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Laying Horses For a Living

The notion of making a livelihood by laying horses appears quite appealing. After all, if bookmakers can do it, why shouldn’t we? It seems relatively simple to choose horses to lose, certainly easier than selecting winners anyway.

Yet, the truth is that earning any income from laying horses is challenging, let alone sustaining a living from it. Only a select few expert bettors can successfully navigate this path, requiring a considerable amount of skill.

In the following discussion, we explore the reasons behind this challenge and then examine some strategies that may offer a chance to profit from laying.


Why is it so Hard to Make Money from Laying Horses?

With the introduction of betting exchanges like Betfair, punters gained the opportunity to lay horses, a privilege previously exclusive to bookmakers who accepted bets on them.

The logic behind laying is grounded in the fact that only one horse can win a race, seemingly increasing the likelihood of success. Additionally, there are always underperforming contenders, those perennially finishing second or third but never claiming victory, or horses facing unsuitable race conditions.

However, the harsh reality is that turning a profit from laying is a very tough task.

A contributing factor to this challenge is that when laying at BSP (Betfair Starting Price), the odds are typically around 20% higher than the industry starting price (ISP) at which bookmakers operate—or close to it when accepting early-day bets.

Bookmakers incorporate an over-round, enabling them to offer less favorable odds than a horse’s true chances of winning, confident that punters will still place their bets.

Punters, lacking this advantage, must surpass bookmakers in skill when predicting which horses are likely to lose and represent poor value. While this is a formidable challenge, it is not insurmountable, as we’ll explore below.


A Few Pointers on Lay Betting 

Before delving into successful lay betting strategies, it’s crucial to understand some key fundamentals of laying that are essential for making it work in the long run. 

  • Staking: An integral aspect of lay betting involves meticulous consideration of your stakes. When laying a horse at odds of 11.0 for instance, you’re risking ten times your stake, resulting in higher liabilities compared to back betting. It’s imperative to assess how much you can afford to lose if the horse you’re laying emerges victorious and adjust your stake accordingly. Despite the increased liabilities, laying often comes with a higher strike rate than back betting, offering upsides to compensate.
  • Betting Bank: Your choice of a betting bank depends on the odds at which you’re laying. Planning for adverse scenarios is prudent when determining your starting bank. For instance, if you’re laying at average odds of 5.0 and your starting bank is £1,000, consider laying with a stake of £10. This would limit potential losses on a selection to £40, constituting 4% of your bank.
  • Staking Methods: Decide whether to employ a fixed liability or fixed stake. With fixed liability, you risk the same amount regardless of the odds. In contrast, fixed staking involves using the same amount irrespective of varying odds. Factor in commission, considering that even with Betfair’s 2% option (down from 5%), your laying activity needs to overcome this commission. In essence, you should aim for an edge of at least 3% over the market.

Now that we’ve covered these fundamental aspects of lay betting, let’s explore some strategies for laying with the aim of turning a profit.


Do Some People Really Lay Horses for a Living?

As previously acknowledged, generating income through laying horses poses significant challenges. This might lead you to question whether there are individuals who genuinely make a living from laying horses.

Indeed, there are fewer individuals who derive their livelihood from laying horses compared to those who make a living from backing them.

Notably, when exploring literature about professional punters such as Alex Bird, Patrick Veitch, and Dave Nevison, their focus often revolves around identifying long-shot value selections with odds of 20/1 and above.

Certainly, the fact that fewer individuals make a living from laying horses than backing doesn’t dismiss the possibility altogether.

There are indeed a select few elite individuals who consistently profit from laying, a subject we’ll explore further below.

The critical factors that allow them to do so include a deep understanding of identifying undervalued losers and implementing the effective bank management and staking strategies discussed earlier.

In a literal sense, there are people who lay horses for a living – the bookies. Whether they’re prominent online platforms like Bet365 or the individuals you encounter at the racecourse with their odds boards and wads of notes, bookmakers tend to thrive in this endeavor.

However, our focus here is on professional punters utilizing betting exchanges and the specific strategies they employ to make a living from laying.


The Expert Strategies for Laying Horses 

Okay, so let’s take a look at some expert strategies for laying horses on Betfair. These are the best ones we have found through years of research and testing strategies here at Honest Betting Reviews and are the kinds of approaches that professional layers take.


Low Liability Laying

Among the highly successful horse racing laying systems, one that stands out is the low-liability strategy known as Little Acorns.

This approach has demonstrated its effectiveness over a span of more than ten years. The longevity of a strategy is often considered the ultimate test of its robustness, and Little Acorns has certainly passed this examination with flying colors.

The Little Acorns system, introduced in 2009, has established itself as one of the most successful horse racing laying systems, boasting a track record of consistent profitability spanning over a decade.

The system relies on four straightforward rules and entails laying horses at odds-on (less than 2.0 on Betfair).

This strategy has not only made a healthy profit every year since its inception but has also undergone scrutiny, including our review that resulted in a solid 189 points profit, earning it a clear passed rating.

Little Acorns has received various accolades, including the Best Horse Racing Service 2020 award, as voted for by our members.

The system offers flexibility in staking options, presenting a choice between the higher-risk loss-recovery Fibonacci staking method and the safer but less profitable level stakes approach.

While the intricacies of how Little Acorns works are kept confidential, the system essentially identifies hot favorites with certain unfavorable characteristics, making them poor value to back and good value to lay.

Its enduring success has garnered a loyal following, with many users gradually building their stakes over the years to achieve substantial profits.

The system’s philosophy, encapsulated in its name, “From little acorns do mighty oaks grow,” underscores the idea of consistent, incremental profit growth.

Laying at odds-on ensures ample liquidity, eliminating concerns about multiple members laying the same horse and affecting prices. In the realm of expert laying strategies for horses, Little Acorns stands out as a tried and tested option.


Exponential Bet

The tools available to bettors in this day and age are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Back in the pre-internet days, a budding punter would only have a copy of the Racing Post, a racecard and maybe some “stable tips” to go on when trying to make their selections. 

Nowadays there is a wealth of information available online at the click of a mouse and all kinds of online tools to assist bettors. In particular there are now betting bots and automated systems that you can use to execute sophisticated betting strategies for you. 

One such suite of tools, which has a special focus on laying systems, is from the Exponential Bet team. Working in partnership with renowned bot developer Nigel Dove of Levelsoftware, they have developed laying systems that place bets automatically for you on Betfair. This happens through their Cloud Bet Bot software, which (as the name suggests) runs remotely on the cloud so doesn’t even need a VPS or leaving your computer on day and night to operate. Once set up, it just runs automatically in the background.

It is quite amazing to see this kind of technology available now and it opens up so many possibilities in the world of betting. Exponential Bet have a range of systems available. Their original approach was built around dutching and in-play betting, which we reviewed here, but they have evolved to develop laying systems including their “Lay Dutching” and “Racing Lays” strategies and are constantly testing out new strategies.

With this kind of technology available – in addition to trading software like Bet Angel and Fairbot that have options for automation – there are possibilities for developing sophisticated laying strategies that take advantage of factors like movements in the market, perceived value and other indicators to cream off small but regular profits. 

We see services like Exponential Bet as the future of betting and expect more tools like this to be released, giving users a potential edge over the market in their laying.


Over-Hyped Favourites

One of the straightforward yet effective laying strategies employed by professionals involves targeting over-hyped favorites.

This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in major racing meetings and festivals that receive extensive TV coverage and capture the attention of the average punter.

“Hot favorites” often become the focus of attention in publications like the Racing Post and are heavily tipped by popular tipsters.

This heavy endorsement tends to drive the odds down to levels below their true value.

The situation can escalate as TV pundits contribute to the hype, mentioning phrases like “this horse is being heavily backed” and “a lot of money has come in for this one.”

Such commentary can create a snowball effect, with more punters jumping on the bandwagon, further depressing the price. This cycle continues as the crashing odds attract additional punters, creating a self-perpetuating loop.

Extreme instances of this phenomenon are witnessed in so-called “betting coups” or “stable gambles.”

A recent example involved three horses from different yards lined up for a gamble on the same day. Multiple bets were placed the night before on Fire Away at 20/1, Blowing Dixie at 13/2, and Gallahers Cross at 33/1.

Bookmakers observed a series of substantial bets across various accounts, each poised to win hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Despite the horses being relative long-shots, the sizable liabilities raised concerns among bookmakers.

The bookmakers likely experienced heightened concern when the 20/1 shot Fire Away secured victory, getting the treble off to a successful start. 

The level of anxiety probably escalated further when Blowing Dixie also won its race just over an hour later, signaling that something unusual was occurring.

Word of the coup quickly spread across social media, with individuals sharing pictures of betting slips displaying substantial potential winnings if the final horse, Gallahers Cross, were to win its race. Mainstream media outlets picked up the story, amplifying the frenzy.

As the race approached, Gallahers Cross, initially priced at a massive 33/1 the night before, saw a dramatic shift in odds, being backed at odds-on.

This transformation occurred despite the horse’s recent poor performance, finishing last or next to last in four out of its last five races. The idea of this remarkable treble landing fueled the perception that it must be predestined or a setup.

The bookmakers, aware of the immense liabilities they were facing, slashed the odds, even though the actual chances of Gallahers Cross winning were far from better-than-even.

This created an enticing opportunity for laying, as the exuberance and hype had surpassed rational assessments of the horse’s true chances.

In the end, despite early promise in the race, Gallahers Cross finished well beaten into fourth place by over six lengths.

This scenario serves as a compelling example of exuberance and hype distorting the perceived likelihood of a horse winning a race. While the horse may have been targeted for this specific race, various challenges, including difficult conditions, strong competition, and the hurdles, could have derailed its performance.

The odds presented an excellent laying opportunity for those who recognized the disparity between perception and actual probability, allowing them to potentially profit with minimal liabilities.


The extreme example provided highlights a broader point about how hype and media attention can significantly skew odds.

While such instances are rare, less extreme examples occur regularly, especially with popular jockeys like Frankie Dettori, who can spark plunges on horses after early wins, particularly at major festivals like Royal Ascot.

Even at smaller meetings, there are frequent instances of hyped-up favorites and those deemed to have “everything in their favor” for a given day.

Interestingly, a study commissioned by Betfair contradicted the common belief that backing “steamers” – horses heavily backed in the market – is a profitable strategy. The research, based on a large sample size of bets, revealed that this approach was, in fact, unprofitable.

This emphasizes a key tool used by laying experts to generate profit: the ability to ignore the buzz surrounding horses that have been heavily backed and instead focus on a horse’s actual chances of winning a race.

By maintaining a clear-eyed perspective and avoiding the influence of market movements driven by hype, laying experts aim to make more informed decisions that align with the true probabilities of success.



Place Laying

Another potential laying strategy is to focus on the place market on Betfair rather than the win market. 

The advantages of this are that in general you will be laying at much lower odds than on the win market, thus limiting your liabilities and that whilst the focus of most punters is on the win market, little attention is paid to the place market leaving opportunities for the shrewd bettor.

The place markets are usually tied to the win markets but sometimes discrepancies do occur. Horse racing site flatstats have a “Win / Place Price Disparity” tool which can be useful for spotting such opportunities. The trick is to determine when such discrepancies are valid and when they are genuine errors in the market, which only time and practice, and a keen eye, can spot. 

There are also some horses who are ripe for laying in the place market due to being “all or nothing” types. These are the horses that tend to either win a race or crash out, but rarely place. They are the inconsistent sorts who can be ideal for place laying due to the way the place market tends to be priced up in relation to the win market rather than on its own merits.



Finally we have a strategy that involves both laying and backing and that is a practice known as “dobbing” (which might sound like something rude but in betting terms at least is not). We explain in more detail how it works here, but in short the acronym DOB stands for “double or bust” betting.

It involves finding those horses that are likely to shorten in price in-play. A DOB better would back such horses before a race and then lay them off in-play. Typically it would be at half the odds, so if backing at 4.0, they would lay at odds of 2.0, but that is not a hard-and-fast rule and can be adapted to the individual circumstances of the horse and race.

There are certain horses who are ideal for dobbing strategies including front runners and those who tend to go close in a high proportion of their races.

horse race

Front runner horses are ideal for dobbing.

There are now tools like Hedger Pro that can help identify such horses and provide back-to-lay trading opportunities.

It is surprising how often some horses shorten in price in-play and learning to spot such opportunities can be a lucrative endeavour for those shrewd enough to do it.


Conclusion – Laying Horses for a Living

Unless you happen to be a bookie, laying horses for a living is a tough task. There are a relatively small proportion of professional punters who make their income from laying as opposed to those who do so from backing horses.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done however and there are increasingly sophisticated tools available now to aid punters in their quest to find successful lay bets.

We have outlined some of the best tools and strategies for laying above, to give a sense of how the experts do it and to hopefully aid you in your own lay betting.

As ever, whether you use one of the strategies set out above or your own laying system, please always gamble responsibly and only risk what you can afford to lose.





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