Winning systems: Win and Place Betting at the Front of the Market – Part 1

    In his latest article for attheraces.com, Dr Peter May takes a closer look at the potential profitably of win and place markets to the head of the betting.
  • Wednesday 04 April 2018
  • Blog

Given the timing of this article, I had initially intended to cover early season Flat racing.  But after writing a few hundred words it started to sound familiar and I had the awful feeling that I was repeating myself (not for the first time I hear you say).  

A quick review of the list of titles covering my ATR blog items confirmed my fears that I had indeed written a similar piece back in 2016.  Consequently, a change of tack was required, though that does not mean I won’t return to the topic next year.   

So, in keeping with modern practises, I asked “Twitter” for some ideas of what I should write abut this month.  Quickest off the keyboard was Tony who suggested that I analyse win and place betting for short-priced runners. 

Each-way betting is usually reserved for longer-priced selections.  Often the media will refer to horses starting at “an each-way price” meaning it’s a long shot, probably 10/1 or longer.  But that does not necessarily mean it’s a value price, or that the place component of the bet is worth staking.  

I have often thought that backing longer-priced runners each-way is more down to the psychology of the bettor rather than the value of the bet.  Backing a 20/1 shot to win, then seeing it beaten into second place by a narrow margin is difficult to take, and not having the back-up place option only makes it worse, hence the desire among many punters for the place bet insurance.  

Whilst this is understandable, from a strictly profit-driven angle it is also necessary to consider the value of the bet separately from the win bet.  Putting £10 each-way on a 10/1 shot that runs second returns £30 (at one fifth of the odds) including the stake, effectively the same as putting the full £20 stake on a 1/2 shot.  

There may be cases where this offers outstanding value, but an each-way bet does need to be considered as two separate bets, and the value determined for each before making the wager. 

Although each-way betting is popular for long shots it is rarely considered for horses at the other end of the betting market.  How many punters would even consider a place bet on an odds-on shot?  I would suggest very few, but how many have even considered the value of such an approach?  Probably a similar number.

This is an area that has interested me for many years and, in fact, I spent a significant amount of time working on a software package that was aimed at highlighting potentially profitable win and place bets a little while ago.  A change of circumstances meant that I did not fully complete the project but it has the basis of an interesting approach which is perhaps worthy of further examination.  But first, some background data.

For the latest 22,000 all-weather runners in races with eight or more horses, the average loss at Bookmakers’ starting price was an incredible -33p/£ for non-handicaps and -24p/£ for handicaps.  The equivalent place returns are -16p/£ and -17p/£.  Switching to turf we get the similar figures: taking the last 28,000 performances in races with eight or more runners, the average loss to Bookmakers’ starting price was -31p/£ for non-handicaps and -22p/£ for handicaps.  The place returns were: -20p/£ and -17p/£.

This illustrates the magnitude of the task facing punters who bet near to the off time with Bookmakers, either win or each-way, which is why a golden rule of betting is that we should never use this option if we seek to make a long-term profit.  

Using a large pool of races, and restricting the analysis to those at the front of the market with a starting price of 5/1 or less, we get more encouraging figures.  For the 16,000 qualifiers in all-weather races of eight or more runners, the average loss at Bookmakers’ starting price was -12p/£ for both non-handicaps and handicaps, with place returns of -3p/£ for non-handicaps and -10p/£ for handicaps. The equivalent returns for exchange bets, before commission, was 0p/£ for both non-handicaps and handicaps for win bets, and -1p/£ for place bets on non-handicaps with place bets on handicaps returning a level stake.

So, the losses are lower for horses at the front of the market, which suggests this is a good place to start, and the figures are much more encouraging for bets placed on the exchanges than at Bookmakers’ starting price, which is not too surprising.

Further refining the price analysis, we see that keeping to horses which are priced at odds on by the Bookmakers made a very slight win profit on the exchanges before commission, and a similar level of profit for the place bet.  For those betting with Bookmakers, these horses would have returned a loss of -4p/£ for the win bet, but would have broken even for the place component.  

Interestingly, restricting bets to handicap races, both all-weather and turf, would have produced much higher profits for both win and place bets, with the 239 qualifiers, making +19p/£ for the win bet and +6p/£ for the place bet at exchange prices.  Those starting at evens to 15/8 made a 2-3p/£ profit for all four categories (AW: Non-handicap/handicap, and Turf: Non-handicap/handicap) for win bets, but the place bets all lost at exchange prices.  Losses of around -6p/£ would have been sustained with Bookmakers for both bet types.  

A similar pattern exists for horses whose prices are from 2/1 to under 3/1: heavy losses for bets placed with Bookmakers with a slight profit for the win bet on the exchanges and break even for the place bets.  Finally, for runners priced at 3/1 to 5/1 the losses increased for bets placed with Bookmakers but were maintained at around the breakeven point for exchange bets.  

The consistent returns for exchange bets across all price ranges was matched by a gradual decline in the returns for bets placed with Bookmakers confirming the view that the longer the price the poorer the value at starting price for both win and place components of an each-way bet.

The 1,000 runners starting at 5/1 or lower in non-handicaps which had won their previous race made a profit of +9p/£ for win bets and +5p/£ for place bets on the exchanges, which is interesting but not compelling.  For unraced horses the returns were poor with the place component producing much greater losses than the win bet.  

But the 3,600 price range qualifiers making a quick return to the track (within seven days) made a +7p/£ profit before commission on the win bet, and +2p/£ for place bets on the exchanges. The main driving force for this profit were runners in non-handicaps on the all-weather: these horses made an excellent profit at both win and place, but there were only 143 of them so it is not a sample that could be considered robust at this stage.

In terms of value, using the exchanges for place betting on short-priced runners is not the best betting option available to punters, that appears to be a straight win bet, but nor is it the worst which would be to bet each way at starting price with Bookmakers.  However, given the much higher frequency of success (i.e. making the frame compared to winning) associated with place bets on horses at the front of the market, it may be worth exploring a range of staking plans with the aim of returning a long-term profit on these bets.  

But for those who employ level stake approaches, in order to make these bets profitable a more sophisticated approach is needed and for that we probably need to model the market more precisely.  Fortunately, we are now able to do that given the availability of horseracing data so, in Part 2, I’ll be outlining a computerised method I started working on a few years ago and hopefully it will help readers develop their own methods for betting on the place market.

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