Lay betting on horses

Lay betting on horses is the strategy of using betting exchanges to bet against one or more horses winning a race. In practice what this means is taking over the role of a bookmaker for a specific race.

The betting exchange allows you to offer odds on that horse and gives other exchange users the opportunity to back the horse at those odds.

If the horse doesn’t win the race, you keep the backer’s stake. If it does win the race, you’re liable for a payout to the horse’s backer’s.

Lay betting on horses can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be.

Some punters will literally play the role of a bookie, laying every horse in a field and attempting to make a profit on the overall race no matter which horse wins. 

More commonly, punters will lay individual horses for the simple reason that there are always more losers than winners in any race. You therefore have a better chance of picking a horse that won’t win a race than one that will.

How to place a lay bet on a horse

Before you can place a lay bet on a horse you will first need to open an account at a betting exchange. The bigger the exchange the better, and Betfair is easily the most popular choice for lay betting.

Once you have signed up at an exchange you can navigate to a race that is of interest to you in the racing section of the exchange, then take the following steps:

  1. Choose which horse you want to bet against.
  2. The exchange will display three different prices for the horse – these are the three lowest prices being requested by punters wishing to back these horses in the exchange.
  3. If you are happy with the lay prices on offer you can select one of the prices. The maximum available stake that you can lay will be listed under each price. As long as you do not attempt to lay more than this amount, you can place your lay bet immediately by confirming your bet.
  4. If you are not happy with the prices on offer you can set your own price. Lowering the price will reduce your exposure if your lay bet loses. However, you will find fewer backers for lower odds and will need to wait for someone to accept your price.
  5. If you set your own price it will appear in the ‘back’ section of the betting slip, provided it is equal to, or higher than, one of the three highest ‘back’ prices being offer by punters. Note that your price will not appear on the exchange until it ranks as one of the three highest prices.
  6. If you set your own price your liability for the lay bet will be deducted from your account. You will need to wait for another punter on the exchange to accept your price. If they do, the bet will be automatically set up by the exchange. If nobody accepts your price, the amount you are liable for will be refunded to your account.

If you’ve never placed a lay bet before, your best option is to simply take one of the lay prices on offer rather than attempt to set your own odds.

From here on in it’s simple – wait for the result of your horse race. If your target horse loses, you will win the stake covered by your lay bet. If your target horse wins its race you will have to pay out the amount covered by your lay bet.


Lay betting example

You visit a betting exchange to bet on the Grand National.

You find your horse, Burrows Saint priced at 8.0, 8.1 and 8.2 in the lay betting market. You choose to lay the horse at 8.0.

You select the horse, which adds it to your betting strip at a price of 8.0. You then enter the stake you want to cover with your lay bet, for example £10.

The betting slip will then calculate your liability, which in this case would be £70. You can then place the bet, which will result in £70 being deducted from your betting account.

If your horse loses the race, your £70 will be refunded and you will also be paid out the £10 stake you covered with your lay bet.

If your horse wins the race, your £70 will be paid out to the exchange user/s who backed the horse at the price you offered.

Laying the favourite

Laying the favourite is the easiest and most popular way to place lay bets on horseracing.

The reasons for this are:

  1. There are very few races where the favourite wins the majority of the time. It is far more common for the favourite to be beaten in horse races.
  2. Favourites are typically under-priced, particularly in high profile races. This means the probability of the horse winning is lower than what is indicated by the odds.
  3. Whereas the low odds on favourites can offer minimal value on regular back bets, they are great for lay bets. That’s because your liability will be limited by these odds if they do win.

As a simple example, a horse is priced 2/1 to win the Epsom Derby. This price will be the result of a bandwagon effect where casual punters get behind the favourite, forcing bookies to reduce the price on the favourite to reduce their exposure, which in turn can make the favourite look like a better prospect than it is, driving the price down further. 

As a result of this process, the horse in question does not offer great value to backers. If you want to back it you won’t be able to place a profitable each-way bet, and will instead have to go all-or-nothing on a win bet. Even if it does win, the relatively small payout does not justify the risk of the horse being beaten in the race.

The exact opposite applies to the lay bettor. Because the horse is under-priced you can probably lay it at a price better than what fixed odds bookies are offering, but lower than its probability of winning the race. If the horse does win the race your liability will be minimal, because of the low odds the bet was placed at.

When to consider lay betting

It can be tempting to place lay bets on all horse races. Although laying horses should form part of any good horse racing betting strategy, it’s important to realize that some horse races offer better lay betting opportunities than others. Ideally, you need to look for any race with an outcome that’s difficult to predict but that’s also likely to produce a number of short odds favourites at the top of the betting markets.

The lower the odds on the race favourites, the smaller the liability generated by the lay bets. The more unpredictable the race is, the more likely the lay bets are to win. So a race that combines unpredictability with short odds on the favourites is the best proposition for lay betting.

Races to target for lay betting

Typically, races to target for lay betting include:


Hundreds of sprint races are run around the world every year. Often described as ‘cavalry charges’ due to their fast and chaotic nature, these races are among the most difficult to call. Despite the fact that they are unpredictable, sprints routinely produce short-odds favourites who rarely go on to win. Look out for sprints featuring large fields because these are even more unpredictable.


Dozens of handicap races covering various racing formats are run every day. The use of weights in these races is meant to level the field, yet this doesn’t stop punters backing a handful of horses to low odds. Favourites are generally unlikely to triumph in handicaps, although punters need to be aware of the fact that even favourites may be priced at high odds and result in significant liability on lay bets.

Juvenile races

:Flat races for juveniles (2-year-olds) are amongst the most unpredictable in racing. As horses prepare for their 3-year-old seasons they are subject to major fluctuations in form and temperament. It is therefore the norm for these races to produce upset winners, and punters can usually benefit from low odds on these horses in the lay betting markets.

Early-season races for 3-year-olds

:The start of the flat racing season is a time of uncertainty for punters. Horses are emerging from their winter break and are subject to significant fluctuations in from as they begin their 3-year-old seasons. Also, bookmakers and punters only have 2-year-old form to work with when setting prices. Upsets are therefore the norm in races like the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas.

Novices’ races

National hunt races for novices’ are amongst the toughest to call as punters have little in terms of form record to work with. Antepost markets therefore tend to be highly speculative, and rarely predict the finishing order in a race with any accuracy.

International thoroughbred races

Some of the world’s most prestigious international flat races routinely produce upset winners. With entries to these races traveling from all over the world and racing against each other for the first time there are countless factors that can upset the formbook. Races like the Melbourne Cup, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Hong Kong Cup and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe present very speculative betting markets.

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