Why doesn’t the favourite win every horse race?

In a horse race, the favourite is the horse thought most likely to win, yet does so on just one-in-three occasions, on average. One reason for a high proportion of losing favourites is that roughly 60% of horse races run in Britain are handicaps or, in other words, races in which every horse is allotted a weight which, at least in theory, gives it an equal chance of winning as any other horse. Another is that, unlike, say, the roll of a die, in which the chances of rolling a particular number is, unequivocally, one-in-six, or 5/1, the odds offered on a horse race inevitably involve an element of human opinion.

A bookmaker may initially calculate the probability of a favourite winning based on its form and other information in the public domain, and post odds accordingly, but those odds will be affected by the opinion of other bookmakers and the betting public. The betting public voices its opinion by accepting, or rejecting, the odds offered and, in effect, ‘builds’ the market for the race in question. Of course, public opinion, like that of the bookmakers, is not always correct, but can sometimes lead to a horse being backed – in the absence of an informed alternative – simply because it is ‘favourite’ for the race in question.

Of course, horse racing is subject to a myriad variables, including, but not limited to, course, distance and going, plus an infinite number of imponderables – not least of the horse, itself, as a sentient being, capable of emotions such as anxiety and fear – so it should come as no great surprise that the horse that ‘should’ win a race fails to do so on a regular basis.

What is the origin of ‘nap’?

The term ‘nap’ is derived from the nineteenth century card game ‘Napoleon’, or ‘Nap’ for short. Napoleon is a simple trick-taking game, in which plays bid on the number of tricks they believe they can make, up to a maximum of five, also known as ‘Napoleon’.

In horse racing, or greyhound racing, the term ‘nap’ is used to signify the selection that a tipster considers has the best chance of winning on a specific day or at a specific meeting on a specific day. It is important to note that ‘nap’ simply denotes the level of confidence a tipster has in a selection, based on his/her appraisal of the event in question. More often than not, a ‘nap’ selection may be offered at shorts odds by the bookmakers – consummate with its chances of winning, in the eyes of the tipster – but, otherwise, there is nothing more, or less, special about it than any other similarly priced selection.

Obviously, some tipsters fare better than others with their ‘nap’ selections, as can be seen from the naps tables published from time to time in the racing press. Generally speaking, though, the ‘nap of the day’ is simply the ‘headline’ tip from each tipster.

What is the most profitable type of bet?

Unexcitingly, but unequivocally, the most profitable type of bet for the punter or, conversely, the least profitable type of bet for the bookmaker, as far as horse racing is concerned is a single win bet, on just one horse in a race. A single win bet is the simplest, most straightforward bet of all. Unlike backing two or more horses in the same race, a.k.a. ‘Dutching’, or multiple betting, in the form of doubles, trebles and accumulators, a single win bet involves no wastage of stakes or winners going astray. A single win bet also affords control, at least, to the extent that control is possible, over the ebb and flow of the betting bank, which is an important consideration for anyone who takes betting on horses seriously. By contrast, an each-way, or ‘win and place’, bet requires double the outlay of a single win bet, with no guarantee of success. In addition, the place portion, while offering a theoretical ‘safety net’, is poor value because at standard place terms the place backer is trading under the true mathematical odds more often than not. Furthermore, each-way betting can lead to wishy-washy selections, rather than those based on clear-cut, hard evidence.

Which was the last favourite to win the St. Leger?

Since the turn of the twenty-first century, no fewer than ten favourites – including Rule Of Law, who started joint-favourite in 2004 – have won the St. Leger. Ironically, the shortest-priced favourite in that period – and, in fact, the shortest-priced favourite since Reference Point in 1987 – Camelot failed to justify odds of 2/5 when beaten three-quarters of a length by 25/1 outsider Encke in 2012. Camelot was attempting to become the first horse since Nijinsky, in 1970, to win the Triple Crown, but ran below his best and was easily seen off in the closing stages.

To answer the question, though, the last favourite to win the St. Leger was Logician, trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, in 2019. Hitherto unbeaten, the Frankel colt had little trouble justifying odds of 5/6, readily asserting in the closing stages to win by two and a quarter lengths. Logician subsequently received treatment for peritonitis – a potentially life-threatening infection of the stomach lining – but fully recovered and remains in training as a four-year-old.

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