Should You Back Outsiders in Small Fields?

There is always an element of the unknown when it comes to races with only 3, 4, or 5 runners. In many cases, such events are not run at a ‘true’ pace and are often slow affairs with a fast finish. As a result, the form book makes less sense than normal so surely, punters should look at small fields and consider backing the outsider?

You’ve probably come across 3-horse races where the favourite is 8/11, the second favourite is 11/10, and the third horse is 5/1+. There are two ways to look at such a race: Either the outsider is completely outclassed and should be avoided, or else they are worth a punt if the race is likely to have a ‘false’ pace. As always in horse racing, backing blind is likely to cripple you financially so let’s take a look at some stats.

3-Horse Races

First things first, let’s see how outsiders in three-horse races have fared on all UK surfaces since the start of 2015.

Bets  Wins Win % ROI (BF)
425 67 15.76% 10.91%

Despite a win percentage of below 16%, you would make a profit of almost 11% betting on the outsider in three-horse races! Incidentally, you would make a small profit betting on the second favourite and a profit of 6.05% by laying the favourite.

While backing the outsider would lead to Betfair profit for each of the last three years, backing blindly is not really an option for most punters. The main reason is of the course the low strike rate. There will be long losing streaks involved when the win rate is below 1 in 6 bets.

By focusing on Flat and All-Weather races only, your ROI significantly increases:

Bets  Wins Win % ROI (BF)
162 32 19.75% 30.04%

The win rate creeps towards 1 win in 5 bets, and the ROI of 30% is extremely healthy. The main downside is the relative lack of bets; plus the fact that the ROI is just over 3% in 2017 at the time of writing.

Interestingly, focusing on outsiders with Betfair odds of 4.00+ (3/1+) yielded a slightly better return and a higher win percentage.

Bets  Wins Win % ROI (BF)
147 31 21.09% 41%

The ROI of 41% is pretty spectacular, but it is only 9% in 2017.

4-Horse Races

Moving on to four-horse races over all surfaces in the UK since 2015 and the outcome is far less appealing.

Bets  Wins Win % ROI (BF)
1303 82 6.29% -13.09%

A win rate of just over 6% is terrible, and the ROI loss of over 13% is to be expected. All-Weather racing is a bizarre anomaly. Although the win rate is still just 6.04%, your ROI from blindly backing all outsiders would be 57.98%! There have been some massive outsider winners in AW events.

I also checked the stats surrounding 5-horse races, and they are exceedingly grim.

Bets  Wins Win % ROI (BF)
2389 123 5.15% -21.46%

A seriously low win rate and a hideous ROI means backing the outsider in a 5-horse race is not a winning strategy.

Why Should I Back the Outsider in Small Fields?

Although the ROI is exceedingly good in 3-horse events, in particular, the low win percentage means you still have to pick and choose your outsiders. Blindly backing could lead to long losing streaks which destroy your betting bank. Seriously, don’t be surprised to lose 20 times in a row!

Also, the sample size is far too small to make major decisions on. I took the liberty of going back to 2011 for the Flat and All-Weather 3-horse outsider bets, and there were a total of 446; the ROI was 25.29% on Betfair and the only bad year was 2012 with a huge loss of almost 83%!

You need to look for 3-horse races where the favourite is overbacked and has plenty of questions to answer. Less informed punters often flock to such horses in the belief it is ‘easy money’ since it is only a 3-horse race.

Punters would do well to follow common sense in all instances but especially in 3-horse races. Take a close look at the field and determine if there is a ‘false’ favourite and if the outsider is overpriced. It shouldn’t take too long to analyse with only three horses!

For example, an outsider is probably a poor bet if its best performances came over 6f and 7f and the race is over a mile. In contrast, it is worth a closer look if it tends to perform well on soft ground and the race is taking place on soft ground.

In a number of cases, a 3-horse race originally starts off with four entrants, but there is a non-runner which skews the odds and also changes the tactics. There are also likely to be stables and even jockeys that specialize in 3-horse race tactics so learn more about the rider’s record in small field events.

Patrick Lynch

Patrick graduated from the National University of Ireland, Galway with an MA in Literature and Publishing but decided he would rather have the freedom of a freelance writer than be stuck in a publishing house all day. He has enjoyed this freedom since 2009 and has written thousands of articles on a variety of topics but sports betting is his passion. While his specialty is finding mismatches in obscure football leagues, he also likes to use his research skills to provide punters with detailed winning strategies in horse racing. You can check out his personal blog on or Twitter @pl1982 where he writes content to help small businesses achieve success.
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