Horses That Shouldn’t Have Won

1) Peak Seasons – Fakenham (20 November 2012)

I start my occasional series examining the races residing in the more outrageous reaches of probability theory with this spasm of ludicrosity from far-flung Fakenham. If ever evidence were required that horse racing suffers more than most other sports from the Monkeys and Shakespeare principle, here it was in abundance.

The race is also as clear a demonstration as possible of the perils of in-play punting at short odds that the GamCare organisation could wish to present to problem gamblers. I’ve never understood why somebody might risk £100 on a horse to win just £1, however assured the outcome may seem, but there were plenty and they lost it all in what Betfair spokesman Tony Calvin described as “the most extreme and bizarre” in-play market in the firm’s history.

In the Conditional Jockeys’ (perhaps the clues were there?) Handicap Chase over an extended 2 miles on good to soft ground, 5/4 favourite Benny The Swinger had led them a merry dance and was eight lengths clear over what should have been his final fence. Over £35,000 was traded at the minimum price of 1/100 on the leader.

Benny The Swinger saunters up to the line

The first inkling that something was wrong was when Brendan Powell guided his mount along the stands rail where a fence sits next to the winning post. By the time he realised his error Benny The Swinger was funnelled by the rails and there was no going back.

Adam Wedge guided second favourite Roc De Guye to the left along the correct path towards the winning post. He had traded at 999/1 when seeming a lost cause in 2nd, but his price plummeted to 1/100 with less than half a furlong to the line when Benny The Swinger ran out.

Here’s the really silly bit: it was only then that the eye was drawn to Peak Seasons who had got outpaced and was plugging on for third place prize money of £382. Wedge seemed to ease down on the admittedly weary Roc De Guye and allow Peak Seasons to dart down the inside in the shadow of the post, winning by a nose in a photo finish having traded at 999/1 in running.

Let’s think about those numbers for a moment:
• Two different horses had traded at 1/100 in the same race and both had lost
• £35,000 was matched on Benny The Swinger at 1/100 – a possible profit of £350
• Almost £50 was matched on Peak Seasons at 999/1, and plenty more at odds of 499/1 and upwards, representing a return of nearly £100,000

I’m an advocate of value betting, and you could argue that 1/100 was value if Benny The Swinger had a greater than 99% chance of winning with only a few yards to the line and the true odds were much shorter, perhaps around the 1/200 mark? It’s hard to tell without detailed analysis of horses leading by ten lengths with a few strides to go.

It is even possible that there is an arbitrage situation between the maximum (999/1) and minimum (1/100) odds on exchanges. If the real price is 1/200, £1 on the outsider at 999/1 and £500 on the favourite at 1/100 should produce a profit, but only if you have enormous quantities of both time and money, as well as superfast reactions and broadband.

But neither of those options is for me. I’ve been in the game too long to believe in Dead Certs, and I’m not a crazy enough gambler to risk £35,000 to win £350 even if I’m sure it represents value and a much quicker return than sticking your cash in a savings account. I’d rather risk £5 to win £5,000 even if that happens much less than one time in every thousand. Perhaps there is something clever in utility theory to explain that, or perhaps it just makes me a gambler rather than a mathematician.

Peak Seasons has run 167 times across all codes, winning eight races and over £50,000 in win and place prize money. Astonishingly, he may not be done yet, running as recently as June this year when he finished last of six, beaten 45 lengths at odds of 66/1. At the ripe old age of 14 he is unlikely to go down as one of the greats, but he will be remembered as the horse that caused one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history.