All Things Seem Possible in May

All Things Seem Possible in May By his own admission, veteran Newmarket trainer Sir Michael Stoute has ‘been at it a long time’. In fact, the worldly-wise Barbadian first took out a public training licence, in his own right, in 1972 and, in career spanning five decades, has been crowned Champion Trainer ten times, most recently in 2009. In June, 2018, Stoute also became the most successful trainer of all time at Royal Ascot, beating the previous record held by the late Sir Henry Cecil; he has since recorded four more victories to take his career tally to 80 winners at the Royal Meeting.

One oft-repeated pearl of wisdom regarding the master of Freemason Lodge – repeated, that is, by many learned judges, including the scribes at Timeform – involves his performance during the month of May in any given season. Stoute is renowned for his patient, unhurried approach to training, but typically starts to unveil his better horses from early May onwards which, nowadays, coincides with the start of the official Flat season at the Guineas Festival at Newmarket.

The theory goes that by blindly backing every horse saddled by Stoute during May, punters can generate a profit, almost without thinking about it. That may well have been true in the past, especially during the early Noughties, but closer inspection of the results from the last decade or so suggests that caution is required. In fact, since 2010, Sir Michael Stoute has recorded a level stakes profit in May just three times and blindly backing ever runner in that period produced a level stakes loss of 32.39 points. However, two of the last three years produced healthy profits, of 48.20 points in May, 2017, and 31.70 points in May, 2019.

Outsider of Three

Outsider of Three Horse racing is awash with hoary, oft-repeated strategies that supposedly represent a licence to print money, despite evidence to the contrary. Possibly the ‘oldest chestnut’ of all is the maxim ‘Always back the outsider of three’, which only retains merit by virtue of being passed down from one generation of punters to the next.

Perhaps the first thing to say about three horse races is that, in the event of insufficient declarations, some, but not all, races may be reopened for a short period at declaration time, so three-horse races occur less frequently than was once the case. The premise for always backing the outsider is that, due to lack of numbers, three-horse races are rarely, if ever, run at an end-to-end gallop. Conventional wisdom dictates that a muddling, tactical affair, which turns into a sprint to the line over the final few furlongs, is less likely to produce reliable, repeatable form than only that is truly run throughout. Obviously, all three runners are affected, but the outsider may be disadvantaged least of all, or even advantaged, by the way in which the race is run.

However, the truth of the matter is that the outsider wins approximately three in twenty, or 15%, of three-horse races and, more often than not, represents poor value-for-money. Of course, it is possible that blindly following such as strategy can produce a profit, at least for a while, but strict statistical analysis of the results reveals that any such profits are due, in large part, to pure luck. In other words, while it may be possible to develop a profitable strategy – by, say, concentrating on handicap races and/or avoiding outsiders priced at 16/1 or longer – the ‘outsider of three’ theory, alone, will eventually empty your betting bank.