The idea of laying horses for a living seems like a very attractive proposition. After all, if the bookies can do it, then why shouldn’t we? It feels like it should be easy to pick horses to lose – a lot easier than picking winners at least.
However, the reality of it is that making any money from laying horses is tough, let alone making a living from it. There are only a small number of elite bettors who manage to do it successfully and it takes a great deal of skill.
Below we delve into exactly why that is and then look at some strategies for potentially making a profit from laying.
Why is it so Hard to Make Money from Laying Horses?
When betting exchanges like Betfair came on the scene it gave us punters the chance to pick horses to lose (by laying them), whereas previously it had just been the bookies who could lay horses (by taking bets on them).
Only one horse can win a race, so it seems like your chances of success are pretty good. Plus there are always a few out-of-form types, those who always seem to finish second or third but never win, or horses that have unsuitable conditions for them in today’s race.
The cold hard truth though is that making a profit from laying is in fact very tough.
One of the reasons for this is that when laying at BSP, you are typically laying at around 20% above industry starting price (ISP), which is what bookies are laying at – or close to it when taking bets earlier in the day. Bookies have an over-round which in simple terms means they can offer worse odds than the true chances of a horse winning, knowing that punters will take the bet regardless.
You do not have that luxury though so in reality have to be considerably better than them at predicting which horses are likely to lose and represent poor value.
That is difficult – but not impossible – to overcome, as we will see below.
A Few Pointers on Lay Betting
Before we get into looking at some successful strategies for lay betting, it is worth covering a few fundamentals of the art of laying that are important to bear in mind if you are going to be doing it seriously.
- Staking – one of the key parts of lay betting is making sure you get the staking right. Obviously if you are laying a horse at odds of 11.0, you are risking ten times your stake so liabilities are much higher than with back betting. It goes without saying that you need to therefore think about how much you can afford to lose should the horse you are laying win – and stake accordingly.
- At the same time, you are likely to have a much higher strike rate than with back betting, so laying does have its upsides to compensate.
- In terms of a betting bank, this will depend very much on what prices you are laying at, but we would always advise planning for adverse scenarios when selecting a starting bank. So for example if you were laying at average odds of 5.0 and your starting bank was £1,000, it might be worth laying with a stake of £10, so the most you could lose on that selection would be £40, which would be 4% of your bank.
- It is a good idea to decide which form of staking you want to use – a fixed liability or a fixed stake. A fixed liability means you lose the same amount whatever the odds are. So if you decide the most you want to lose on a bet is £10 and the odds are 5.0, you would stake £2.50 but if the odds were 3.0 you would stake £5. Fixed staking is where you stake the same amount even if the odds are different, so you could lose differing amounts but will always win the same. For example if the odds are 5.0 and you stake £3, you could lose £12, but if you staked £3 at odds of 7.0, you could lose £18. In both cases you would win £3 (minus commission) if the lays are successful.
- It is important to remember to take commission into account. Betfair have the option of 2% commission which is a reasonable level given it was previously 5%. But your laying activity will need to overcome that 2% commission, so in effect you need to have an edge of at least 3% over the market.
Okay, so that covers some of the fundamentals of lay betting. Let’s get on to looking at some ideas for laying for profit.
Do Some People Really Lay Horses for a Living?
As we discussed above, making money from laying is tough, so you may be wondering if there really are people out there who make a living from laying horses.
Well there are certainly fewer of them than those who make a living from backing horses, that’s for sure. If you read books about pro punters like Alex Bird, Partick Veitch and Dave Nevison, you will see they are very much focused on finding long-shot value picks at odds of 20/1 and above for example.
That doesn’t mean the possibility doesn’t exist though and there are a few elite individuals who make a regular profit from laying, as we will discover below. Understanding the intricacies of picking losers at value prices is key, as well as the kind of bank management and staking we have discussed above.
And of course in a literal sense there are people who lay horses for a living – the bookies! Whether this is the huge online platforms like Bet365 or the guy you see at the racecourse with his odds board and wads of notes, they tend to do very nicely out of it thank you very much.
However, it is the professional punter using betting exchanges we are focused on here and the kind of strategies they use 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
One of the most successful horse racing laying systems we have come across is a low-liability strategy called Little Acorns. This is an approach that has proven its worth over a period of more than ten years. We often say the ultimate test of the robustness of a strategy is its longevity and Little Acorns has certainly passed that examination, with flying colours.
The system is based on four simple rules and involves laying horses at odds-on (less than 2.0 on Betfair). It was released in 2009 and has made a healthy profit every year since. We conducted our own review of Little Acorns and it made a solid 189 points profit, receiving a clear passed rating from us.
Little Acorns has also received numerous awards over the years, including our very own Best Horse Racing Service 2020, as voted for by our members.
There are options available in terms of the staking: either a higher risk loss-recovery form of staking known as Fibonacci, or a level stakes approach, which is safer but doesn’t deliver as much profit in the long run.
Although we can’t give away the secrets of how Little Acorns works, essentially it identifies hot favourites who have certain marks against them, making them poor value to back – or good value to lay. As we say, it has stood the test of time and has a legion of loyal followers who use the system on a daily basis, many of whom have gradually built their stakes up over the course of years to the point where they can bet substantial amounts to achieve notable profits.
That is very much the idea behind the system, as the name suggests: “From little acorns do mighty oaks grow.” In this case the mighty oaks being a healthy amount of regular profit. And the nice thing is that laying at odds-on means there is huge liquidity so there are no issues around lots of members laying the same horse and affecting the price.
As a tried and tested expert strategy for laying horses like a professional, there can be few better than Little Acorns.
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.
One of the most simple and effective laying strategies used by professionals is to take on over-hyped favourites. This happens quite often and particularly in the big meetings and festivals which get a lot of TV coverage and attention from the average punter.
Many of these “hot favourites” will be tipped up heavily in the Racing Post and by popular tipsters, which forces the price down to a level often below what it should be. Often this can become a snowball effect – as punters hear TV pundits say things like “this horse is being backed heavily,” and “a lot of money has some come in for this one,” they think it must be a good thing and so jump on, pushing the price down further. This causes more punters to see the price crashing, leading them to jump on, and so on.
The most extreme examples of this tend to be on so-called “betting coups” or “stable gambles.” One such example occurred recently, when three horses from separate yards were lined up for a gamble on the same day. Multiple bets were placed the night before on the three horses: Fire Away at 20/1, Blowing Dixie at 13/2 and Gallahers Cross at 33/1.
The bookies noted that a string of bets had been placed across various accounts to win hundreds of thousands of pounds each. Their liabilities were considerable and the bookies were clearly a little concerned, even though the horses were all relative long-shots:
Last night saw big movement for 3️⃣ horses.
Our Head of Trading explains the impact this has had and why you will have to take shorter prices now! pic.twitter.com/9lRRX6ewxf
— BetVictor Racing (@BetVictorRacing) February 7, 2021
The bookmakers probably started to worry a little more when 20/1 shot Fire Away won its race, getting the treble off to a successful start.
Then they no doubt really started to panic when Blowing Dixie also won its race just over an hour later. Clearly something was up.
By this time word of the coup was all across social media and people were sharing pictures of betslips showing huge potential winnings should the last horse, Gallahers Cross, win its race.
The story was even picked up by the mainstream media and was being talked about on TV as news spread, stoking the flames even more.
As the race approached, Gallahers Cross, which had been a massive 33/1 the night before, was now being backed at odds-on.
This was a horse who had finished last, or next to last, in four out of its last five races (in the other race it finished 8th out of 10 horses).
Yet the thought of this incredible treble landing was driving people to think it must be pre-destined, or a set up. The bookies had to slash their odds because they were sitting on huge liabilities, even though they knew the chances of it winning were not anything like better-than-even.
However, this set up a great laying opportunity as although the horse in question clearly had a better than 33/1 chance of winning (as it had been aimed at this race in particular), it was still not exactly a “sure thing” and all rational behaviour had gone out the window.
Low and behold, despite travelling well early in the race, Gallahers Cross was well beaten into fourth in the end by over six lengths.
This is a great example of exuberance and hype getting out of all proportion to a horse’s true chances of winning a race. It may have been aimed at that race specifically, but Gallahers Cross still had to overcome difficult conditions, some decent other horses and the jumps obstacles in the race, any of which it could have fallen over. The odds were great value to lay and those who were clear-eyed enough to see that had the potential to do very well, for low liabilities.
Whilst this kind of example is fairly extreme and doesn’t happen very often, it illustrates a wider point about how hype and media attention can skew odds considerably.
Less extreme examples happen all the time, particularly with popular jockeys like Frankie Dettori when he has a couple of early winners in a day at major festivals like Royal Ascot. Even at smaller meetings though you will regularly get plunges on hyped-up favourites and those considered to have “everything in their favour” on a given day.
Indeed, Betfair commissioned their own study which showed that contrary to popular belief, backing “steamers” – horses that have been backed heavily in the market – was actually unprofitable over a large sample size of bets.
So learning to ignore the buzz around horses who have been backed and focusing instead on a horse’s true chances of winning a race is a key tool used by laying experts to generate a profit.
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.
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.