Articles >> horse-racing >>

Using Systems To Lay Horses

In two recent articles I have looked at a systematic approach to win betting. However, this week I thought it would be interesting to look at systems from a laying perspective.


Why lay horses I hear you ask? The answer I think is fairly logical - most punters back more losers than winners don’t they?!! This is the case even if we are favourite backers – unless of course you come from that rare breed of “odds on” punters. If you back “odds on” your strike rate will probably exceed 50%, but it is extremely hard to make a profit from them. It is generally perceived that making money from backing favourites is not easy. Therefore, using reverse logic, one would think that it should be possible to find a profitable method for laying favourites.


With the advent of the betting exchanges, it has opened up a whole new world for punters – the world of laying horses as well as backing them. When laying a horse you are essentially playing bookmaker. Hence, you can now offer other punters odds on horse to win, and hence profit if the horse loses. For example, if you feel is a horse has a 4/1 chance of winning, you might want to offer a lay at say 100/30. If the bet is taken, and your calculation of the true odds is accurate, then you have created a situation that if replicated over the long term, you should make steady profits.


The problem with laying horses of course is that fact that losing lays can make a significant dent in your betting bank. For example, imagine you lay in £20 units and you lay two horses at 6/1 that both happen to win - you are suddenly £240 down very quickly. Hence, at this juncture, it is worth stating that laying can be fraught with danger and that it is probably worth “paper trading” first to get a feel for it. After testing it out without hard cash for a while, you should be in a position to decide whether laying is for you or not.


What horses are best to lay? That is not an easy question to answer – some people are happy laying outsiders for very small amounts, but I feel it is the front end of the market where laying can be the most profitable. My idea is to try to pinpoint weak favourites that trade at a price shorter than they should be.


To research this idea I need to try and decide which races offer the best opportunities for laying. Hence I looked at the performance of favourites across different race-types. The data was taken from the last 15 years and the focus is on flat racing as the season is almost upon us now. All profits are calculated to £1 level win stakes. The results are shown in Fig 1:


Race Type



Strike Rate


Profit (%)

Maiden Races






Selling Races






Claiming races






Group Races






All age Handicap Races







Fig 1


This initial research indicated that laying favourites in all-age handicaps or Group races would look the soundest strategy. Looking in more depth, with so many more handicaps, it seemed sensible to concentrate on these races. It should not be surprising that favourites in handicaps have a moderate record when you consider handicap races are designed so that all runners theoretically have the same chance of winning.


From here, I decided to look at the results of some more general handicap data first, which would include comparing forecast favourites to actual favourites at starting price. My logic being, that to use any system on favourites at starting price would require you, the punter, to often place your bet at the last possible moment as there are many races where it is unclear which horse was actually going to start favourite. If you could find a winning system laying forecast favourites, it would make the selection process more straight-forward. Having said that, there would still be a dilemma as when would be the right time to place the bet (lay). Fig 2 makes the comparison between forecast favourites in all-age handicaps compared with favourites at SP.





Strike Rate


Profit (%)

Forecast Favourite






Favourite at SP







Fig 2


Perhaps not surprisingly forecast favourites performed slightly worse, and hence any laying system could theoretically be built around them.


The statistics indicate that if we lay every forecast favourite in all-age handicaps, roughly 4 out of every 5 lays will be successful. However, the gain at purely “level stakes” would be just under 10%, but unfortunately this figure is too small to gain any advantage by laying such horses on the exchanges. The reason a 10% margin is not big enough is down to two factors – commission and the actual price you are able to lay at. The commission on winning bets/lays is anything up to 5%, while the actual laying price for horses at the head, or near the head of the market is roughly 10 to 15% above SP. Hence, in order to find a profitable laying system, I estimate a 20%+ profit margin is required.


Thus, the aim is to try and pinpoint weak forecast favourites in all-age handicaps. I looked at numerous ideas and here are some of my findings:


1.  Backing fillies in open all-age handicaps that were forecast favourite – the reason behind this idea is that in open handicaps the female sex, tend to be at a disadvantage over their male counterparts. This method produced the following results:


Qualifiers                 4781

Winning lays            3885

Lay Success Rate     81.3%

Profit (using SP)       +£971.12               

% Profit (at SP)        +20.3%


Hence, this just sneaked above the required 20%+ profit margin. I would estimate that this basic idea would produce a real life profit of around 4 to 5%. To improve matters if you include a race distance rule of laying in races of less than 9 furlongs only, the results from a laying perspective improve (see overleaf):




Qualifiers                 2509

Winning lays            2118

Lay Success Rate     84.4%

Profit (using SP)       +£708.95               

% Profit (at SP)        +28.3%


This gives a more comfortable profit margin where returns in reality should comfortably hit the 10 to 12% mark.


2.  Backing forecast favourites in all-age handicaps whose last run was in a seller or a claimer – the reason behind this idea is that sellers and claimers are generally much weaker than handicaps and the step back up into handicaps is often difficult to bridge. This method produced on average around 60 bets a season on average producing the following results:


Qualifiers                 885

Winning lays            741

Lay Success Rate     83.7%

Profit (using SP)       +£199.68               

% Profit (at SP)        +22.6%


Profits should exceed 5% using this method, although with limited qualifiers each year it is a system that should be used in conjunction with other systems. The profit margin would have been increased in the past 15 years by around 7% if excluding horses that won last time out, but the downside of this filter is that it cuts the yearly qualifiers to just over 30 a year on average.


3. Backing forecast favourites in all-age handicaps that are aged 8 or older – some handicappers race for what seems like an eternity, but despite some horses continuing to perform well as they reach the veteran stage, the majority deteriorate as age starts to catch up with them. This method has produced an average of 130 qualifiers per season since the year 2000 so there will be plenty of opportunities for laying such runners over the coming season. The 15-year results show the following:


Qualifiers                 1585

Winning lays            1326

Lay Success Rate     83.7%

Profit (using SP)       +£409.49               

% Profit (at SP)        +25.8%


Taking commission and SP into account, a profit of close to 10% should be achievable with this method.


There is more good news for layers with the turf season having started last Saturday. Forecast favourites in all-age turf handicaps in April see their losses increase from an overall -11.8% (see Fig 2) to -13.6% in April. It is only a small amount, but improves the profit margins for layers by nearly 2%.


It seems that profits can be made from laying, but be sure to do your homework before attempting it with hard cash.

Free Registration
Free Horse Racing System
Racing Research
Racing Report Vault
Flat Racing Trainer Report
Horse Racing Research Articles
Bookmakers & Odds
Bookmakers and Free Bets
Odds Comparison
Top Link Partners