decide they want to keep their horse for the next big race.

Jockeys can also back out and that can put a different rider on a horse, while replacement horses can come in with different odds. Those replacement horses can be especially problematic if they’re elite talents and have had a lot of success. They may not have been in the original field, but now that they’re there and you’ve put your money on the top horse, your stance may change a bit.

There is clear value and upside in placing early bets, but there is also serious risk.

Your favored horse can come down with an issue, odds can shift or the field itself can change. Those things can benefit you just as well, but they can also make betting on a favored horse a nightmare

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