A close look at favourites with Rick Williams

Our Senior Form Analyst Rick Williams returns to the podcast this week to discuss betting on favourites. These horses (by definition) carry more punters money than any other so it’s worth knowing the difference between a false favourite and a true one. We’ve analysed the last two racing seasons to look at a number of scenarios where favourites are overbet and others where you can find some value. We discuss these on the podcast and you can download the accompanying pdf on backing favourites. [powerpress] Punting Insights You’ll Find:

  • The best tracks and track conditions to bet on favourites
  • The best (and worst) trainers and jockeys
  • When field size is important
  • Which barriers are the most profitable
  • The importance of fitness
  • Whether unlucky runners out-perform the market

Today’s Guest: Rick Williams

Get the Transcript:

[reveal heading=” >> Click Here to Read the Transcript” id=”id1″] David Duffield: I’ve put together a few stats. Now I know the way you approach things it’s only a very small part of what you look at. Being data driven, it’s more about the class and the speed ratings and the sectional times and that type of data more so than just generic stats, but I thought this might be a bit of a talking point. Looking at the record of favourites over the last 2 years I’ve broken them down by area. In a small percentage way, the metro area is underperforming or you’d lose money a little bit quicker than country or provincial. Any reason you could see behind that? This is looking at the last two years, so a full 24 months of data. Rick Williams: Even in some of our own analysis on our information, metro versus country and provincial, there does seem to be some discrepancies in different measurements. As far as this measurement goes, I’m not quite sure exactly why the country and provincial are about equal and a little bit better than metro. Certainly the racing can be quite different. I’m not exactly sure why there’s a bit of a difference there, but from my experience it’s not a surprise to see the difference. David Duffield: Because we had someone feed a whole heap of data we have for internal use through their pretty sophisticated software, and it did come up with the fact that the mix that you need to look at or to consider is different, metro racing versus country racing and even to provincial. Rick Williams: Yes, if you’re looking at a variable weighting of model contributors to a rating- If you had four measurements, and you included them in your rating saying everything would be equal as a starting point, then running it through a program and asking it to give you what means more of those four in order for metro Saturdays, to metro mid-week, to provincial, to country, it changes a lot for a few of those different things and certainly the sample size is significant. This doesn’t surprise me. It goes a little bit with what we’ve experienced. David Duffield: What about the track condition? Again, this is probably not surprising. It would confirm what a lot of people think and that is the wetter the track, the less reliable the form, or the more work you have to do. Rick Williams: Yeah, if you’re looking at favourites, the more you or the market favours a horse, I guess the more certain you are. To be very certain, you need to have less doubt. To have less doubt, you need less variables. When you analyse the information when tracks get wet, there’s more variables. There’s just a host of different variables that come into it. I guess the market is very stats driven, so the stats do tend to probably stack up more on the better ground and deteriorate as far as their accuracy as the ground gets more rain affected. David Duffield: What about the record of favourites by state because there’s not a lot of difference other than Victoria’s a bit of an outlier. The performance of favourites in Victoria in the last couple years has been, in relative terms, poor. Rick Williams: It’s a significant margin, isn’t it? I don’t really know the answer, but if I had to have a quick guess, I guess we’re working on three different measurements with heavy tracks, heavy eight, heavy nine, heavy ten, and then whatever’s beyond that. Certainly they do their best to run at a lot of these different meetings even though they’re quite wet. Whether a horse started two dollars and one while on a heavy eight, and you’d expect it to win well on a heavy ten and it doesn’t. That’s the line I’d be investigating it down. Then again, I guess the other states probably face a little bit of that also. Just knowing Victoria and how wet some of the tracks actually get, there’s a massive difference. David Duffield: Then we looked at race number. Deane Lester on the podcast last week mentioned that, in his opinion, a lot of the early favourites are overbet. People are pretty keen to back a winner early on, and they don’t really know how the track’s going to play. Then later in the day, there’s a few people that chase the get-out stakes. The results here fit that, I’m not saying that it’s the exact reasons for it, but it’s interesting. Whereas if you’re talking in the middle of the meeting, it seems a little bit more reliable. Is there anything here that stood out for you? Rick Williams: Just looking at this, the first thing I thought of would be, in your earlier races you’ve got generally maidens or two-year-old races or three-year-old races. There are a lot of horses that are open to significant improvement and horses that may have had a couple of good runs and would start favourite against a horse that may have been disappointing on the wet that’s back to the good or may be on debut. If we’re looking at races one and two here, I would think that those types of races at times are hard to predict because there’s a lot of unknowns. A lot of the horses are open to improvement. That’s my theory there. I guess on the others, they’re pretty even. There’s a few that look a bit better. Three, four, and six and five, seven, and eight are pretty equal. Anything after that doesn’t look too good, does it? David Duffield: No. What about the record by track? Because we’re not dealing with a big sample size it does bounce around a bit but you see something like Moonee Valley where it’s minus 17%. Do you approach betting at the Valley a lot differently to other tracks? Rick Williams: Not really. I just look at the numbers and see what they spit out. I think the Valley, a lot of people are very prone to finding the horse that fits how the track should play if the rail is out this far or if it’s true. I think the market’s very driven by where the rail is at Moonee Valley. Saying if the rail’s out six metres, this horse should be favourite. I think that that’s certainly a good way to look at things for some part, but I also think it’s important to remember who the best horse is in the race is. Possibly the best horse in the race may not be the horse that a lot of the punters think fits the profile of the track for the day. That’s where I’d be thinking. David Duffield: On the positive, a track like Caulfield comes out pretty well here and also Sandown Hillside. Again, I’m not saying that anyone should rely on these individually but does that coincide with the way your results have been? Are you particularly excited about betting at those tracks? Rick Williams: Not particularly the Sandowns because they’ve just redeveloped them, so I guess one’s plus thirteen and one’s minus ten. For me, I don’t really – I know they’re different tracks, but I don’t really see why there should be a 20% difference. I would think that that would probably settle as more racing goes in. They didn’t race there for a while. Certainly with Caulfield, it’s a really good track, and it’s a great track to bet on. You get a lot of good horses go there. It’s generally, since they’ve fixed it up, raced very, very fair. I think that Caulfield is certainly a great track to bet at and a track that I like. I think that that’s a good one. David Duffield: Yeah I mean this is just meant as a discussion point. If you’re doing deeper research, you might look at all horses under six or eight dollars, not just favourites, and see if those trends continue. The next thing I looked at was field size. Field size of eight-plus, the results are pretty consistent but in small fields, the favourites were overbet. Rick Williams: Yeah, I think that you can tend to think there’s a standout in a small race. Certainly, they can get rolled. Anything can get rolled. I guess when you’re looking at small fields, you’ve got is the tempo going to be right for the horse and all those different things. Not in all those races but certainly in some of them the tempo of the race can play a big part. The more horses you get in a race generally, the more truer it would be run to market expectations. David Duffield: Then we’ve got the age of the horse. No real surprise here in that two-year-olds, there’s a lot less exposed form. Favourites don’t perform quite as well. Interesting that three- and four-year-olds are a little bit below par. Then as horses mature in some ways, or at least the stats here are indicating that they’re underappreciated by the market. Rick Williams: Yeah, if you look at your two-year-olds, you get a lot of hype and spruik on some horses. You also get a lot of other horses that are debuting and open to improvement like we mentioned before. They’re on their own. Then we could bracket together the three- and four-year-olds. A lot of favourites might be resuming from their two-year-old campaign or three-year-old campaign. There’s, again, horses that are open to significant improvement in both those measurements. Then once we get to the horses that are five years and older, we tend to know quite a bit about them. We know if they’re genuine or not and if they’re in the right race. Certainly if they were a horse that’s generally pretty consistent and in the right race, whether they win or not, they’re generally not too far from the mark. I can certainly understand how that group came out like that. David Duffield: Next up we have barriers, and this is something we’ve spoken about for years now but it’s still something the market doesn’t get quite right, and that is outside barriers are far too harshly penalized by most punters. There’s a bit of value there. The eleven-plus barrier, if you’re the favorite, I think there’s something like sixteen- or seventeen-hundred qualifiers over a couple of years. You could make money simply by following that. I’m not suggesting that you do. It’s just interesting that that’s the way it played out. Again, you wouldn’t be overly surprised to see that outside barriers are underloved, undervalued? Rick Williams: No, even me, when I do the form, if you find a horse you like, you’d like it to draw well. That’s one of the things that makes it a bit easier. Certainly at the same time, if you’ve got the best horse with the best jockey and a good trainer and it’s drawn a little bit wide, then do you put your faith in the jockey and the horse’s ability to overcome that obstacle? Or is eleven an advantage because it’ll go forward anyway, and there’s no pace on the inside? I certainly think there are some computer programs out there that may, as you said, harshly penalise those outside gates, but certainly there’s probably horses that draw out that wide that aren’t favoured and ones that clearly, by this illustration, are. You clearly shouldn’t just put a line through a horse because of its barrier. David Duffield: Then we have preparation or stage of the preparation. I was a little bit surprised by this. Not the ninth up plus because some horses, once they’re well into their campaign, they can underperform. But I was interested to see that first-up horses are the worst-performing segment. Rick Williams: I think out of all of the measurements we’ve looked at to date, minus-eight is about the worst. You wouldn’t think they’d be that poor. Possibly some first starters might be included in that measurement. I’m not sure how much they would take up. It looks pretty even enough besides that, but yes, certainly the first-up horses that start favourite are terrible. David Duffield: That actually fits in with the next graph which is days since the last start. Again, we’re not talking something to bet directly off or humongous sample sizes, but it’s a fairly smooth line or a clear correlation days to last start to profit performance. Rick Williams: We’ve touched before on variables and certainty. If you’ve got a horse that’s been running with you in the last thirty days, and you know how it’s going and how it’s performing, you’ve got a level of certainty as to the horse’s fitness and its current capabilities. Now you have to ask yourself, why hasn’t the horse had a run for thirty-one days or has it been injured? As you get out more and more in time, there’s more questions that need to be asked. I think that, again, there’s people that really like backing horses on a seven-day backup. One of the reasons is the horse must be going pretty well to be able backup within a week. It’s all about understanding how good the horse is going and how it’s performing and feeling. David Duffield: The other thing I’ve heard about the seven-day backup is that it really takes the trainer out of the equation in a lot of ways. You’re not setting a horse for a first-up effort or anything. The horse is fit from its run, so it really just comes down to that. That’s enough about the days since last start. What about the breeding? I don’t think it’s something you look at closely, but I thought some people might be interested so I’ve included that. Anything stand out there? Rick Williams: Bel Esprit stands out, but I wonder how much of that would be- Would Black Caviar be in there? I don’t really look at the breeding as far as favourites go. Certainly if the track is wet, you do a bit of due diligence through the breeding history. As to where they rank on a SP, that’s generally not something that we would have a look at. Some of the sires are really good, and some are quite poor. David Duffield: I don’t think the Black Caviar effect would be that important just because there had to be at least two hundred favourites, two hundred runners. What about trainers? Don’t think people would be overly surprised that Waller heads the table, and Hayes is down the bottom from a punting perspective. Then again, maybe they are. Maybe the fact that even though he’s had so much success and prominence in media coverage that Chris Waller, in this period, anyway, was still underrated by the market. Rick Williams: Waller’s just really good. I think the thing about Waller is no matter where he saddles them up, they run well. Kembla Grange or Sandown or Caulfield, they rarely waste a float ride that stable. Certainly we know that the guy’s just a gun, so he just wraps up training the winners. David Duffield: What about jockeys? I know at times B. Rawiller can be hard to catch. He proved that at least on favourites. A lot of people would have thought Luke Nolen’s had a substantial period of time where he’s been out of form. They weren’t stunning to me on the negative side, but anything stand out there for you? Rick Williams: Not really. I guess if we look at D. Weir back in the trainers and B. Rawiller, Weir’s trained a lot of winners recently, but he’s got a lot of horses that run in the bush that aren’t very good. They quite often start favourite and don’t win. Brad Rawiller’s one of his jockeys who probably rides most of them so I think there’s a bit of a correlation there. I think certainly Nolen, not this last year, the year before, it was pretty well noted that him and Moody didn’t really have a great year. I’m not sure minus-20 odd is fully representative of his ability, but he does seem to not ride a lot anymore. I guess even Yendall, who’s another jockey that rides a lot for Weir out in the bush, he’s got one of the big blue lines. Certainly when you’re looking at country racing in Victoria, Darren Weir tends to be overbet a fair bit. I’d be pretty confident that’s a good correlation with Rawiller and Yendall. David Duffield: The weight rank handicap, there really wasn’t much there. It bounced around a bit. No real pattern. What about the steward’s report? Horses that were written up in the steward’s report for its last start – the ones that were actually performed worse. We’ve spoken before, and people can over-rate or overreact to the unlucky runner. That was actually borne out in the figures here. Rick Williams: It all comes down to what you think. If you think a horse has lost two lengths, then that’s just what you think. It’s not the reality because we don’t know what the reality is and what would have happened. I always try to tread on the side of caution a little bit. Certainly a lot of people are quite keen to adjust their figures. It’s probably- this samples shows that a lot of people probably adjust things a little bit too much and do give a bit too much credit for the horse that was held up or wide so it mightn’t mean as much as a lot of people think. David Duffield: What about the going last start? The data here suggests that a heavy track run really takes it out of a horse. When you’re doing the form, have you seen that? Do you allow for that, or do you just treat each case on its merits? Rick Williams: I treat each case on its merits, certainly. If it’s had a heavy run and then it’s favoured on a good track, you worry. When you’ve got horses mixing conditions, it’s a concern. For me, I’m just looking at how fast they run through the heavy, and how easy was the run or how taxing was the run from a times point of view, as opposed to just the run itself. There’s some you probably wouldn’t want to go near and some that you’d be happy to dig a little deeper. David Duffield: The next thing was the same track last start. The numbers here would suggest that horses that are reappearing at the same track last start were more reliable. They can maintain that form, whereas horses facing a new track tend to struggle, relatively speaking. Rick Williams: Some horses are trained on tracks and perform quite well at tracks. Some trainers work that out, and some don’t. Some horses like it. If we’re talking a favourite over 1200m at Flemington down on the straight. A horse that likes that and a horse at Moonee Valley around that little bend, so there’s big differences. If a horse certainly has performed well at that track before and is in good form and backs up there, then it makes a lot of sense that they should run well. David Duffield: The last thing was just the total career starts for the horse. No major findings here other than you might say that ten to nineteenth start bracket that, as a horse has gone through its grades, it might take a little bit of time to find its level there. At least on this data, it tended to be overbet. Rick Williams: Yeah, it’s interesting; it’s a little bit backwards to the age measurement. I guess if you’re looking at it from an age point of view. I’m not really quite sure why there’s such a big difference from ten to nineteen. I guess, like you said, if they’re working through the grades, through those first ten starts or nine starts and then they catch up to the handicapper and have to work through their grades again, it’s not easy for a lot of horses to do. Especially if they’re just an average horse and don’t have a lot of speed. Because the fast horses are the ones that can get their way through the grades. Whereas the ones that just run at the same level from Bendigo maiden to Bendigo through the grades to Sandown to a Saturday, you see a lot of improvement in their class figures, but they don’t run any faster at Flemington than they did at Bendigo in their maiden. I think speed’s got a fair bit to do with that, and again, it’s something you can probably drill a bit further into and dodge some of those poor performance. David Duffield: That was purely the stats. From more of a form perspective, just to finish up then because I don’t want to pretend that this is a key part of what we do. It’s more of a discussion point. What would be, when you’re looking or considering backing a favourite, are there any key criteria that you’re looking at, or does it really just come back to the class and the speed rankings and then you’ve got the tempo of the race and the fitness of the horse and the rest of it? That’s the main things you’re looking at? It’s not a tick a box approach or anything like that? Rick Williams: No, as I said earlier we’ve got our contributors to our final ratings and they certainly mean different things at different places. I’m just looking for everything to line up well. I want it to be strong on my class. I want it to be strong on my speed. I want it strong on the jockey. I want it strong on the trainer. I want it strong in the market if it’s a favourite. I want it to get a good run. You want it to stack right up. There’s a few boxes there to tick from our personal information, but as far as a lot of other stuff goes, I try and keep it pretty simple. David Duffield: No problems, mate. We’ll leave it there for now. Appreciate you joining us once again. Good luck for a big spring. Rick Williams: No worries. Thank you. [reveal]

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