How to win betting on longshots in horse racing

April 16, 2019 | By More

One of the most rewarding challenges for the average punter is to profit by betting on longshots. 

It not only provides an instant thrill but also endless valuable material to brag to friends and family.

However, in the overall scheme of things, a longshot has only a slim chance of winning.

So for many punters, betting on longshots can be a long and bumpy road.

It can also represent the easiest way to do your money cold.

In this article, I show you how to pick longshot winners on a consistent basis.

Use them straight out, for place betting, in your trifecta betting or quadrellas.

I also provide an indication of the inherent risk and the amount of work involved in being successful in this endeavour.

Definition of a longshot

A longshot is a horse that the general betting market considers has only a very slim probability of winning.

It’s usually a horse in which the weight of evidence is insufficient for it to be given a reasonable chance of success.

It may have had one or two bad runs, or is competing out of its class, carries an excessive weight burden, or anything that renders it out of favour with mainstream punters.

How do we quantify this slim chance?

There doesn’t appear to be an arbitrary figure that constitutes the definition of a longshot.

In my personal view, a longshot would need to have less than a 5% chance of winning, all things being equal.

This equates to having decimal currency odds of $20 or more.

So a horse with odds of 20-1 or greater, I would call a longshot.

I’d be interested in your views which you can add in the comments below.

Villagebet lucky longshots

Over the years acting as chief analyst for the Villagebet racing tips service, I have selected more than 1000 winners, with each being put forward as first pick (top selection) in the race.

However, only 2 of those winners align with my definition of a longshot (odds of 20-1 or greater).

I also tipped a “lucky longshot” in March 2019 which came in at $31, but it wasn’t my top selection in the race.

Our longshot won the Doomben 10000 in May 2019, paying $46. It was identified in our Friday race preview as the “blow out” horse.

Admittedly, a few longshots in the history of tipping winners for villagebet is nothing to write home about.

My focus has been on tipping more winners with value rather than high risk, so it’s rare that I would take a chance on a horse of very long odds.

However, the results provide a clear illustration of the very rare occurrence of a longshot winning.

Attractive nature of long prices

Betting psychologists say that long prices are sought after by punters.

Faced with the choice, the punter will naturally prefer to bet on longer priced horses compared to favoured runners.

They believe that betting on longshots will lead them faster to profitability or extricate them from a diabolical day on the punt.

Usually however, bets placed on this type of logic will inevitably fail.

As pointed out in an excellent business article by Todd Hixon, long shots are seductive and often foolish. 

The article illustrates the poor cost benefit in betting on long shots.

As prices get longer, bet returns decrease significantly in relation to the cost of the bet.

The reasons for this are 3-fold. Generally, punters are;

  1. Bad at estimating the success probability of long-priced horses. That is, although the 20-1 shot looks attractive, in reality the horse has less than a 1% chance of winning (ie; 100-1 shot).
  2. So emotionally caught up in the prospect of a big win they place unrealistic value on the chances of the longshot winning.
  3. Guilty of using ridiculous logic, like backing a horse with the same name as your pet.

These 3 factors lead to the conclusion that betting on longshots offers poor value.

In other words, the money you need to spend outweighs any potential profit.

To reverse this alarming trend, the punter needs to be a lot smarter about longshot punting.

Factors unrelated to form

The first thing the smart punter needs to do is to stop betting “stupid”.

Many factors result in “stupid money” being placed on unlikely prospects.

Horse’s names are one of the most common, “it’s named after a Bulldog player,”  or “ it was the name of my great grandmother”.

The punter feels so emotionally attached to this coincidence, the horse simply cannot go around without a small investment.

Other factors like; “he’s trained near where I live”, or “I admire the jockey’s wife” have been known to result in placement of longshot bets.

All these things are illogical and must be discounted from the decision making process.

Leave the emotion at home

The smart punter needs to take the emotion out of a selection, and to bet purely on logic.

Sometimes the logic can be a little “off centre” or evidence a little scant but if it was all abundantly clear, the horse would be more favoured in the market.

However, if you begin with a line of reasoning that can be somewhat plausible, you will go along way to landing a winner.

Examples of plausible logic can include;

  • Sire often gets first up winners
  • Loves wet tracks
  • Always goes well fresh
  • Sunshine makes it grow another leg

These are reasons that one could believe, and have some logic to it.

Not strong evidence but it’s something that could “hold water”.

Beware of the hype 

Like in business, there’s also a lot of unfounded hype in horse racing punting that leads to inflated odds.

Some horses are under the odds (shorter than reasonable) because of the intangible wave of opinion surrounding it.

By intangible wave, I mean some factor that has led to unreasonable betting behaviour.

For example, if a horse has been backed heavily, its price will begin to shorten.

Punters watching the markets will notice the move and get on board as well.

Others will follow and the horse suddenly becomes a betting plunge.

In this way, significant money can be bet on a horse, despite there being only minimal original logic.

Hype can create enormous wealth but also lead to dramatic falls.

The best example of hype was “tulip mania” in 17th century Holland.

Foolish newcomers fuelled the market to an extraordinary degree, only for the bubble to eventually burst.

“If others are getting on, then maybe I should too! We don’t want to miss out!”

Such situations can lead to opportunities for the longshot punter.

As hyped horses are backed in, whether they are more or less favoured runners, the price of the longshot will inevitably lengthen.

This could present a price point that not only is a truer reflection of its chances but also more attractive for the punter than originally thought.

When you see a betting plunge on another horse, you might want to hold off on backing your longshot as the price will inevitably lengthen.

Strategies to find the longshot winner

By definition, a longshot winner does not have the usual lead up form of the more favoured runners.

This is something the punter needs to accept.

When looking for the longshot winner, we need to find more obscure form pointers.

Form pointers that are equally as valid but not as mainstream.

Often these little gems of information are not explicitly stated within the form guide but need to be forensically extracted by the longshot punter.

What are some examples?

Perhaps a horse’s pattern is to perform poorly at its first run after a spell but then dramatically improve in its second race.

Most punters would naturally dismiss the horse off its first run as having bad form, but the longshot punter knows that in its next run it will show marked improvement.

Horses sensitive to track conditions

Particular racetracks or track conditions can also present opportunities for the longshot punter.

Some horses love a certain track. It’s not important why, just that they will improve lengths on that course.

It could be the track undulation, the grass structure, the camber, any type of surface architecture that the horse prefers.

Others may have a particular aversion to any moisture in the track, or even certain prevailing weather conditions.

It’s vitally important to take notes on race days. Determine the wind direction. Humidity. The size and behaviour of the crowd.

The longshot punter needs to be always observant and thinking outside the box.

Video research

Video footage is a fantastic new addition to the punter’s arsenal and careful study can uncover terrific opportunities for betting on longshots.

Perhaps the most valuable and telling advice is to search through video footage for reasons why a horse may have shown inexplicable form.

Horse being “held up” or “running into traffic” are flags that should be noted.

Next time, the horse may gain a clear run and win at good odds.

Being caught wide around a turn can expend a lot of energy needed for a final assault.

Such things can lead to apparent indifferent form that only careful analysis can provide a plausible explanation.

Sectional times

Sectional times can also provide important informational clues as to why a horse shows indifferent form.

Without getting bogged down in the data, it shows the tempo of the race typically for each 200m stretch.

It’s important to know how fast a horse is traveling early in a race to determine how much he may have left at the finish.

For example, a dour horse may have been out the back in an unusually slow early sectional. When the pace quickens, it is unable to sprint.

In a fast tempo race, the conditions will be vastly different, to which the dour type of horse may be ideally suited.

Speed mapping both before and after the race can be most informative in form analysis and can uncover truth, which is all the punter really needs.

Embrace the hard work

Being successful betting on longshots requires many hours of intense research.

If the punter is not willing to put in the required effort, the selections are mere guesses rather than based on well constructed and deeply researched reasoning.

However, the rewards are worth it, not only for your self-esteem and self-confidence but also your punting kitty.

Summary

The key takeaways from the discussion above are:

  • Leave your emotions at home.
  • Don’t fall victim to hype. Treat it as an opportunity!
  • Don’t bet stupid, ie; betting on horse’s names and lucky numbers.
  • Think outside the square. That’s why they are longshots.
  • Be both lateral and forensic in form analysis.
  • Video and sectional data is available for viewing.
  • Take copious notes on race day.

If you follow these pointers, you are sure to land a few lucky longshots without too much wastage.

Good luck and let me know if you have any other helpful pointers for identifying and betting on longshots.

Reference information

I have talked a lot about odds and implied probabilities. Here’s a brief explanation of the relationship between the two.

In Australia, the horse’s odds are represented in dollar format. This is equivalent to the decimal format but represented in currency.

Let’s say for example, a horse is quoted at $4.

The percentage probability of the horse winning is 25%. That is, the bet is expected to win once in every 4 attempts.

Odds and probabilities

OddsPercentage ProbabilityProfit on $100 betDescription
$1100%0Certainty
$1.0694.3%$6Winx odds
$1.5066.7%$50Hot favourite
$250%$100Even money
$425%$300Each-way odds
$1010%$900Double-figure odds
$205%$1,900Longshot
$1001%$9,900Bolter
Relation between odds, probabilities and return profits

Percentage probability is calculated by dividing the horse’s odds into 100. For example, if the horse’s odds are $4, the percentage probability is 100 divided by 4 = 25%.

By the way, this is equivalent to the fractional odds of 3-1. That is, 3 losses and 1 win in every 4 attempts.

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Mayor of Thoroughbred Village

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