by Jeremy Plonk
March 15, 2021
Welcome to a new handicapping series for our Monday blog space entitled “Monday Myths.” Each week I’ll use the power of the Betmix database to take common handicapping assumptions and either support or dispel them with data. Betmix data powers the 1/ST BET app and its features like Angler and Birddog give data-minded horseplayers a treasure trove of information in which to query your own curiosities.
Short field, big price.
When posed with small field sizes, you’ll often hear TV commentators and handicappers utter the phrase “small field, big price.” They’ll back it up many times with how the race dynamics of a small field lend themselves unpredictable pace scenarios and more traffic than you’d expect. The cat-and-mouse games are supposed to create some sense of chaos and not lean to the obvious.
I crunched the numbers in the Betmix database for every Thoroughbred race in North America over the past 8 years, going back to Mar. 15, 2013. The study was for races with small field sizes of 4, 5 and 6 starters each. The database ranked each horse in each race by the order of the public’s choice (favorites through longest shots). We looked at the win percentage of each contender by field size to determine if the longer prices had any propensity for victory based on the field size, and also looked at the ROI for each $1 bet on each of those choices by group. I also checked on horses 8-1 or more who could be considered ‘big prices’ in small fields to see how often they won in comparison to just the ranked order of most to least-backed horses.
1st choice wins 49.7% with a $.84 ROI
2nd choice wins 26.7% with a $.80 ROI
3rd choice wins 15.4% with a $.75 ROI
4th choice wins 7.6% with a $.62 ROI
Horses 8-1 or more win 4.4% with a $.53 ROI
1st choice wins 44.1% with a $.85 ROI
2nd choice wins 25.5% with a $.83 ROI
3rd choice wins 15.4% with a $.76 ROI
4th choice wins 9.7% with a $.74 ROI
5th choice wins 4.8% with a $.61 ROI
Horses 8-1 or more win 4.3% with a $.59 ROI
1st choice wins 40.7% with a $.84 ROI
2nd choice wins 23.1% with a $.81 ROI
3rd choice wins 15.7% with a $.80 ROI
4th choice wins 10.4% with a $.76 ROI
5th choice wins 6.3% with a $.70 ROI
6th choice wins 3.2% with a $.61 ROI
Horses 8-1 or more win 4.1% with a $.64 ROI
Overall Findings Verdict:
The pattern continues on a natural drop off with each wagering choice in field sizes of 4, 5 and 6 runners. The deeper you get into the public choices, the least likely the longer shots are to win by a wide margin and the ROI drops significantly even on the off chance you collect on the smaller percentage at a bigger price. Horses 8-1 or more win only around 4% of the time in any of these smaller field sizes, so you’ll catch about 1 in 25 (and lose 36-47% of your bankroll in pursuit). By direct opposite, favorites in small fields return a consistent $.84 on the dollar and about break even with the takeout.
The small field, big price chatter is among the worst myths we’ve studied so far. It’s not only categorically false, it’s about 180 degrees from reality. The next time a big price wins in a smallfield, know that it’s anecdotal and can happen, but probably won’t again in any quick turnaround and certainly not consistently.
You can go into Betmix and run your own queries for a deeper dive into this theory and any that you can create. For instance, take a look at the tracks you play most often to see if they fall in line with this study’s conclusions. Finger Lakes, incidentally, is the worst track to look for an 8-1 shot in a field of 6 or less, those horses winning only 2.1%.