If you like a little flutter on the Melbourne Cup just to join in the fun, that’s fine. But if you think you’re going to make a fortune, think again say two mathematics experts from Newcastle University, PhD candidate Michael Rose and Professor Jon Borwein.
The way ‘odds’ work is to see them presented as a dollar amount. So, for example, if you see a horse’s chances presented as $7, it means for every dollar you bet on that horse, you would win $7 if it wins. Their odds would be 6:1 meaning that for he’s expected to have six losses for every win, or win 1-in-7 races.
However, with horse racing, bookmakers are constantly adjusting the odds based on which horses are attracting bets, and which are not, to make sure they can ‘balance the books’ or meet their potential financial exposure. This means that odds are constantly changing – unless you find something at ‘fixed odds’ which means those odds are locked-in at the time you place your bet.
The Melbourne Cup is a less attractive proposition if your sole objective is to win money simply because so many people are betting on the race, which can lead to some weird skewing of the odds.
According to the Rose and Borwein: “the payout of the favourite winning gets smaller and smaller as more punters take that bet. If a large number of punters bet on the favourite to win, the payout can actually drop to such a large extent that it becomes less than the payout for the favourite simply placing!”
Instead, they suggest a less common bet, such as betting on your horse to place (rather than win).
“This becomes an effective betting strategy.”
They say it takes years of experience following the progress of the participating horses to have good prospects for betting.
“Success in any given race is never guaranteed. That said, you can increase your chances of a win by a small amount with a little care – you can certainly get better chances than the random draw of the office sweepstake!”
Here are their top tips for placing bets on race day, gathered from mathematical evidence as well as long-term punters.
1. Look at the state of the track on the day and the experience of the horse on the track – for example, is it wet? will it rain? what are the weather conditions?
2. Look at the odds and make your pick from within the top six horses.
3. Don’t pick the favourite – they rarely win.
4. Make sure your choice has already won a race over at least 2,400m. The Melbourne Cup is 3,200m and some horses can’t make the distance. A horse that has come second or third in other long races is often a good choice.
5. Consider placing a bet ‘each way’ – that is a bet that your horse will either win or place. Depending on the odds, you will probably gain more money whatever the outcome.
6. Set yourself a budget limit and if you lose, don’t try to get your money back because you won’t. If you want to get the blood pumping, a $5 bet is more than enough to join in the fun of the big day.