horse racing

Lay the Field – Explained

Lay the field is becoming an increasingly popular way to improve your winning chances while minimising your risk.

It is only available through betting exchanges such as Betfair, but trading on such exchanges is now the bread and butter of a large proportion of online punters. First, we will explain what lay the field means, and then suggest some tactics around it that have the potential to increase your returns.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed, and there are some downsides too, but it is certainly worth investing some effort in exploring its potential. It doesn’t work for every race; so you need to learn where it is most effective, but effectively you are acting as the bookmaker, and you don’t see many poor bookmakers.

What is lay the field?

Laying involves betting on a horse to lose. It’s much easier to pick losers than winners as there are naturally more of them.  When you lay, and you find a matching bet, then you keep the bettor’s stake if the horse loses. If the horse wins, then you pay out the odds. Effectively, by laying you are going to reduce the frequency of your losses, but when they do occur, they are going to be relatively expensive.

By laying the field, you are betting on every horse to lose, so with a ten-horse race, you will win nine times and lose just once. Say you laid the field at 3.00. If every lay were matched, you would soon be rolling in it. The problem is that usually, you wouldn’t be able to find matching bets. But there is a way.


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The secret is in-running. You lay the field (at Betfair this is the same as “Lay All”) at your chosen price, say 2.0 and keep the bets through the in-running part of the race. Several things can happen:

  • – None of your bets is matched – in which case you win nothing and lose nothing.
  • – At least three bets are matched – you will always make a profit
  • – Two bets are matched – you will break even
  • – One bet is matched, AND the horse wins, – you will make a small loss.

The reason this works is that in-running prices are likely to change throughout the race. For instance, for a runner starting at 4.00, the odds are likely to shorten if the horse looks like challenging for the lead, passing through your 2.00 lay and thus matching your bet.  

An example

Say you lay the field at 2.00 at £5.00, and four bets were matched in-running. If none of the matched bets won the race, you would have a clear profit of £20. Your worst case scenario is that one of your matched bets won the race. In that case, you would receive £15.00 from the three other bets, and you would pay out £5.00, leaving you with a profit of £10.

The downside is if only one of your lays was matched, and the horse won, you would lose £5. Laying the winner is unfortunate, but not such a huge downside when you consider the potential gains.

Choosing the best races

In our example, we decided to use odds of 2.00, but they might not be high enough to generate enough matched bets to cancel out the downslide of laying the winner. The best strategy is to modify the odds so that you generate enough matched bets. Getting this right isn’t easy, and the best odds will vary significantly between races, so you will need to choose the races carefully.

The best races for laying the field are close-run ones with similar odds on the four or so top entries. On the other hand, races with a clear favourite where the odds are very short, are not suited to laying the field.

Want to know how to trade the horse racing markets before the off? Check out this in-depth guide to scalping on Betfair. 




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