Advanced In-Play Trading Part 1

Learn more about Advanced Trading in this article from a professional in-play racing trader who utilises the Betfair Exchange.

Check out the Betfair Hub for more articles on In-Play Trading.

He’s teamed up with The Hub to produce an in-depth look into his world of in play betting and more specifically in play trading. His first edition on The Hub will cover off the following:

  • Background into his story
  • Thoroughbred & Harness pre-race trading basics
  • Betfair Betting Applications
  • His favourite Thoroughbred & Harness in-play betting strategy

In Play Betting – Trading Thoroughbred & Harness

My Background

Similar to many Australian punters, my interest in horses and wagering was fostered from family ties. I had a couple of influential relatives as a youngster – one a professional punter, the other a breeder and many of my early holidays were spent around racetracks and horses. Despite a burgeoning interest in wagering and an adeptness at maths I can confidently declare I was a poor punter!

As I reflect on these times, my strategies were poor. I was seeking to obtain the greatest possible collect via novelties (eg trifecta/quadrella). Instead I should have focused on attempting smaller, regular victories. My dream of earning a small living from punting dive-bombed, and sadly transitioned to the category of ‘social’ punter.

Fast-forward to 2003 where I was first made aware of Betfair. The exchange had been operating since 2000, but had only started making waves in Australia. At the time I remember its largest selling points were the ability to get great prices and also take on horses via laying. It took me awhile to appreciate the other key positive – the ability to trade and make a book. This has become the most important tool in my investing weaponry.

As punters we’re indoctrinated into taking risk, and losing becomes an integral part of the process. I have read a lot of material from respected figures on dealing with and accepting losses. The main takeaway is not to worry too much during lean times because the tide will eventually turn (assuming you have a profitable long-term approach). I am certain this is the reason it took me so long to appreciate and embrace the art of trading, because if you’re used to winning and losing – and nothing in between, this isn’t exactly instinctive.

Nowadays I consider myself a successful trader, predominantly on in-play markets. Thoroughbreds are effective, but harness racing is better – given the duration of races, and array of short-priced elects which attracts volume. I’ve been able to switch from a lairising punter, to risk-averse trader to finally a hybrid punter/trader. Trading is my ‘bread and butter’, however I have no doubt I’ve become a better investor through learning the intricacies of trading and getting a much ‘feel’ for markets and expected outcomes. Getting a handle on the ‘smart money’ is an excellent entry point.

Pre Race Trading – Thoroughbred & Harness

In-play betting on thoroughbred and harness racing events in Australia is a relatively new development. Betfair trialled it on Group racing through the late 2000s, before being fully rolled out. Prior to this advancement I would have described myself as humble pre-race trader attempting to accumulate small profits. A typical race would look like this:

Manuel (the favourite) was backed at 1.99, and sold (layed) at 1.90 to yield a small profit on the initial stake. All this occurred well before the event was run, and the final result rendered irrelevant.

The return on investment was 4.5%. While that may not sound overly exciting, I can only look back to my formative years of wagering and wish I’d been able to make a profit full stop.

How did I forecast the movement? In this case I believed it to be an errant lay – the price of Manuel was shorter via the ‘corporate’ & on-course market at the time, and there was inevitably it would trade shorter.

There is a variety of reasons why horses drift and firm, and I haven’t mastered them all. What I am certain about is that it’s much easier to forecast a price movement, than to predict the result of a race.

This was a simple pre-race trade. In-play trading has a vastly different set of characteristics.

In Play Betting – Betfair Betting Applications

The first steps to becoming a profitable in-play trader is to ascertain how serious you want to be about it. For a casual approach you can navigate to the Betfair web-page. But for any level of professionalism, you need to utilise one of the excellent Betfair API’s. API’s are customised betting tools and interfaces to use with the exchange. From an in-play perspective they allow you to place bets more efficiently.

The app directory is a good place to get started.

Most of these companies offer free trials so it’s well worth checking out.

I would also recommend Sky Channel via Foxtel and the not so secret weapon of an analog radio broadcast, which can be up to three seconds faster than the live television broadcast.

In Play Betting – Trading Strategy

There are many different ways to attack an in-play market. My favourite strategy is the concept of Back-To-Lay. It’s at the top of my chart because it’s the easiest and consistently most profitable. It can work well in thoroughbred racing, but is most effective in harness racing. If all goes to plan you can be left with a ‘green-book’ and no matter what the final result of the event you can secure a profit.

What I look for is the early leader, and place a back bet before the race goes ‘in-play’. Ideally this horse will be the favourite, however in theory it should work for any leader – especially those in single figures. At this time you can also look to place a lay bet at a shorter price before the race is run (using the ‘Keep’ in-play option) or wait till the race begins and get a feel for where the price settles before playing a lay bet.

Incidentally, the reason the favourite is the preferred candidate is because it provides a level of comfort through liquidity. The plan is to exit your trade at a profit, and you obviously need enough backers interested to take your bet when the horse hopefully finds the lead. If the plan goes awry you can hopefully recoup the vast majority of your stake, because there will be still punters keen to back a favourite at inflated prices.

Example 1

The ability to map a race is obviously crucial. Thankfully there are many tools available to help with this process – form guides and analysis have improved dramatically in recent times.

In a recent event at Launceston, I expected the 2nd favourite to find the lead. To this end I was able to back Mister Ryanjack at an average price of 4.32. This bet was pre-race. I didn’t have a firm view about what price it may trade at when leading and decided to wait until the race was underway before playing a lay bet.

Thankfully Mister Ryanjack was able to lead, and I could sell my stake at an average price of 2.96. Although it was a small-stake investment, I was able to generate a 44% return on my original outlay.

You may note I had an identical result no matter what the outcome (profit of $27.51).

This is called hedging, and any number of Betfair API’s make this transaction easy at the click of a button.

Mr Ryanjack lost, but as mentioned earlier the final result wasn’t important once the ‘hedge’ was executed.

Example 2

Short-priced favourites are generally great for the Back-To-Lay method. At least those you expect to lead. In the example below I placed a relatively large wager on Tact Tate at an average price of 1.18. I was confident he would find the lead.

I also inserted a Lay that would be kept in the market as the race began (at 1.10). Why did I choose a Lay price of 1.10? This is a tricky question to answer, and arguably becomes an intuitive decision. What I will say is even prices at short odds such as 1.10, 1.20, 1.30 are ‘hot’ trading points – and I merely took the next level down from the original investment. In this case Tact Tate led and the lay was executed a few hundred metres after the start. It worked out as a return of almost 7%.

Bear in mind this bet size was within my comfortable of risk. You could have generated that 7% return with a much smaller stake. And of course, if Tact Tate wasn’t able to lead there’s no doubt I would have taken a loss. However the likelihood of that loss being anywhere near the original stake was low. The ability to take a hedged loss is also important. I would have attempted to sell out at a price of 1.25-1.30 early on if he’d not been able to find the front. While this would have been a little painful, other profitable opportunities will keep coming.

Example 3

An example of a more complicated in-play event is revealed below. Prior to this race I had no firm view on the ‘speed map’, and had no intention to invest. However most races provide opportunities in the run and I was content to let this race begin before making any decisions.

My biggest investment was on Playboys Dream. This horse found the lead, and a price of 7.8 was offered. This price was identical to its starting price, and I was most happy to jump on. But I needed to be fast, and this is where using an API become vital (in this case one-touch betting).

While some punters would have let this bet ride, I firmly had my traders hat on. I was able to lay Playboys Dream at an average price of $2.84. This occurred not long after the back bet, which again highlights how rapidly markets can move.

In this instance I couldn’t ‘hedge’ completely for an identical return because there wasn’t enough interest at this price.

However I had a Green-Book and was more than happy to let it ‘run for me’. Thankfully it ended up victorious.

During the race I made a couple of other trades, including a Back and Lay of Good Job (back 2.5, lay 2.0). This was the pre-race favourite and it moved into a favourable position.

I didn’t make any money on this as I backed and layed it for the same stake (and as we know didn’t win the race). A more prudent thing to do would have been to lay for a little more than $50 to maximise the return.

In summary I was able to generate 258% on the original investment.


There are many different ways to engage on in-play markets, and I have highlighted just one method above. The best advice I can give if this interests you is to keep your eyes wide open, and learn/evolve by watching markets and patterns. Trading won’t always go to plan, but hopefully this brief article has provided a small insight into the world of in-play betting.

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