A couple of trademark flying dismounts from Frankie Dettori warmed the cockles of punters and armchair viewers at the 2023 edition of Royal Ascot – the last time the genial Italian will compete at the festival prior to his retirement.
However, his victories were one of the few occasions when the betting public had much to cheer about at a meeting that was beset with long-odds outsiders doing a number on the favourites and next bests.
The biggest shock of them all was Valiant Force’s triumph in the Norfolk Stakes – the underdog, from football agent Kia Joorabchian’s yard, was sent off at an SP of some 150/1.
Across the five days of Royal Ascot, there were winners at 33/1, 50/1 and 80/1, plus a stack of other longshots finished in the places to put a smile on the face of bookmakers up and down the land.
The average SP of all of the winners at Royal Ascot in 2023 was 16.88/1 – by far and away the toughest edition of the festival for punters in years, if we assume that the higher the SP, the less likely it is that the betting public has profited.
But was this a freak result, or has it become harder to predict the outcome of Flat racing in recent times? And how does the winning SP at the major festivals on the Flat compare to those over jumps?
The Big Flat Meetings So Far
One of the first important meetings on the Flat calendar is held at Newmarket in April, with a handful of Class 1 outings rubbing shoulders with Listed and handicap renewals.
In 2023, that Newmarket meeting had an average winning SP of about 8/1 across its three days, with the mean inflated by 25/1 and 28/1 winners on day three – the latter courtesy of a fine ride from claimer Benoit Sayette aboard Once More for Luck in the Bet365 Handicap:
Newmarket also hosts the Guineas meeting each May, and in 2023 there were plenty of long-odds winners to satisfy the bookies and infuriate punters:
The overall winning SP in decimal odds was 5.04, so if we translate that into fractional odds we see an average price of around 4/1 on the winners at the Guineas Festival – better punting conditions than previously at Newmarket and Royal Ascot, but still tough when we assume that the lower the winning SP, the better it is for punters.
Opportunities even abounded for longshot hunters in the prestigious 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas renewals. The latter was won by Frankie Dettori aboard 7/2 second favourite Chaldean, but horses priced at 125/1 and 150/1 finished in the places. In the 1,000 Guineas, 6/4 favourite Tahiyra finished in second place as the meat in a sandwich that featured 9/1 champion Mawj and 33/1 Matilda Picotte in third.
And then there’s the Epsom Derby Festival in June, which comprises a number of the most sought-after prices in Flat racing including the Oaks, Coronation Cup and, of course, the Derby itself.
How did punters fare in 2023? Day one served up a couple of 12/1 winners, but the Oaks was won by the well-backed Soul Sister – another famous victory in his retirement season for Dettori.
Day two was another boom-and-bust day for punters. The Derby was won by second favourite Auguste Rodin, although longer shot winners – including 25/1 chance Navello in the Aston Martin Handicap – ensured punters backing the favourites in multiples were left short-changed.
All told, the overall average winning SP at the Epsom Derby Festival was a shade over 7/1.
Is It Easier to Back Winners on the Flat or Over Jumps?
Of course, this is only a tiny snapshot of the racing calendar, but if you bet on the major meetings then average winning SPs of 4/1 (Guineas Festival), 7/1 (Epsom Derby Festival), 8/1 (Newmarket Spring Festival) and 16/1 (Royal Ascot) confirms how difficult conditions have been for punters.
So how does that compare to the major jumps meetings held in the first half of 2023? Interestingly, the average SP of a winner at the Cheltenham Festival was a touch over 12.00 or 11/1 if you prefer. Of course, plenty of favourites obliged for punters over the four days at Prestbury Park and particularly so in the most high-profile races, but winners at 16/1, 18/1 (x2), 20/1, 22/1, 33/1 (x2) and 66/1 at a 28-race meeting are good news for the bookies.
April saw the annual Aintree Grand National Festival take place over three days, with Day One very much belonging to punters – the average winning SP was just 4.42, or around 7/2 in traditional odds.
As the rain fell on Day Two and softened the ground, winners at 16/1, 20/1 and 40/1 well and truly pushed up the average winning SP to 14.09 (around 13/1), while on Day Three victory for Corach Rambler in the Grand National at a relatively short 8/1 only slightly dampened the mood for the bookies, who overall saw an average winning SP of 8.32 (around 15/2) for the Saturday at Aintree.
The cumulative average winning SP at the Aintree Festival in 2023 was 8.94 (around 8/1), and so the takeaway point – albeit from a small sample – is that winners are just as hard to come by at the big jumps meetings as they are on the Flat.
The key for punters, as ever, is knowing which short-price favourites to back – and which big festival races, historically, have served up long odds winners.