On The Rails

Punters getting smarter and smarter in identifying winning chances

Chaff is eliminated and winning chances identified, but odds-on backers go under

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 July, 2013, 4:18am

And so here we are again, wrapping up another season in every way, shape and form and today it's the precursor to our annual visit to Beancounters Anonymous.

A review of the landscape, as seen through a betting prism (are we alone in thinking the word prism will never seem the same post-Edward Snowden?) shows us that racing fans just seem to get collectively smarter every year.

Naturally, all these figures exclude whatever happens at Happy Valley tonight but nine races out of 769 shouldn't make much of a difference to the overall picture.

On the ownership front, it was good news if you had a winner because this season there was a good chance your horse won again.

More than 41 per cent of the winning horses did win at least one more, the first time the figure has been that high in the 16 years' worth of back stats we have on hand.

Out of 480 individual winning horses, 186 won two or three races, though winners of four arrived at about half the rate of recent seasons and of course we had no winners of six or seven.

Turning to the punt, as usual odds-on was a bitter proposition - only 33 out of 70 odds-on favourites have won and a flat bet on them lost you more than a sixth of your outlay, or much the same as picking horses at random. So much for sure win.

That was slightly better than backing the favourite, unless there's a flood of them tonight - a HK$100 bet on every favourite this season has lost you almost HK$21 over time.

It hasn't been because favourites weren't winning, as the public choice to win the race has been getting home virtually at the same rate as last season - just under 27 per cent and not far under an average rate that has been creeping up over the long term. And almost 58 per cent of favourites finished in the placings.

Punters collectively pick more winners than they did 20 years ago, but the downside of that increased knowledge and understanding is they are making them lower odds than before, too. So give yourself a pat on the back and an uppercut as well.

The average price of the outright favourite has been in decline long term as punters have got smarter and that was reflected in the average favourite at post time lining up at $32.3 this season for your $10 bet.

But beyond that, the really telling stats to say that punters have improved their selections over time is in their ability to cordon off the winning chances in general and eliminating the chaff.

Punters still get the odd surprise, but not the way they used to get them.

This season, just three winners have been 100-1 or better and 52 have won at odds of 25-1 or more. Last season, those figures were five at triple figures and 83 at 25-1 and upwards, albeit in what was an unusual season of longer-priced results.

This season has more in keeping with 2010-11, when horse players were making the favourites and fancied runners shorter than ever, and more than ever they were arriving. The horses the market considers real contenders - those showing $110 or less for your $10 - were back again to winning nearly 80 per cent of the races and that is also a long-term average that has been trickling up in recent seasons.

And, like the 2010-11 season, the average payout for a winner was on the short side, returning you near enough to $90.6 for $10. Two years ago, that number was a record low of $86.3 and this season's figure slots in as the second worst, and well under the long-term average of $98.8 since the handover.

The flipside is that the shortest returns happened in the seasons when the races were their most uncompetitive - two seasons ago 961 runners went around at over 99-1 and that dropped to 746 last term. But uncompetitive races were back this season, triple-figure chances back to more than 850 and the number of no-hopers identified by the betting public has an obvious link to how short the odds are for the real players.

And that uncompetitiveness was also reflected in the tightness of finishes. A decade ago, the Jockey Club used to boast that around 40 per cent of races were decided by margins of less than half a length, but in the past two seasons that has gone the way of boater hats and drive-ins.

In 2011-12, that figure was just under 31 per cent and this time just a tick the other side of 31 per cent.