To Favorite or Not To Favorite

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Barry Spears

August 24th, 2016

When a contest player breaks down a contest to its simplest form, it really is all about decisions. Whether it be what contest to play on a given day to what handicapping information to use, making decisions, right or wrong, will dictate most aspects of your contest play. A crucial and much debated decision to use or not use favorites in a contest will be discussed as long as contest play exists. I am going to review the aspects of using and not using favorites to give some perspective on the great debate.

To Favorite

Using favorites, or selections with low odds, when making selections for a contest has a high risk and somewhat low reward factor. It ends up being a high risk decision because of the low odds on the horses that fit the category. You really have to be correct most of the time when you use a favorite as a selection. If you are right, you collect the points necessary, even if winning only yields very few points, to either move up the leaderboard or maintain your leaderboard position. Being wrong can often hurt you in contests because when a higher priced horse wins, it becomes harder to make up the points in later races after leaderboard position is compromised. Some players take the stance of "take what they give you" and have no hesitation when using favorites in a sequence when they are solid, logical horses that have a great chance of winning. On the other side of the spectrum, some players will never use favorites in a particular contest sequence citing that even if a favorite wins there is only a minor shift in the leaderboard that can be overcome by using non favorites in later races.

Not To Favorite

Using non favorites in contrast, has a somewhat reduced risk and higher reward than that of using favorites during a contest sequence. The odds on the horse selected again will dictate the effectiveness of the decision involved. If you choose a higher priced horse and you win, you will obviously reap the benefits of a good choice, collect a decent amount of points, and will certainly move yourself up the leaderboard. If a higher odds horse is selected and it loses, typically you would want to have the favorite win because that particular horse will not "blow up" the contest and definitively separate the leaders from everyone else playing in the contest. There also is a chance that you select the "wrong" higher priced horse in the race and that hurts just as much as selecting a favorite that does not win. You always want to keep in mind, that when you do not pick a winner in a race you probably will lose ground on the leaders and lose position if you are at the top of the leaderboard. Players will tend to lean to the side of not selecting favorites in contests. In fact, in some smaller contests you will see favorites go "uncovered", or not selected by anyone in the contest at all. Winning non favorites carry a larger margin of error in contest play. You essentially can score with less winners and amass a larger score than those that connect with more selections at lower odds.

Selecting favorites will always be a controversial subject among contest players. There are a variety of ways to incorporate them as selections within a contest sequence. Favorites will win at some point during a majority of the contests you will play. It will be up to you to make the decision to use them or not at all. French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said, "We are our choices." This concept will always be true in the world of handicapping contests. You have to be definitive in your decision making and you have to be able to live with the decisions you make as a contest player. To favorite or not to favorite is just one decision of many.