Feb 2nd 2011 07:41 pm |
It is a well known fact in horseplayer circles that approximately 30% of horses who go off as betting favorites, win their respective races. This is a stat that has remain unchanged since at least the 1960s. In 1968, Tom Ainslie wrote in the seminal Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing:
All experts know that, in a representatively large sample of races, one of every three will be won by the betting favorite — the horse on which the most money is bet.
Amazing to think, with all of the technology and statistics made available in recent years, the percentage of winning favorites has remained around 30%.
If we were to go back over 100 years ago, when playing the races for the vast majority of gamblers was nothing more than a guessing game, it would be assumed that chaos ensued. Without readily accessible past performances, gamblers had little fact-based information to assist them in placing their wagers. Because of this, one would think, less winning favorites and higher payouts to the sharpies with the inside scoop, right? Maybe not…
In a little known text at the Library of Congress called “Points” in 1885 the author, identified only as an ‘Old Campaigner’, in presenting his somewhat convoluted view of playing the races, compiled wagering statistics for Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay in New York along and Monmouth Park in New Jersey. He found that, on average, over 43% of betting favorites in the mutuel pools won races over the period he studied. Here is his data set:
What do we make of this? In an era before the Daily Racing Form, gamblers were collectively picking the winners 43% of the time? A significant increase over the present-day gambling public, who have the advantage of immense amounts of information about not only horses but their human connections too.
Like all statistics, this raises more questions than answers. One thing to consider, and a possible clue into the high percentage of winning favorites: Pari-mutuel wagering (a relatively new and unpolished system in the 1880s) was likely secondary to playing with the bookmakers. Additionally, the big players likely invested their money into auction pools. Auctions required a larger investment but they made for a better return than the bookmakers or the mutuels.
Mutuel players had the advantage of odds set by bookmakers and the big players who were buying tickets via the auctions. Maybe these two sources assisted those investing in the mutuels. While it’s impossible to know for sure, maybe mutuel bettors followed the bookmaker’s odds and the auction bettors, two groups far more intelligent than the average horseplayer. According to the author, the number of winning favorites in the auction pools also exceeded 40%. Could this be the reason for the inexplicably smarter gambling public over 120 years ago?
All theories aside, at face value, the 40% statistic could be humbling (or, dare I say, demoralizing) for today’s horseplayer. What do we make of the collective gambler betting virtually blind in the 1880s, doing better then today’s horseplayer who has an unprecedented amount of information at his or her fingertips?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and comments on this!
NEWS, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
“Points for 1885: Being a Collection of Facts and Figures for Small Speculators by An Old Campaigner, published by Press of Pusey & Rooney in New York City, 1885. The entire book can be viewed online at the Internet Archive
Many thanks to those who commented on last week’s post about George Woolf…someone mentioned Laura Hillenbrand’s book about Seabiscuit that included biographical details about Woolf which I should have mentioned last week. Sorry for the oversight…
The Derby buzz started with a bang over the big win by Dialed In on Sunday in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. I wrote a Ten Things about the Sunshine Millions series for Hello Race Fans last week. This week i’ll do a Ten Things on the Donn, scheduled to be run on Saturday at Gulfstream.
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!