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Betting in-running

Bet Angel exchanges wizard Peter Webb offers some interesting insights into the factors you should bear in mind if you’re considering trying your hand at backing or laying horses in-running

This is not a trick question. How many horses will win the next race you watch?

On the assumption you are betting in a ‘win’ rather than a ‘place’ market, the answer is rather obvious; exceptions aside, just one horse can win the race. A simple answer, but it is one that holds lots of information for in-running players. Betting in-running on a horse race is a popular activity and typically accounts for around 20% of all money matched on any race. There are plenty of clues on how to be successful in-play if you look hard enough.

Guessing whether to back or lay in-running can require a bit of race reading. A lot of races are tactical until the final furlongs and it’s only late on that you can pinpoint which horse is running well. If you watch enough races, you will get better at spotting this. Looking to see if a jockey needs to prompt a horse to run is a good sign and if a jockey reaches for the whip early, you can usually guess they are in trouble. I never intended to learn how to race read but I realised I could when I started blurting out, “He’s lost it!” a few furlongs out; or vice versa. It seems one of the side effects of watching so many races each day, was that I began to learn how to read a race.

But before you get into betting in-running you need to address your staking. When backing in-running, your liability is fixed as you lose just your stake if you back to win and lose as a result. But when laying, your liability could be quite high if you use a fixed stake. So the first suggestion I have if you lay in-running is to make sure you set up a maximum liability on the lay side rather than just a stake. This will ‘cap’ your worst loss to a set amount.

If you lay first in-running, logic tells you that you have a greater chance of finding a loser than you do the winner. Only one horse can win the race so it follows that the winner will definitely shorten in price to reflect the near certainty that it will win. As a result all the remaining horses must drift to compensate. Therefore, it is clear that laying is guaranteed to get a high strike rate already and taking a trading position that relies on a drift in the odds, even higher.

In Figure 1 you can see we have a race ‘in-play’ where we are trying to lay the third favourite at 10.5. Because of the way we have set Bet Angel up, when this lay bet is matched, the Bet Angel software will automatically place a closing trade for us, so we will profit whoever wins the race. Let us understand what will happen next.

This horse was priced near 8.00 just before the start of the race. If we assume the market has priced this horse correctly at 8s, then the market is telling us that it will lose this race over 87% of the time. It’s impossible for the horse to lose and for the odds not to drift, so this position will result in profit on at least 87% of occasions. A drift to 13 (Figure 2) from 10.50 means the market thinks this horse has a 1.8% worse chance of winning, for a horse that is going to lose quite often, this move is very likely. Just a few seconds after we open our trade the price drifts to 13.00 and we have our profit (Figure 3). If you want to do some simple experiments then set up Bet Angel the way you see in the illustration. Experiment with very small stakes to understand the concept before getting more adventurous.

When initially experimenting with this tactic I was curious to learn what a ‘fool’ could achieve. I learnt that even if I was a fool and laid a selection at the worse possible price, in the worst possible race, a five-furlong sprint, before the off and at the worst time; it would still drift in-running around 80% of the time. Put some logic and thought into pushing away from a worse case scenario and your strike rate inevitably rises.

For a horse never to drift in-running you would need it to get off to a great start, front run, never look like it’s going to lose and for there to be no other horses in contention. This would be pretty rare situation you would think, so laying first should give you a good head start. Also, examine the type of race for more clues as to how to profit. Most races have an element of tactics employed by the jockey, but at shorter distances, such as a five-furlong race, it’s easy to see that odds that never drift are much more likely. A good start over the shortest race distance is obviously going to be a huge benefit for the prospects of winning a race and the opposite is also true, a bad start will hinder their chances. In our example the reason we laid the third favourite is because he got off to a bad start. A five- or six-furlong sprint means that horses are usually flat out and it will be very difficult for a bad starter to catch up. In a much longer and more tactically based race, a good start is much less of an advantage. So, longer races, which typically occur during the jumps season, tend to require much more defined strategies.

Lower quality races and especially those on the all-weather surfaces can be perplexing but in the higher grades of racing horses are more predictable in terms of form, going, course etc. So if a better class horse comes under pressure then it usually means something is amiss. You do find the odd ‘un-genuine’ runner in the better grades but thankfully they are not as regular as the ones found at the bottom end of the scale.

If we look at a three-mile chase with horses rated 95-105 then they’re not the best horses around and their form can be hard to predict. If we look at the front of the field we may see the leader come under pressure and decide it is time to lay it. Unfortunately these horses can actually keep going under pressure and still go on to win the race, especially with the right jockey on board. To the trained eye of the form student it will become apparent that the horse always runs like this. To the masses of new in-running players it looks a certain lay, if it wins then the losses can be large. I’m not suggesting that this is always the case but ultimately successful and profitable in-running betting at this level does require some degree of form study, understanding of a jockey’s mind, the horse’s response and preferably knowledge of the runners and their previous performances.

When basing your decision on the action on course, you can deduce that in-running play is not as easy as it seems. You cannot just lay a horse because it comes under pressure and you cannot just back a horse because it cruises to the front travelling like a ‘good thing’. But if you want to profit from this fascinating market then by studying the form, knowing about the horses and different race types are key to getting an edge. The ground, the trip, the direction, type of obstacle etc are also all important, so you need to be as certain as you can about these factors.

There is one factor that none of us can account for; luck, or lack of it! I remember a race where two horses were fighting out the finish and it was long odds-on that one of them would win the race. Almost with the aplomb of synchronised swimmers they both fell at the last fence. You can’t predict that! However, if there are a few loose horses in the race, backing outsiders can be a good tactic.

If you want to see how odds move in-running we have prepared a video specifically for you. You can watch it by visiting About a fifth of all money bet on racing on the exchanges is now in-running. Using a bit of logic you can also try your hand in this interesting market.
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