Here is my complete guide to trading 'In Running' on Betfair horse racing markets.
I will explain what it is, how it works, and some of the most successful strategies to enable you to earn impressive profits on the in-play betting exchange, meanwhile enjoying some live top class horse racing from the comfort of your home.
If you're new to trading, you might benefit from reading this article first: What is Betfair Trading?
(My In-Play Racing Ebook covers this subject in extensive detail.)
What Is In-Play Horse Racing Trading?
This can refer to any tradeable sport. I prefer the term 'in-running', as it only applies to horse racing.
All sports on the exchange have what's called a 'pre-market'. This is the period before the event starts.
So in horse racing the pre-market runs from the minute the market is first opened (when we can start betting on it), right through to the second the horses leave the start line to head down the track.
Although there is technically no real difference, you can still back and lay runners just as you would if you were trading pre-race, the real-world differences are enormous, and often understandably frightening to a novice trader.
The main difference is the volatility and speed of the price movements. That's why it's such a lucrative trading environment (if you get it right), and a costly one (if you don't!)
Pros: Benefits of In-Play Racing Trading
Once the horses are running, there are countless different ways to profit from any particular race.
But you might spot Desert Orchid always runs in open space out at the front, unimpeded by other horses.
In that scenario, regardless of who wins the race (in fact they could come joint last!), we could both make a profit as a result of our 'form study', if we trade the race correctly with the knowledge we gained from studying our chosen runners.
There's many ways a trader can find profitable scenarios when trading 'in-running'.
Big Price 'Swings'
This is probably the most significant benefit. Prices fluctuate massively during the race.
If a horse clips a fence, the odds immediately shoot up, if he jumps the next fence beautifully and overtakes a few other runners, the odds will drop back down dramatically again.
These swings in the odds are the primary reason why inplay trading can be so profitable. Of course I am sure you don't need me to tell you how that can work both ways though.
Form Analysis Pays Off
Knowing how a horse 'prefers' to run gives traders the ability to win comparatively easy and frequent profits. Obviously winning trades are never guaranteed, horses can change their style but it's rare, the form cards are very detailed and horses do usually run as their form suggests they will.
You can stack the odds in your favour with a little effort to 'learn your craft'. I like this, and it's what makes this trading rather than punting or gambling.
Short Concentration Window
I know a fair bit about trading before the off, in the 'pre-market'.
One thing I learned early on is the extremely high level of concentration needed during trading sessions. It's tiring, and I suffered from neck trouble, eye trouble, and severe migraines, just as a result of being pinned to the screen for so many hours a day.
As an in-play trader, some concentration is obviously needed, but for much shorter periods. I find this a big relief, especially in between pre-market trades.
After finding a runner to trade, you can sit and wait for the start and then just 'switch on' for the minute or two that the race lasts.
Then you can wander off for a coffee or whatever, relax the eyes and stretch out. In-running trading is just a much nicer experience overall in my view.
Cons: Risk Factors of In-Play Markets
Due to the speed of the price/odds movements (and the horses' movements for that matter!) you really have to be lightning fast on the in-play exchange.
I have countless memories from my learning days of clicking the mouse button just a second too late, and knowing instantly that I'm going to have to take a loss.
Ok it was a small one, and it was more annoying that the green (profit) was missed, but it can be frustrating, especially for beginners.
This is not a trading environment for 'slow' people (and I don't mean dumb ones, just slow ones!) Sharp reflexes and fast thinking are greatly rewarded though, and can be learned with practice.
Big Price Swings, again!
I know, this was mentioned as a benefit, but it belongs here too.
The better you get at trading horses in play, the more these swings are a benefit to you. But when learning, or more importantly when making beginner mistakes, these wild price movements can punish any trading errors you make, and punish them quite severely.
You must have a decent, up to date and reliable computer for submitting your in-running trades.
For reasons already mentioned, mistakes are costly. You will make enough on your own when you're learning, so don't handicap yourself with a load more ways to cause a mistake due to bad equipment.
You want a fast machine, fast internet speeds, reliable power supply, and ideally wired mouse and keyboard instead of wireless ones as they can and do fail.
Suffice to say you will definitely need to be using dedicated Betfair trading software, don't even think about trying to trade via Betfair's website.
Not only should it be installed, but you should be fully versed in using it, so you can trade with confidence.
The inplay markets are no place to be 'learning' how to use a new software program!
The 3 Types Of In-Running Trade
As you hopefully already know, a completed trade consists of a position being opened and closed.
The opening position can be a back bet or a lay bet, the closing is done with an opposite bet being placed, after the price move you were hoping for has occurred.
There are three different ways to carry out an in-play trade:
- Open position before the race, close it during the race.
- Open position during the race, close it during the race.
- Open position during the race, closure happens automatically when market closes (end of race).
As you can see, all three require at least one position being taken during the race. It doesn't matter which one it is, but any trade involving bets or orders being placed while the horses are running, that is what makes it an in-running type of trade.
The last of the three is more 'in play betting' than trading, in my humble opinion anyway. That's not to say there's anything wrong with it. If you were watching a race and noticed a horse tiring and clipping fences, you might lay that runner as you believe 'his race is run'.
If the jockey accidentally hits the ejector seat button, or if the horse tails off to the back of the field half way around the circuit, you don't really need to close the trade as it's almost impossible for him to win from there, especially when his tongue is hanging out and the jockey is using his secret taser to try and get him going again!
On the other hand, his odds will probably be 1000-1 so why not just bank the profit and close out the trade properly like a trader should?!
Pace Ratings & Position
These are easily the two most important factors in a race, at least they are from where we are sitting, as In-Running Betfair traders.
Pace is by far the most influential one of the two.
As the name suggests, this is the speed a horse likes to run at during a race.
Just like humans, horses like to run a certain way. Some of us are sprinters, some of us are marathon/distance runners, some don't run at all so they sit and trade the racing, write articles about it, and crack silly jokes instead. 🙂
By studying the 'Pace Ratings' of a horse, we can get a good idea of its preferred running style. We can do that in a variety of ways, from watching a gazillion races and taking notes (as some people actually do!) to the preferred way of mining data provided freely (or very cheaply) by other kind folks!
Pace Maps are now talked about more and more, including in this TimeForm article which, very interestingly, shows that even jockeys study this stuff to help them win races.
If a horse likes to 'take up the running' from the start, that would be a 'front runner'.
Front runner trading is the most popular in-play racing strategy, and it can be very profitable indeed.
However there's also value in finding horses with slow pace ratings (but finish well), as they will likely tuck themselves at the back of the bunch, and only bring on a show of speed much nearer the finish.
This behaviour is equally tradeable, as you now have an idea what will happen to a horse's price during the race. There are various places to get pace ratings and historic racing data, a few examples are:
The preferred running position of a horse also has significant value for racing traders.
Horses are complex and intelligent creatures, with full blown personalities not dissimilar to the average pet dog.
(As someone who was once very nearly killed by an angry horse, I can confirm how much their characters vary!)
Some are more sociable than others, some get distracted more easily than others, some like a scrap while others are passive.
The much more highly-strung modern racehorse is particularly prone to distinct character traits, certainly compared to the average horse you'll see trotting down a lane.
During a race, some horses just prefer (psychologically) to be on their own, and dislike being bumped, jostled and 'boxed in' by other runners.
On the other hand, this 'company' of the bunch is exactly what some horses like, and they run much better when 'nestled' into the pack. Maybe it mentally pulls them along and helps them keep their speed at the 'race pace'.
Who knows, but this stuff is all very useful from a trading perspective, especially when you know how the odds are influenced by the position of the runners during a race.
I obviously can't describe every possible scenario (I do try in my In-Play racing trading course!) but these are the two most crucial points to be aware of:
- A horse out at the front with a 'clear lead' tends to see its price plummet to very short odds.
- Conversely, sitting at the back, especially if looking 'out of touch' with the rest of the field, that will cause their price to rocket upwards, especially after the half way point.
Knowing these two extremes, you can no doubt work out the other positions in between, and the likely influence on the in-play odds.
There are many other price influences or 'market forces' at work, for example if a horse clips a jump the odds will usually drift out quickly, or if a horse begins moving forward its price will instantly start dropping, and so on.
More importantly, by studying the form cards we can get a pretty good idea about where each runner is likely to be positioned after the off. Generally they will 'try' to get to that position, and the jockeys will try to help put them in that position too. Jockeys know their horse's form better than anyone, it's their job to know this stuff.
Sometimes a runner can't make it to their preferred running position. For instance a typical 'front runner' who likes to run ahead with a clear lead, might get 'trapped' or 'boxed in' during the initial phase of the race. This can greatly affect their chances of winning, partly due to the physical obstacle but also due to the psychological stress of the horse being in a position it doesn't like.
In sprint racing some horses like to run against the 'rail' (the barrier). If you watch some sprint races, you'll soon see one where the horses are released from the stalls and one makes a dramatic bee-line across the track to the rail and then hugs it for the rest of the race.
There are many savvy punters (and traders) out there, watching the same footage you are. So it's no surprise that if a strongly-fancied favourite has a 'bad start' (position wise), the odds will climb rapidly, and within mere seconds. (Tip: Trading that 'market overreaction' can be interesting!)
Hopefully you can now see why I said pace and position are critically important. Understanding both, and understanding the likely preferences of the runners in a race you're planning to trade, could be a relatively easy way to earning substantial green in your trading bank, especially over the long term.
(Final tip: Commentators are very good at both knowing the form of the runners, and telling you about changes in position, or horses not getting their preferred position early. So tune in, not out. Listen carefully, and learn their jargon so that you understand what they're saying. It's valuable info.)
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In all but the shortest of sprint races, there are three fairly distinct stages to a horse race:
There's much more to it. The start phase is where they fly away from the line and get themselves to their preferred running position. Or not, as the case may be.
That's one of the reasons in play traders watch using the fastest possible live racing feed. They want to monitor whether or not a horse had a 'favourable start'.
If not, trades might be cancelled. If they do, trades may be opened, doubled up, or just monitored until taking the winning trade's profits.
This is the 'meat' of the race, where most of the distance is covered and where the stronger ones position themselves for their final 'flourish', or run to the wire, in the hope of winning.
This phase is where most in play trades will (should!) be closed, hopefully for a tidy profit.
This is the final blast to the finish line. It's fun to watch, it's not fun to trade. So please don't!
In-Play Trading Strategies
Now that we've covered the foundations and indicators we are interested in, let's get into the various trading systems and methods for putting the above information to good use.
There are many Betfair in play systems and strategies that can be used to make decent profits racing traders. Here are five I deem worthy of a mention:
Back To Lay (B2L)
As I have a comprehensive ebook about this, I'll just summarise the key points here:
- Study Pace Ratings for all UK races (or others, Australian Racing is good for night owls!)
- Find runners with the highest ratings (like to run from the front)
- Back each one just before the race (only one per race)
- Trade out in play, either using a fixed 'profit target', a fixed 'percentage change in odds' target, or a fixed distance/time in the race (i.e. 20% or 20 seconds)
Lay To Back (L2B)
This in-play strategy is pretty much the exact opposite of B2L. Instead of trading front runners, this method looks to trade on 'Hold Up Horses' instead.
A lay to back trade is done by laying the horse before the off, as their odds are lower (being capable horses), and then backing once they have that preferred position. The point being:
A good horse with short pre-market odds, looks disappointing to the punters when it isn't involved in the exciting front end action, so the odds always climb, sometimes dramatically.
Disappointment means many who backed it before the race are now laying it, fearful of its seemingly 'poor performance'. This causes a market 'correction' (often over-reaction or 'over-correction'), as the horse was 'fancied' but looks 'weak' when it's not storming along at the front. Punters are always fixated on the action at the business-end of the race.
As a result, a very decent horse can see a big drift in odds out to prices that do not reflect its true ability. That's your ticket to profit. It's still a good horse remember, and you studied its form so you know it always runs from there and maybe often wins from there too!
* Stay tuned as I will soon be publishing an article explaining lay to back trading in detail.
- Find front runners just as you would for a B2L trade.
- Back the horse before the off
- Order a lay bet (trade closure) at half the odds you backed it at and tick to 'keep in play'.
- The lay order (bet) sits on the ladder waiting to be matched in-running.
- If the horse runs at the front long enough to cause its price to come down to your lay order, and you get it matched, that would be a successful 'Dob' trade. That horse would be said to have 'dobbed'.
- You double up if your horse 'dobs', you lose your back stake if it doesn't. Simples 🙂
I have always been quite hands-on with my trading. You can read that as 'control freak' if you like, it's probably accurate enough.
For this reason I have never been too interested in dobbing. I'd rather watch the race and run a back-to-lay trade on the same horse, so I can respond to events in play however I see fit at the time.
These 'shotgun strategies' are great for some people, especially those who still have a 9-5 job and can't sit and watch markets all day. (I loved them when I used them!) But once you're trading every day, I think you'll agree it's better to monitor every trade and manage it by hand.
But for some people (quite a few in fact), this actually presents problems of its own. Watching a live trade, especially during a fast-paced horse race, can run the risk of traders (beginners especially) being tempted to change their plan, break their own rules or exit targets, or make other costly mistakes.
Therefore I see this as a beginner-friendly way to try your hand at stats/form anlaysis for the B2L method. There are sites online which will tell you how many times any horse has 'dobbed' in its last 10 races, or last 25 races, etc. It's popular, effective and overall a pretty neat strategy really.
Obviously the key to success and profitability is your strike rate! If you can pick your trades well, it's a super simple and hassle-free way to dip your toe in the often over-complicated in-play racing markets.
Lay The Field
If you enjoy a close finish to a horse race, this one's for you, and prepare to enjoy it even more!
Sometimes called the 'lay all strategy', this method targets races where tight finishes are likely.
It rewards traders who study the courses carefully, not the horses. By that I mean the physical layout, particularly of the final phase of the course where the runners approach the finish. (Tip: Look for an incline to level up the runners just in time!)
To trade the lay all method you choose races at specific suitable courses and, depending on a few small but important criteria, you lay all runners in the race. You're laying the whole 'field', hence the name Lay The Field. (No you're not betting against the grass 😉 )
The point of the exercise is to find courses where close finishes are common, and horses often cross the finish line in a tight bunch or close toether, sometimes in a nice flat line if you're lucky!
If you have three (for instance) runners all crossing the line together, their odds will obviously all be very low, as punters are backing them right to the wire. But of course only one can win (99% of the time), and that's the beauty of the strategy.
The results depend on the odds you choose, and that's where it can be fun to test various prices. But generally-speaking, if you lay every runner at 2.0, you only lose if only one horse is matched (i.e. it wasn't a close finish at all).
If you get two runners matched (very common for two horses to trade down at 2.0 (evens) in running), you break even. As one of them won and one didn't, you pay out on one, and keep the stake on the other, ending up even.
If you match three or more, the profts begin. But that's at odds of 2.0. I recommend people experiment with 1.18, 1.4 and 1.7, all of which offer a profitable trade if you just get two horses matched. And it's not only at the finish where your bets can be taken.
Sometimes one or two can match before the race even starts! I've had lay the field trades where several were matched during the first 2/3 of the race, nowhere near the finish line, as different horses took up the running (took the lead).
Give it a try, it's extremely exciting, and nice to know exactly what your maximum worst case loss is beforehand, especially for novice racing traders. It's a truly beginner-friendly method.
In fact I think it's one of the best introductions to horse racing you'll find, here's why:
- There's practically zero chance of mistakes because the thinking (and ordering) is done before the off, maybe even before the jockeys mount their rides.
- There are no 'exits' to worry about, it's a 'fire and forget' strategy. Place your orders, come back later to see how it did, or watch the race and shout at the leader to slow up!
- This is the only racing trading strategy on earth where you do not need trading software. It's all done via the Betfair website in your browser.
I once taught a relative just the basics of this method as he fancied a 'dabble' on Betfair and wanted a "super simple strategy". After some very brief explanation, he went a bit silly and traded far too many races, ignoring many of the 'checks and balances' I advised.
That's not the way to do it, he was the opposite of 'selective'. But the strike rate was still pretty good considering the non-serious approach, and these were all run in one day:
I am fairly sure most people trying to learn racing trading are looking for something a bit more sophisticated and maybe more intuitive than this 'shotgun' type strategy.
But if this type of trading interests you then you might find my Laying The Field ebook useful. It explains this strategy in fine detail, including my 'tuned' criteria as well as a lot of course hints and suggestions.
Laying Horses In-Play
Despite sounding similar, this strategy couldn't be more different to the last one. It's extremely skill-based, and it is high-paced, with risks of mistakes if not extremely careful.
I do not claim to be an expert at it, but I am very keen to become one lately after watching a friend who's learning it. I love the potential I can see in it so far. I will explain it as best I can, and will update this article periodically as I learn more myself.
Laying horses in-running pretty much tells you all you need to know. You're looking for runners you can lay because you 'know' they are not going win.
Obviously that sounds tricky, and to some extent it is. But it's definitely a learnable skill, and if you're really interested you can speed up your learning considerably by watching as many races as you can (Tip: Including replays! 😉 )
The downside (to some anyway) is that you need to actually become an expert at something, you can't just follow some simple rules, tune your strike rate, and bank regular profits. This is far more involved than that, but the profits appear to be quite impressive.
By studying horses in-play, how they run, how they behave, how their jockeys behave, and by combining that knowledge with carefully chosen racecourses where this method is best employed, you can basically sit and watch the racing, and look out for certain signals. These signals are indications that a horse is 'flagging', tired in other words.
You may be thinking "anyone can do that?" and whilst that's true, most people can see the most obvious signals, very few can spot the earliest and most subtle ones.
Becoming highly-skilled at 'reading' both runners and riders is essential to success when laying horses in-running. If you can become better than most other people, you gain a distinct advantage or 'edge'.
I'll post more on this soon, so stay tuned. (Better still, Subscribe to get notified of new content.)
Common In Play Mistakes
As I've already mentioned, in-play markets are fraught with danger, especially for newcomers to such a fast-paced trading environment. Here are a few of the easiest ways to scupper your progress:
Loss of Self-Control
With that speed comes a risk of heightened emotions, sudden temptations, bouts of irrational fear or greed, and all without the necessary time to consider the situation calmly before walking into a big red blunder.
To work in these markets while a race is running, to do so safely at least, requires extreme mental discipline and will-power.
I have an article coming soon about this exact topic which will explore the causes of 'over-emotional trading', and suggest some techniques to cure it, along with some recommended books you can read which I found really useful myself, as I was never the calmest of traders. (I can hear my wife saying "No Sh** Sherlock"!)
That said, the calmer I became, the more profitable I became, so I know as well as anyone the very real monetary value of learning to trade calmly and in a controlled fashion at all times.
"With great power, comes great responsibility."
Software is a must for in play trading on Betfair. But its power must be respected because it can hurt you as much as it can help you.
I made no end of mistakes when I first started using trading software, so I know first hand how important it is to be competent with it. Don't do what I did, and think:
"It's fine, I know where to click, I don't need to read the manual. Besides, I'm busy trading!"
Learn how it works, then practice using it, then trade with it. In that order.
TL;DR: RTFM 🙂
Most traders do this at some point in their career. In fact I am pretty sure every single trader has done it at least a few times.
Cut your losses, run your profits.
As simple as that sounds, it's really all you need to know. The thing is, you actually have to do it too!
If a trade isn't going well, or if just one little niggle creeps into your mind about it, just get out. There is always another trade, probably just minutes away!
This is another one I have more experience with than I care to remember. It took me a while to learn, but I did eventually get it into my wooden nugget.
Successful trading is more about controlling losses, than finding profits.
Green is everywhere, it really is. It's just that it's easily cancelled out by red. If you can minimise the inevitable losses that come your way, you don't actually have to be that good at finding winning trades.
Not Taking Profits On Time
I have known so many people who struggled with this, and no, they weren't all just my own alternative personalities.
The underlying cause is actually one of the most famous trading psychology issues of all time: Greed.
If you set a profit target, especially with back to lay, stick to it.
Remember the 3 D's..
It can almost feel like someone just gave you the keys to a cash machine. Beware of that feeling! (Because it's usually swiftly followed by an ass-wuppin!)
Confidence is a key trait in successful traders. But a step too far in that direction and the markets somehow know you need taking down a peg or two (or ten), and they are only too happy to oblige.
Some of these in-running strategies are really good, they can feel very 'easy' at times, and they can rack up green figures on your ladders in seconds. So my advice is to take a minute to calm down, lower the old blood pressure and just 'decompress', after each and every trade.
Avoid skipping from one trade to the next without so much as sitting back in your chair. Put a barrier around each trade, focus, then relax, then focus again.
If you feel any sudden increase in emotion or excitement, try to stop as soon as you can and remind yourself what you're doing.
You're trading. It's a business, and it needs a business-head, not a 'hot-head'.
Enough said? Good!
I wish you every success, see you on the ladders!
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Easy To Trade In-Running?
Compared to some Betfair strategies, in-play racing trading could be considered pretty easy to learn. It did for me anyway. That's not to say it won't take a lot of effort and patience though.
What's The Most Profitable In-Play Horse Racing Strategy?
The most profitable strategy is probably trading front runners. As long as you're reasonably disciplined, back to lay trading is both quick to learn and usually very lucrative.
What's The Easiest In-Play Racing Trading Strategy?
Laying the field is generally considered the easiest in-play horse racing method. Partly because there's no exit strategy to worry about, and partly because you don't need trading software.