Laying The Field: A Simple Betfair Racing Trading Strategy
The Laying The Field or “Lay All” method is one of the easiest horse racing trading strategies to learn for beginners.
It was one which I remember filling me with excitement when I first learned about it and started trading with it many years ago.
It's a very old method, which often puts people off but it shouldn't. If any sports trading method has stood the test of time, it's
probably definitely a gooden.
So it's definitely one which shouldn't be overlooked, especially if you're just getting into Betfair trading and looking for a simple strategy to start cutting your teeth on, not to mention to start making small but consistent profits with.
The 'Lay All' method seeks to profit from horse races where there’s a close finish.
To make profits you only need 2 or 3 horses to be involved at the finish line, but the more runners involved the better.
This is because, as horses get closer and closer to the finish, their prices drop dramatically, often to rock bottom. They all have a real chance of winning and the race market is about to close.
With such low prices, you can lay for extremely small risk, yet with potential for decent wins. On top of that, the more lay orders you get matched, the more you'll win.
Sometimes a race can have 3, 4 or even more contenders diving across the line. These are the favourite races for any Lay The Field trader. For a look at what these sorts of races look like, check out the video below. I only wish I had been laying all runners in that race!
Can you imagine how much money people were backing in that race with so many horses all an inch or two away from winning?!
More to the point, can you imagine how low the prices were on those horses?! Making a lay bet on any of them being very inexpensive in terms of risk.
Whilst there was probably a whole list of horses priced extremely low, only number 9 ‘Grassy’ was the declared winner. Meaning all other matched lay orders would have been winning trades and would have added green to your Betfair balance.
Why Laying Beats Backing
As you may already know, on Betfair or any sports betting exchange, you can back a horse, and you can lay a horse. If laying is a new concept to you, I have an article explaining Lay betting in detail.
Imagine you're in a bookmaker during the race shown above, and six gamblers are arguing over which horse won.
1 of them did, 5 didn’t.
Now imagine you were the bookie behind the desk who owned the place! One winner, 5 losers. For each loser you (as the bookie) are a winner. So you are looking at five of those people thanking them for handing you their hard-earned money, and only one of them cost you anything. Not bad huh?
Combining the laying-ability of a betting exchange and the Laying The Field method, you can assume the role of the bookie in that scenario.
Of course races like that one are rare, but regular profits can be made by carefully selecting races and laying all runners in them, in the hope of a profitable close finish.
This method has a lot of similarities to the laying the draw method for football, the main one being that the method is fairly well-known, but not that well-executed by many traders, hence the reason you will hear people saying “I tried that, it didn’t work”.
I have lost count of how many methods I have heard people saying “doesn’t work” only to find they do work just fine, for some people. The difference is not the method but the person behind the wheel, the discipline, the trade selection criteria, the timing of the entry, the emotional control and so on.
As with laying the draw, I have my own way of laying the field, an approach I tried and tested to find regular profits with a method some struggle with (due to lack of effort and discipline usually). More on that later, let's cover the basics of the strategy first.
How The ‘Lay The Field’ Strategy Works
Obviously if you back a horse you need it to win. But if you lay a horse, you need any other runner to win, and yours to come second or worse.
I have dabbled with laying runners close to the finish purely on my reading of the horses and jockeys involved, and whilst you can do ok (or even quite well) with this approach, it’s more profitable to lay all runners (laying the entire ‘field’) in races you carefully select beforehand, races where you expect close finishes to take place.
There are more than a few variations on this racing strategy but the simplest is to do your research the day before, shortlist some races, place the orders to lay all runners at a certain price, and then wait and see how you did at the end of the trading day.
You can then adjust your odds and selection criteria over time to ‘hone’ your results for increased profitability.
There are two extremely critical points to understand, in order to make your lay the field trading profitable. These are the choice of odds you order your lay bets at, and the exact races you employ this method on.
Odds and Win/Loss Ratio
Profitability is heavily dependant on the prices/odds you choose for your lay bets. Some people lay at high odds, perhaps up around 3 to 4. I don’t like that idea personally, but 'each to his own'.
I prefer odds no higher than 2.5, experimenting right down to 1.2, and sometimes even 1.05. It all depends on your preferred results profile. Do you want fewer but bigger wins, or more frequent wins, but for smaller green sums?
Let’s look at a couple of examples to show why your choice of odds is so critical, and how the odds can be varied to find your most profitable approach to the strategy.
Example at odds of 2.0 (or ‘Evens’)
If you understand how lay betting works, you'll know that your winnings is just the backer's stake on his losing back bet. Remember, you're playing the role of the bookie here.
If you back a horse for £10 at odds of 2.0, you risk losing £10, or winning £10, hence 'evens'.
"Wait a minute, I'd get £20 back on that bet wouldn't I?"
Yes, you would. But your winnings are only £10. Winning back bets get the stake returned, and that's the other tenner you'd receive from the bookie.
If your winnings were £10, then that's what a losing lay bet pays out, also known as the risk or 'liability'.
If someone backs £10 at 2.0, and you lay £10 at 2.0, you will either keep the backer's stake if the horse does not win, or pay the backer his winnings if it does, and that's £10 in this case.
So the liability on a £10 lay bet @ 2.0 is £10.
However a £10 lay bet on any price higher than 2.0 is £10 mulitplied by the odds. Hence why I am more hesitant at laying prices above 2.0. That's not to say I never do it, I certainly do, but I feel safer at 2.0 or below because the liability is never more than the sum I laid.
A £10 lay bet at 5 has a liability of £10 x 5 = £50, a £10 lay @ 100 risks you, yes, a grand!
When it comes to laying the field then, let's imagine you ordered lay bets on 2 horses for £10 each at odds of 2.0 on both, and let's say both lay orders get matched.
This means that the winning horse costs you £10 (the backer's stake), but the other one didn't win so your lay bet won you £10 (the other backer's stake). You won a tenner, and lost a tenner. That's a break even, and that's a common starting point for beginner traders just due to its simplicity of mental calculations.
If you trade only using odds of 2.0, you know that if you only get one horse matched, you lose a tenner. If you get two matched, you break even. If you get three or more matched, you're into profit. And you can probably already see why the other vital component is choosing the right races and tracks, where close finishes are likely, as a race that has a clear winner (only one matched) will be a losing trade.
The only time two horses would come below 2.0 in price, is when they are quite close near the end, although they wouldn't need to be too close at that price, only when you get down to much lower prices (1.4 for example) would you need the horses to be close right up towards the finish line.
Example at odds of 1.4
Let's take the same scenario, but this time the odds you're using are 1.4.
When you lay £10 at 1.4, you stand to win the same backer's stake of £10, but you only stand to lose £4 (stake multiplied by odds). So at this lower price, a clear winner of a horse (a.k.a. - a losing trade) will only lose you £4, instead of £10 if using odds of 2.0.
Here's a major difference though, you only need to match two horses to be in profit on your lay bets. If, as above, two horses finish quite close together (a length in it maybe) but you chose 1.4 instead of 2.0, you'd now pay out £4 on the horse that won, but win £10 on the horse that didn't win.
So with two runners matched, you're £6 in profit. If a third got matched, you can add another tenner to that, and so on.
A losing trade costs £4, a winning one wins either:
- £6 for two matched
- £16 for three matched
- £26 for four matched
Hopefully you can see why I favour lower prices, but I have had good success at higher prices like 1.75 and 1.85 too. It comes down to how many horses you think will match, and that comes with practice and learning which courses suit best for this type of trading.
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How to Find Trades
Usually this is done the day before, but it can be done in the morning of the day in question or any time before the race.
I used to enjoy doing it the evening before as it was quite easy work, ideal for evening time, and my orders would all be entered so if I woke up and had to rush off out, I knew my lay the field trades for that day were already in place.
The job of shortlisting begins by looking at the Betfair racing coupon and discounting any races where the odds suggest a very clear leader is likely. For example if you had 7 runners all priced above 3.0 and a favourite priced at odds on. It isn't essential to exclude these races, but for beginners it's a wise move just to reduce the chance of a race being a foregone conclusion and one running off into the distance, or planning a fast late run to go clear ahead before the line, as many superior runners do.
You can also filter out any races with less than three runners, unless all three are priced competitively. If two are competitive and the third has odds of 40+, you're likely to see a two horse finish at best, so it doesn't hurt to remove that. Again that depends on the odds though, as if you're using 1.4 as suggested above, you could still net a winner with just two matched near the finish.
By far the most important task, the one which really makes this a profitable strategy (or not), is to choose races at courses where tight finishes are likely.
How do you know what these are? Well, my Lay The Field ebook details my exact approach to this, including how to analyse the tracks and giving my preferred ones. But without that, you can still work it out for yourself.
You need to study the course layouts, looking for any reason why the field will likely bunch up towards the finish.
Think 'uphill gradient', think 'jump near finish', think 'past results', think 'ground/going' and 'weather', anything that slows the faster horses down.
If you do some clever searching online, you can find maps which show gradients, and stats and form sites showing results of past races.
Practice and experience helps in fine-tuning your results and therefore your profits.
Execution Of Trades
Compared to most types of sports trades, the execution of LTF trades is remarkably easy.
You simply place all your orders well before the first race of the day, ordering your lay bets so that only if and when a runner comes down to your chosen price, your order will get matched.
Remember these are orders, they only become bets once they 'match'. In other words once a backer chooses to back at that price, hoovering up your order. So if 2 or 3 runners come down to that price during the race, you'll have 2 or 3 matched, and you're facing a winning trade.
Also remember that it doesn't necessarily all happen at the finish. I have had many trades where some orders were matched well before then, sometimes mid-race, sometimes even before the start, in the case of one of them being a strong odds-on favourite beforehand.
That's about all there is to 'execution', as once your orders and placed and you've ticked to 'keep bet' in play (so orders are not cancelled at the off), they are sat in the exchange just waiting for a backer.
After that, it's just a case of looking at the results, or your P&L screen for the day, to see how your trades went. That might be in the evening, with a nice glass of something cold, and leaving you an hour or so to research the next day's racing card and place some more!
P.S. Don't forget, I speak from experience when I say that you can get horses matched before a jockey falls off or the horse hits a fence hard and drops to the back of the field, often at the very last fence!
I don't like to celebrate a calamity for a jockey or a horse, but they do happen in racing, and if I can benefit with some green from it when it does, who am I to complain?
(You could always give your winnings to a horse charity. Yeah, I'm sure you will! 😉 )
Choosing your stakes is very much a personal decision for you to make.
All I'd say is what I always say, regardless of the sport or trading method, learn on minimum stakes!
Why on earth would you risk more than you have to, until you know you're trading well and consistently profitable? Sounds so obvious and logical doesn't it? Then why do so many people ignore me?! Of course I do know the answer.... Greed.
Greed kills traders faster than anything else in trading. That was not only true for myself, it has consistently proved true for many of my readers over the years.
I know I know! You "don't have time to mess around", and you "need to make your time at the computer pay"...
I've heard them all. I've got a wardrobe full of T Shirts too, as I'm sure I invented half of those phrases myself!
Bitter experience has taught me that all those sayings are just your naughty side trying to push you to take more risk. The logic suggests so, as there's zero logic in staking any more than necessary until you know you're picking good trades and winning frequently enough.
Only then should you risk a penny more than you have to, and only then can you feel confident that you are now going to actually increase your profits when you increase stakes, rather than your losses!
You can practice this method with just £2 stakes. So I guess for a beginner, the only stake you should be using is £2 per order. If you use more than that before you've honed your approach to laying the field and proved you know what you're doing, you're a mug.
No, don't pretend to be offended! I was a mug too, probably a bigger one than you, and for quite a long time too! But having seen the error of my ways, and the frustration at realising how much faster I could have become a full-time trader if I hadn't, I feel obliged to give it to you straight, sorry!
My Lay The Field Method
Some people think you can just apply the LTF method to every race. In fact many of the people I've heard claiming this strategy 'doesn't work', were actually doing that.
Obviously that’s never going to work, not consistently anyway. Although at some courses, it can work in some seasons.
Most semi-serious traders pick a few races based on one or two simple ‘filters’, then fire in their bets and check back later. Sometimes they do well, sometimes they don’t. But how hard were they trying? So how much profit did they really deserve? This method can provide good results, but only if you put in some work at achieving those results, mainly in your course selection criteria.
My approach to laying the field is very much my own. I have a few tweaks which makes it quite different to the bog-standard approach.
I also have some tweaks for those with software or those who want to try expanding into software at a later date.
This can offer more opportunities, a way to avoid losses (improving strike rate) and generally allows you to grow your experience faster and expand into other horse racing methods such as trading horses pre-race, or trading 'in-running'.
But don’t get me wrong, sports trading software is not necessary at all, it’s just another option some people may want to explore.
Above all my method takes into account as many factors as possible affecting your strike rate which gives you the means to fine tune and hone your edge until you are happy and successful with it.
There is almost no limit to the number of ways you can play with your criteria and filters, as well as various different ways of actually trading your selections. These are all explained thoroughly in my Lay The Field course.
Pros & Cons
There are various reasons why this method suits both beginners and more advanced traders, and various reasons why it may not suit you. Here's a summary of the main positive and negative aspects of this trading strategy, so you can see if it's for you.
- Simplicity - Extremely easy, both to learn and to execute.
- Minimal time needed - You can do this in just an hour or two a day.
- Timetable - As you can place orders in the evening, it fits well around a day-job, hence why it's popular with new traders.
- No software needed - Most trading really does need software to do properly these days. This method genuinely needs nothing more than a web browser.
- Limited profits - whilst this shouldn't put anyone off, as profit is profit (especially for beginners), most people don't earn as much with it as they do with more complex types of trading. But then those methods often need many months of training/practice before becoming profitabe at all.
- Limited 'trading' experience - Whilst this method does get you trading the markets, you don't learn much about the market dynamics because you're not immersed in the fast-paced live markets, since orders are placed beforehand and results checked later. But that's only a negative if you're not a beginner.
- Photo finish - There is a risk, almost just a theoretical one due to how rare it is, that two horses can both win a race in a 'dead heat'. In such a case two lay bets could 'lose'
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Is Laying The Field Profitable?
Yes, laying the field can certainly be profitable. Those who struggle are often not fine-tuning their trades to improve their strike rate with intelligent research of racecourses and runners.
What Does It Mean To Bet The Field?
Betting the field, whether backing or laying, just means to place bets (or orders) on all participants in the event, in this case horses in a race.
Is It Easy To Lay The Field?
It's extremely easy to lay the field in horse racing. Doing it for consistently profitable results is not quite so easy, but certainly easy enough to achieve for someone serious about finding profits.
How Do You Lay A Horse?
Laying is the opposite of a back bet. To Lay a horse means to bet that it will not win the race. A lay bet wins if the horse fails to win the race, earning you the stake you entered.
What Are The Best Races To Lay The Field?
The best races for laying all runners are those where a close finish is likely. This could be due to terrain, gradient, weather, or the running style of the race horses involved.