Top 8 Tips To Lay Better

The ability to lay horses to lose is a unique feature of the Betfair Exchange and can provide you with a great opportunity to leverage your betting activities to make more profit.

While the idea of making money by ‘picking horses to lose’ sounds simple in theory, it’s far from a straightforward task.

If you’re thinking that win betting is proving tough so you’ll try your hand at lay betting then stop now!

Lay betting isn’t an easier path you can take to compensate for weaknesses in your win betting game, whether they be related to strategy, your analysis, staking or anything else. Lay betting success requires just as much strategy, skill and consistent execution as any other type of punting.

If you try to take shortcuts then you will eventually pay the price. Here are my top eight tips for becoming a successful lay punter.

1. Recognise a different mindset is required

Even if you have the best lay betting strategy in the world, if you can’t get your head around the psychological difference between win and lay betting and what that means for the way your bankroll will fluctuate over time, then you will fail.

With win betting your dividend is typically a number of times more than your stake (i.e. $3.00, $4.00, $8.00, $10.00 etc) so while you collect less often than lay betting, your profits will accumulate much faster and losses take many more bets to mount up.

With lay betting your dividend is typically much less than 1 x your stake. (i.e. laying a horse at $5.00 is effectively a win dividend of $1.25.)

While you will typically collect very often, your profits will take many more bets to accumulate and losses can mount quickly if you make a few unsuccessful bets in a short run.

If you are in the midst of a minor losing run in your win betting, the tide can turn quickly and backing five or six winners close together can recover your losses and even push your bank to a new peak. If you go through a similarly bad run lay betting then you can easily be faced with a scenario of needing to make 20-30 successful lays to recover those losses.

You could back the 5 or 6 winners you need to recover win betting losses in a day or two, but laying 20-30 losers is likely to take longer and requires a great deal more patience to wait for that to happen.

This is a key factor you need to grasp if you have any chance of being a successful lay punter.

The positive offset with lay betting is that your strike rate is typically much higher than win betting, so more often than not you will enjoy the feeling of collecting on your bet. If you lay enough horses though then you WILL go through a period of laying a few winners in a short cycle and face a big challenge to rebuild. You need to accept and be prepared to deal with that in the right manner.

The ability to consistently implement your strategy and exercise the required amount of patience to rebuild is vital.

2. You must have a strategy / edge

Like win betting, you must be clear on what your edge is when deciding to lay horses. Let me be clear about one thing. A numerical difference in your assessed price versus the market price is not a reason to lay a horse.

For example, just because you mark a horse $8.00 and it is $5.50 on the Exchange, that in itself is not a reason to lay the horse.

You must be clear on the fundamental reasons why you believe the market is overestimating the horse and why the price you can lay at represents a profitable opportunity.

If you believe there is something about the strength of the horse’s form or suitability of this race that the market is making a mistake on, then by all means look at the horse as a lay prospect.

But don’t make the mistake of simply comparing your price to the market without a thorough understanding of the factors that have gone into that price and why your opinion is different enough to the market to create a profitable lay opportunity.

Rather than simply comparing prices, I prefer to look for horses with particular characteristics as my starting point for laying.

Without giving too much away, some of my favourites are:

  • Horses that will settle well back in the field
  • Horses that have yet to prove they can reach the rating standard needed to win this race.
  • Track Bias – horses that look poorly suited by the expected track bias, which I have confirmed early in the meeting
  • Trainers – horses from stables that seem well and truly out of form. I measure this by a combination of statistics and observing how their horses are running.
  • Jockeys – horses ridden by jockeys that are consistently overvalued by the market or riding in a scenario that has proven to be a weakness in the past.

3. Get your staking right

If you don’t get your staking right, then it won’t matter if you have a successful lay strategy in the long-term because you will go broke. I’ve written other articles on The Hub about staking, so I won’t repeat all of that detail here.

The key is that the amount you risk on each bet achieves a suitable balance between optimising your profit while protecting your bank during normally expected losing runs.

My approach is to lay a horse to pay out 4% of my bank at the approximate price I’m laying. I say approximate price because you will rarely lay a horse for your entire stake at the one price on the Exchange. You will likely lay a few smaller bets at slightly different prices to make up the total amount

If you have a bank of $10,000, then following my approach you would lay a horse to pay out $400. If the horse you want to lay is around $4.00 then you can accept $100 in bets for a liability of $300. You are risking $300 to win $100 (that’s odds of 1-3 or $1.33.)

A risk of $300 is a sensible bet size on a $10,000 bank when you are $1.33 or 75% chance to win.

If that seems far too low for a stake amount, then you really need to re-think your strategy. No matter how good your lay strategy, you will lay horses that win and those pay outs will eat into your bank roll.

Your stake size needs to allow for this inevitable feature of punting so that when you do strike a losing run, you have enough left in your bank to feel confident enough that you can continue and rebuild.

If your bank runs too low during these normally expected losing runs, then you’ll almost certainly give up. The barrier to winning will not be with your strategy, but your staking. If you wanted to be a little more aggressive then you could lay to pay out 5% of your bank, but I wouldn’t recommend the average punter to go any higher.

If you are an experienced punter with a proven expertise in accurately identifying strong betting opportunities then you can get more technical with your staking and lay relative to your edge (i.e. the greater the edge the greater the amount risked). That type of discussion is for another article though.

4. You must be price sensitive

One of the main mistakes you can make lay betting is to think that because you don’t like the horse, it has virtually no chance so it doesn’t really matter what price you lay it at.

This type of attitude will erode your edge, most likely to the point where your overall lay betting will return a loss. The reason you are losing won’t due to your strategy, but your lack of focus and effort on laying at the right price.

The difference between laying a horse at $3.00 or $3.30 might not seem like much, but that extra 30 cents is near enough to 10% profit on turnover out of your pocket.

Margins in this game aren’t so large and easy to come by that you can afford to be giving away any edge at all to your opponents. Being price sensitive means that you put effort into monitoring trading and securing the best price you can about your lay bets. It also means knowing when to back out of laying a horse if you can’t lay it at a price you think is right.

You don’t need to assess every horse’s price down to the nearest cent for laying, but you should have a firm idea of what you think is a good, marginal and bad price to lay the horse at.

You need to take the right lay price when the opportunity presents itself and have the discipline to back out and not take any more bets if the market drifts to a point where you don’t think it is the right price to lay.

It doesn’t matter if you only get a portion of your stake set. A half-sized stake at the right price is better than a full priced stake which increases your average lay price to the level where the bet is marginal or unprofitable.

5. Look to snip early

Further to my point about being price sensitive, you should always be looking for early opportunities in the market to accept a few small bets at what seems a terrific lay price, even if you aren’t yet sure which way the market will move.

As each race gets closer to jump time, the Exchange market volume increases and it’s easier to lay horses, but the prices about each horse also become more intelligent and securing value becomes more difficult.

While it is natural to want to wait until the market starts to take shape to lay your horse so you can get some more certainly about the way the price might be moving, you should be aware that waiting too long can cost you profitable opportunities.

If the price looks good to you then take it!

Have confidence in your assessment. If you think the horse is a $8-$9 chance and you can lay it at $6.00 then don’t worry that there is still 10 mins until jump time, take the bet!

Sure, a horse might firm up and you could have made the bet at a shorter price later on, but in my experience if your assessments are good then your opinion that the horse should be $8-$9 is likely to be much closer to the mark than the $6 punters want to take well before the jump.

Plenty of those horses will drift closer to the price you think is right and those early opportunities to sneak a few extra dollars at a big margin are golden.

I’ve found there’s more regret in waiting to see what the market does and then seeing the opportunity disappear as the horse gets out to $8 then there is in taking the bet and copping the rare occasion where the horse might actually firm.

6. Never bet them back

If you lay a horse at $4.00 and it continues to drift in the market and gets out to $5 or more then some punters would see that as an opportunity to back the horse to win at the inflated price and either make a small profit regardless of the result, or at least cover their lay losses if the horse wins.

I’m not one of them.

Scenarios where you lay a horse at $4.00 and it starts at $5.00 or longer are gold! They’re what you dream of as a layer. Betting the horse back to win just eats into your expected value of that bet and your long-term profits.

If the $5 starting price is a true reflection of the horse’s chance (which it will be in most cases, certainly closer than the $4 you laid it at) then your expected value is a +20% profit. That’s what you will make over the long-term from making such bets, it’s enormously profitable.

If you could be guaranteed five of those scenarios every day, it’s a virtual licence to print money. Why significantly diminish that profit just for the sake of avoiding a losing bet here and there? It makes no sense to me.

7. Laying favourites is tough

Many punters think that the best target for laying is favourites, but I’ve found that a tough game. I certainly identify my share of false or wrongly priced favourites in the market that lose handsomely if you measure them at top fluctuation. However, they’re tough to lay at the right price on the Exchange

Margins are often much tighter on favourites and just a 10 cents difference in lay price can mean 4% to 5% profit margin.

I find the best targets are mid-ranged horses in the $5 to $10 price bracket and often longer if I think a horse is totally mispriced in the current market and is set to drift significantly.

These mid-ranged horses are often kept somewhat safe by the market for longer, waiting to see if there are any significant moves. Then as we approach the final few minutes before the race jumps they’ll start to drift towards their right price.

If you are monitoring the market and have a good feel for what the right price is then there are often good opportunities to lay as the horse gradually drifts to its right price in the last few minutes.

8. Never lay leaders

From a back to win perspective, leaders are the most profitable horses in racing, by a long way!

If you could get on every leader at the turn at the price they started when the gates opened, you would make a fortune each year.

For that reason, leaders are also the most unprofitable horses to lay. Of course, we can’t predict the leader with 100% accuracy before the barriers open, but I made a decision a long time ago that it’s simply not worth trying to make a lay profit out of possible leaders. The default market return for those horses is so heavily stacked against you.

There are more than enough opportunities to profit from lay betting by identify horses where the default market return is already a significant negative.

One of my key philosophies in betting is “don’t make the task of winning any more complicated or difficult than it needs to be” and that is definitely relevant to the concept of laying leaders.

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