How Often Does the Favourite Win A Horse Race?

If you have a look at a horse racing card, one of the first bits of information that will catch your eye is the identity of the favourite. It’s clearly an important factor to consider before placing a bet, but have you ever wondered how often the favourite actually wins a horse race? Well, there have been plenty of studies on the subject, and number-crunchers have come up with an answer. Or, to put it more accurately, answers.

First, let’s give you the short answer. The favourite usually wins a horse racing around 30-35% of the time. And if you were wondering, the second favourite usually wins around 18-21% of the time. As you might expect, going down the market leads to a lower winning percentage. Please note that these figures come from an average of several different studies carried out over the last decade.

Several exceptions to this rule

And yet, we must add a caveat. The statistic of 30-35% must be viewed within the context of several different factors. For instance, some of these studies will have been conducted on the basis of having eight runners on a card. In races with larger fields, e.g., events like the Melbourne Cup (22-24 runners) or the Grand National (40 runners), the favourite has a tougher job. In the latter, for example, the favourite has only won once in the last ten runnings of the Grand National (Tiger Roll in 2019), which would put the favourites’ strike rate at 10%. Although to be clear, a larger sample size than the last ten races is needed for this kind of statistic to have meaning.

Aside from field size, there is a variety of other factors to consider. Racing is a broad church, and it differs from country to country. If you were to read Australian horse racing tips, for example, those analysts would study different elements compared with someone offering tips for (jumps) point-to-point racing in Ireland. Even at the most basic level, the tipsters would have to account for the fact that the Irish point-to-point runners must navigate fences and can, therefore, fall. Whereas, in Australia, the focus will be more on pure speed and stamina.

Dirt is more favourable to market leaders than turf

There are so many other factors to add. For instance, one study (conducted by BetMix using Angler data) found that favourites were more likely to win on dirt than on turf. We can reason as to why that is the case, as the turf is more likely to be affected by weather conditions. If you have seen horses slog through the heavy ground on a wet December in Scotland, you’ll know the race can seem like more of a lottery.

And, if this weren’t complicated enough, you can have other considerations like the handicaps. One study we have seen put the success of favourites at 32%, which fits within the range of our average. However, when this was broken down to handicaps and non-handicaps, the figures were 26% and 39%, respectively. Thus, handicap races are more unpredictable than those races where the horses don’t carry extra weight.

So, to answer the original question again, favourites win between 30-35% of the time. But there are so many contributing factors that the stat becomes essentially useless to anyone placing a bet on an individual race. It can, however, be useful to those following general trends in racing.