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Monday Myths: Can You Outsmart the Public?

by Jeremy Plonk

February 1, 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.


I can outsmart the public.


Most horseplayers have a brash nature, whether displayed outward or kept inside, that they have the edge on the betting public. Many of us think our experience, work ethic or keen insights can separate from the herd. We obviously know that to be true on occasion – we’ve all cashed the lucrative tickets to prove it. But does the consensus get it right consistently over the individual? Let’s find out.

Data Points:

I crunched the numbers in the Betmix database for every race over the past 5 years, beginning with the start of the 2016 season. I looked at how the public bet every horse in each race – from the favorite down to the 10th wagering choice in a race – and looked at the win percentages for each.

Overall Findings:

  • 1st public choices (favorites) win 36.45% and go off at average odds of 1.48-1. Their ROI is $0.84.
  • 2nd public choices win 20.88% and go off at average odds of 3.09-1. Their ROI is $0.79.
  • 3rd public choices win 13.74% and go off at average odds of 4.83-1. Their ROI is $0.79.
  • 4th public choices win 10.17% and go off at average odds of 7.42-1. Their ROI is $0.76.
  • 5th public choices win 7.84% and go off at average odds of 11.80-1. Their ROI is $0.82.
  • 6th public choices win 4.73% and go off at average odds of 18.91-1. Their ROI is $0.73.
  • 7th public choices win 3.11% and go off at average odds of 28.26-1. Their ROI is $0.67.
  • 8th public choices win 2.48% and go off at average odds of 38.09-1. Their ROI is $0.69.
  • 9th public choices win 1.96% and go off at average odds of 48.60-1. Their ROI is $0.71.
  • 10th public choices win 1.44% and go off at average odds of 60.54-1. Their ROI is $0.68.

Overall Findings Verdict:

The public does a remarkable job identifying winners, top-to-bottom, as each public choice in the ranking wins at a higher percentage than the next-up public choice. Easily the widest disparities between choices comes with the favorite and second public choice, more than 15 points separating them. The top-4 betting choices win about 80% of the races. (This can be important constructing pick 5 tickets as the averages show 1 in 5 races will be won by a horse not among the top-4 public picks.)

The favorite alone wins more than the 4th through 10 choices combined. It’s also notable to see that 5-cents on the dollar ROI edge for favorites, while the 2nd, 3rd and 4th choices return the same ROI among them. If there’s anything that stands out, it’s that fifth choices have the second-best ROI to the favorite. Perhaps there’s a sweet spot there trying to land those 10 to 12-1 shots that have a reasonable win chance at nearly 8% and with healthy returns.

Bottom Line:

You must beat the public on occasion, and that remains every horseplayer's goal; and you need to get paid when you do, because it's not easy to consistently do. Over the long haul, and if you play greater and greater amounts of races, the public has proven to be as reliable a handicapping tool as you’ll find. Choose your spots judiciously based on your own fair odds evaluations and try to attack when opportunities present themselves.

Additional Details:

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 the public’s overall success. Test the public’s overall performance by turf or dirt. How might field size factor into the discussion? Try it out for yourself!