Is Laying Odds-On 2yo Horses on the Flat a Winning Strategy?

There is often a suggestion that betting on Maiden and 2yo races is something of a gamble. After all, it is common to be left in the dark form wise which means you are almost taking a ‘guess’; never a good idea in the Sport of Kings. Some 2yo races will feature several horses making their debut. In such cases, you’ll end up with horses getting priced based on factors such as the trainer’s reputation, the stable’s record winning first time out/with 2yos, future entries of the horse and of course, its pedigree.

The bookmakers are quite happy to take your money on such races because all of the above factors could be completely irrelevant. A lot of 2yo Flat races are over short distances which mean everything can depend on the draw or how the horse breaks. ‘Green’ horses can get into trouble early and find it hard to get into the race. Obviously, it makes sense to check out a trainer’s 2yo strike rate. Otherwise, you could fall into the trap of placing money on a well-known trainer’s debutant only to find out later that his strike rate improves in a horse’s second race.

How Do 2yo Odds-On Favourites Perform on the Flat?

Assuming you know what to look for, is the laying of odds-on 2yo clear favourites an exceedingly profitable strategy? Here are the statistics surrounding such entries on the Flat since the beginning of 2014. For the record, the bets, wins and strike rate relates to the horse winning the race, but I also include your ROI by laying on Betfair.

Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI Laying (BF)
949 561 59.11% -1.21%

Straight away, we can see the loss is just 1.21% which isn’t bad at all. However, there is something to be said for looking all 2yo favourites regardless of the price:

Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
3777 1478 39.13% -1.92%

The loss rate is slightly higher but there are more chances to filter.

Seeking Fair Maidens

Since we’re looking for uncertainty, maiden races are where we should switch our focus for the time being. As you probably know, a maiden race is for horses that have yet to win. Although most maiden races feature 2yos, there will be older horses in these races. Once a horse wins a maiden, it receives a rating which makes it eligible for handicaps. When you focus on laying odds-on favourites in Flat handicap races, you turn a small profit.

Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI Laying (BF)
548 318 58.03% 0.71%

Again, it seems as if the bookmakers generally get these races right. For whatever reason, you’ll benefit from a much better ROI by laying these favourites in Class 4 Flat races only.

Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
120 65 54.17% 8.22%

All it takes is a slight drop in wins, and your laying winnings mount up.

Although Median Maiden Auction races are hardly ever run (just 52 since 2014), the stats make for interesting reading:

Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
52 23 44.23% 56.37%

Median Maiden Auction races are for 2yo horses whose sire has already produced at least two yearlings that have been sold at auction in the previous year. The median price of these sales can’t exceed a predetermined amount. Sadly, there were only four such Flat races in 2017!

I also looked at the most mysterious horse of all, the odds-on favourite making its debut. Again, there have been relatively few occasions where this has happened:

Bets Wins Strike Rate ROI (BF)
71 38 53.52% 3.62%

While you’ll make a small profit, it is hardly worth waiting for such events when there are so few of them (just 13 in 2017 for example).

Is This System Worth Your Time?

Based on the raw data available, the answer is a firm ‘NO,’ but these types of events should be viewed on a race by race basis. The dozens of criteria surrounding any horse race are particularly relevant when attempting to back or lay relative newcomers. It is easy to be fooled into backing a horse you know little about because of a trainer’s reputation. You see it get backed in from 2/1 to 5/4 and feel a bit smug as you’re part of a successful ‘gamble.’ Then, the smile on your face vanishes when your horse slumps home in eighth place!

There’s no question that pedigree is important. Horses that come from the likes of Galileo and Dubawi are worth a second look for example. If an odds-on favourite isn’t making its debut, pay close attention to the little form you can to spot any potential problems. For example, the horse may have:

  • Reared up in the stalls in its last outing which ‘could’ mean temperament issues.
  • Never run on soft ground, and in today’s race the going is ‘Soft.’
  • Only run on straight courses. What if today’s race is on an undulating course such as Brighton? Can the favourite handle the new challenge?

While it is presumptuous to install a horse with little experience as an odds-on favourite, there are occasions when a horse’s pure class will beat all comers. When it comes to laying odds-on 2yo favourites, you need to have a pretty good reason to suspect it isn’t good enough to get the victory. Otherwise, your fellow traders on Betfair will happily take your hard earned cash.

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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