Why There’s Never Been A Better Time To Be A Horse Player

The game has changed over the years, but it is still a great time to be a horse racing punter, writes Nathan Snow

NSW winners Mark Rhoden picking winners

He may look like he’s barely out of his teens, but our NSW racing analyst Nathan Snow is a bit of an industry veteran. As a former bookmaker turned pro punter, he’s watched the racing marketplace evolve from the days of the individual rails bookie to the online, corporate environment of today.

While many (including us on occasion!) regularly decry the state of the game and long for the good old days, Snowy thinks there’s very good opportunities for the punter these days due to the way corporate bookies operate.

Is this actually a great time to be a horse player? Snowy tells us why it just could be…

Bookies are very different these days to what they were when I started out 15 years ago.

I actually started out as an ‘opinion’ bookie before jumping the fence to be a punter.

Gone are the days of the form student who does his markets and puts up his prices for the punter to take on.

Looking at markets recently, some very interesting trends have become evident concerning the wildly fluctuating prices available throughout the day’s betting.

To illustrate, I looked at four Sydney metro meetings, and recorded the best price available from 9am (when the industry minimum bet limits kick in) through to the jump. Using these prices, the markets look like this:

These are only from six major bookies: Sportsbet, TAB, Bet365, UBET, CrownBet and Centrebet. There’s no real difference between Wednesdays and Saturdays, and no discernible pattern by field size.

It’s all post 9am in a state with minimum bet limits, so theoretically you can get set for $20k across ten bookmakers.

As you can see, the numbers are crazy. The average across the 32 races is 91.7%!

In the old days, people on track would say the bookies were giving away money if Top Fluc was under 100%. Mo Conlon would actually stop betting on a race once the percentage got too low.

Here, we’re nudging 90%.

How is it happening?

Simple: the market at the start of betting (9am) until jump time often varies wildly. The fluctuations are enormous.

Now obviously capturing the best price on a horse is a skill in itself. And I’m not suggesting you back all runners in each race for an over-round (although I do think that’s possible for someone with skill, diligence and discipline).

But what the numbers show is that if you do the form or have a set of prices you trust… the edge that’s always been in the house’s favour? It’s now in ours.

And you can now back more runners in a race (savers, part savers, etc). For example, take a field of 10: during the course of betting six or more of your runners could become overlays because of these wild fluctuations. You could be on the six runners to varying degrees. Some may even be small losers, but by eliminating the runners you don’t like, you can be betting a very good % about the six runners you do like.

If that doesn’t suit your style and you only intend backing one or two runners in a race, then it also means that with patience and nous, securing inflated odds at some point in betting is almost assured.

Why is it happening?

This is the culmination of the corporatisation – or ‘European-isation’ – of our racing marketplace.

In their wisdom, corporate bookies have decided that it’s cheaper to ‘play heads’ rather than hire form analysts and pricing experts. By this I mean they basically just put up any old set of prices.

Usually it’s just one or two blokes doing their best with limited resources and huge time constraints to put up the first set of prices. They then let the ‘heads’ shape the market from there.

The smarter punters bet, and they firm that runner and ease the rest. The smarter the punter, the more exaggerated the move.

The key is that individual firms don’t have form students and therefore any opinion of what the correct price should be for each runner. They all just use a scrape to set their prices off each other’s. That’s why all the prices online are within one or two rolls of each other at all times after 9am.

They can do this because the most important figure for a bookie isn’t the percentage of the best fluctuation bet, but rather the average percentage laid across the book.

They aren’t concerned if the top price laid is incorrect. As long as the average percentage laid is over 105%, they’re happy.

To illustrate with an example: a horse is backed by a very smart punter early at 3.0. He has $1,000 on it with ten bookmakers, so $10,000 on to win $20,000. So the bookies wind it in to 2.6.

A few people who miss the price (plus the corporate employees!) chime in and it becomes 2.4. The prices bounce back around off each other, and all of a sudden the horse is 2.3.

But it’s okay for them because a large percentage of their hold is in the last five minutes of betting, and an overwhelming percentage of that is recreational money.

Say they end up holding $200,000 on the race. $70,000 may well be on that favourite.

If they lay even $5,000 at the 3.0, the other $65,000 can be laid at 2.3. For the bookie, that’s laying $70,000 at $2.35.

If they lay even $5,000 at the 3.0, the other $65,000 can be laid at 2.3. For the bookie, that’s laying $70,000 at $2.35.

So what are they playing at here?

Effectively, instead of paying their own form students, they’re paying punters to set their markets.

In this example, they’ve paid the punter $538 in implied value in order to lay the horse at the correct price. They bet him $1,000 at 3.0 to lose $2,000. If they bet him to lose $2,000 at the eventual $2.3 price, he’d have had $1,538 on to collect $3,538. So the early price has cost them a potential $538 in implied value.

As long as the prices on the bookies board are somewhat correct at the 5-minute mark of betting, with the 15% or so over-round in their favour at this stage, they just need to hold enough recreational money to justify it and they’ll be ahead.

As long as the prices on the bookies board are somewhat correct at the 5-minute mark of betting, with the 15% or so over-round in their favour at this stage, they just need to hold enough recreational money to justify it and they’ll be ahead.

What does it mean for us?

If you trust the prices you have in the long-run and are ready to take the overlays during the course of betting, there’s absolutely never been a better time to be a small or medium-sized punter.