Best Beginner In-Play Horse Racing Strategy 

 August 7, 2023

By  Philip Borrowman

In this post, I aim to share with you a straightforward in-play horse racing strategy, which you can leverage to secure quick and effortless profits when trading on Betfair. I have called it the “Bad Start Comeback” strategy.

This is beginner friendly and easy to understand + I have created an in-depth example of this strategy.

Like any strategy, this requires patience, effective bankroll management, and a comprehensive understanding of the market.

However, I'll provide you with the framework of the strategy, leaving you to develop it further.

Important: this strategy is very similar to the popular “Back To Lay” strategy, but it has a subtle difference.

So, without further ado, let's dive in.

What Does “in-play” Mean?

"In-play", in the context of horse racing, would involve placing bets after the race has begun and before it has ended. This is also called "trading horses in running".

These bets involve rapidly changing odds as the conditions of the race change - for example, a horse pulling ahead or falling behind. This form of betting is popular as it allows bettors to make decisions based on how the event is progressing in real time, rather than solely on pre-race statistics or predictions.

The biggest benefit: the odds change so fast you can dip in and out of the market quickly and make huge profits in seconds.

Outline Of The “Bad Start Comeback” Strategy

Allow me to present a straightforward outline of this strategy, then I will delve into each step for a thorough understanding of the parameters.

The Entry Point:

Place your bet on the favourite after the race starts if the favourite horse has an unfavourable start, such as reacting slowly to the gate opening or the horse finding itself stuck at the back of the pack. You'll notice that within the initial 10 seconds, or the first 2 minutes, the odds often double or even triple due to these in-play developments.

The Exit Point:

The exit point comes a bit later when the favourite horse starts to perform better. After all, it's the favourite for a reason and should still be in the running to win despite a poor start. Your exit point is anywhere from 5 to 30 ticks below the price at which you placed your bet.

The exact point is your call, but it's beneficial to exit as soon as possible before the horses reach the final few furlongs. At this stage, the odds and the horses' positioning are unpredictable.

Important: You need to exit out of this trade before the final turn to the home straight, ideally sooner than that. Even if it means taking a small loss.

The Purpose of the Strategy:

In essence, you enter the market when the favourite horse has a less-than-perfect start and then secure a profit when the horse recovers and returns to being a strong contender to win the race.

Which Favourites Do You Back?

To make this strategy effective, you should back favourites that are clear favourites. Therefore, I would only back those with a starting price of less than 3.00. This ensures that you're backing a strong horse with a good chance of performing well. Also, pay close attention to the jockey and the race conditions.

This allows you to understand the jockey's intended strategy because occasionally, they prefer to run at the back of the pack where the horse may feel most comfortable, in which case the odds may not increase that much,

Which Race Types Suit This in-Play Strategy?

The most suitable races for this strategy are those over one mile. Any shorter, and the strategy tends not to work, as you don't have sufficient time to react and the odds fluctuate too quickly.

For any races over two miles, it can sometimes be more effective to wait a little longer before placing your initial bet, given that the odds tend to move at a slower pace.

I would also advise against any maiden races or race types where the horses lack a proven track record. This is due to the fact that their race form is unverified so a favourite horse may not run well.

What Are The Bankroll Risks?

The risks are fairly straightforward. When you place back bets on the favourite in-play, if the horse underperforms and runs poorly, you stand to lose your entire stake. This underscores the importance of meticulous risk management. Ideally, you should only be staking about 1% of your entire bankroll on a single bet.

Other Race Conditions & Risks To Consider

Horse racing presents a plethora of conditions to consider, which, as a bettor, you can capitalise on.

Rain: If it's pouring down, the horses won't run as per their norm, due to the soggy ground, leading to suboptimal performance from the jockey and the horse.

Hot weather: Similarly, very hot conditions can have either a negative or a positive impact on the horses and the overall race conditions.

How to Take Advantage of Race Conditions:

It's crucial to pay close attention to the commentators and any observations made during the parade, as these could offer useful insights into how the weather and the race track conditions might affect the horse's performance.

The more you implement this strategy, the more you will gain personal experience, and start recognising horse names and their running patterns.

You could also begin re-watching previous races to evaluate horses and understand how they perform in any given condition. They may like to run at the back of the pack until the very last minute which would make them perfect for this strategy.

An In-Depth Example Of "Bad Start Comeback" In-Play Strategy

Let's walk through a real-world scenario using the "Bad Start Comeback" strategy, based on a £1000 bankroll. For the purpose of this example, we'll create a fictional race at Newmarket, with our favourite being the horse "Storm Chaser", starting with odds at 2.50.

simple in play horse racing strategy

The Entry Point:

The race begins, and unfortunately for Storm Chaser, it stumbles out of the gates, falling to the back of the pack. Within the first minute, the market reacts to this, and the odds on Storm Chaser rise rapidly, reaching 5.00.

Observing this development, you decide to place your bet, as this fits the criteria of the strategy perfectly. Following the bankroll risk advice, you stake 1% of your £1000 bankroll, which is £10, on Storm Chaser at odds of 5.00.

The Exit Point:

Despite the poor start, Storm Chaser begins to make a comeback. Its strong form starts to shine through, and it gradually works its way back up through the field. As this happens, its odds start to drop. When the odds reach 3.00, you decide it's time to make your exit, laying Storm Chaser for a stake that guarantees you an equal profit no matter what the outcome of the race.

What Happened In This Trade:

In this situation, you made a profit by exploiting the temporary increase in odds that occurred due to Storm Chaser's poor start. You trusted that Storm Chaser, being a favourite, had a strong chance of recovery.

Your prediction proved correct, and you made a profit when the odds fell again as Storm Chaser improved its position.

It's important to note that this strategy relies heavily on your ability to read the race in real time and make quick decisions.

The goal is to take advantage of temporary shifts in the market, and these shifts can happen very quickly.

Why Did We Back This Favourite?

In this scenario, Storm Chaser had a starting price of less than 3.00, making it a clear favourite. This was in line with the strategy guidelines. You had also done your homework on the jockey and the race conditions, which gave you the confidence to back Storm Chaser despite its poor start.

Why Did We Pick This Race Type?

The race at Newmarket was over one mile. This gave you enough time to see Storm Chaser's poor start, wait for the odds to rise, place your bet, then watch as Storm Chaser started to recover and the odds began to fall again.

What Were The Bankroll Risks?

You risked £10, which was 1% of your £1000 bankroll. If Storm Chaser had continued to perform poorly, you would have lost your entire stake.

However, you stuck to the advised stake size and therefore limited your potential loss. In the end, your careful bankroll management, combined with your ability to read the race and the market, resulted in a successful implementation of the "Bad Start Comeback" strategy.

This is just one example, and as with all betting strategies, it's important to remember that there are no guarantees. Every race is different, and this strategy, like all betting strategies, involves risk. However, with careful management and good decision making, the "Bad Start Comeback" strategy can be a profitable way to bet on horse racing in-play.

Summary Of This In-Play Strategy:

The "Bad Start Comeback" strategy is an excellent entry point for beginner traders for a number of reasons:

Simple Understanding: This strategy is based on a straightforward concept: the favourite horse has a bad start, its odds rise, you place your bet, then if the horse recovers, the odds fall, and you secure a profit. The simplicity of this process makes it easier for beginners to grasp and apply.

Limited Variables: The strategy mainly revolves around monitoring a single horse - the favourite. This removes the complexity of having to analyse the entire field, which can be overwhelming for beginners.

Risk Management: The strategy advocates for a strict risk management protocol, suggesting that only 1% of the total bankroll should be staked on a single bet. This approach ensures that losses are kept to a minimum, which is particularly beneficial for beginners who are still learning the ropes.

Learning Opportunity: Implementing this strategy helps beginners to familiarise themselves with the mechanics of in-play betting, how odds fluctuate during a race, and how different factors can impact a horse's performance. It's a practical, hands-on way to learn about horse racing and betting.

Low Starting Price (SP) Requirement: The strategy only involves betting on clear favourites with a starting price of less than 3.00. These horses are typically strong performers and have a higher likelihood of recovering from a poor start. It's less risky than betting on horses with higher odds, making it a safer option for beginners.

Remember, while this strategy can be a great starting point, no strategy guarantees a profit.

Always practice responsible betting and never risk more money than you can afford to lose. As you gain experience, you might begin to tailor this strategy to your personal betting style or explore other strategies.

Other In-Play (in running) Strategies To Consider

Here are two additional in-play strategies you might find intriguing. Please note that this is a succinct introduction to each, with comprehensive guides in the form of blog posts and videos to follow. For the moment, however, a brief overview should suffice.

Back-to-Lay Betting: 

This is a popular strategy where you place a back bet on a horse before the race starts, and then place a lay bet on the same horse during the race. The goal is to take advantage of the fluctuating odds in the live betting markets. For instance, you may notice that a certain horse tends to start races well and often leads in the early stages.

In this case, you could back the horse before the race at high odds. Once the race starts and the horse jumps out to a lead, its odds to win will likely decrease, at which point you can place a lay bet.

You're not betting on the horse to win; you're betting on the horse to lower its odds. If you choose the right moment to place your lay bet, you can lock in a profit regardless of the race's outcome.

For example, let's say you back a horse at odds of 10.0 for £10 before the race. The horse starts well and leads the race, and its odds drop to 6.0. You then lay the same horse at 6.0 for £16.67.

This means that if the horse goes on to win, you'll make a £10 profit from your back bet and a £10 loss from your lay bet, breaking even. If any other horse wins, you'll lose your £10 back bet, but make £16.67 from your lay bet, resulting in a £6.67 profit.

Lay the Field: 

In this strategy, you lay all horses in the same race with the expectation that at least two of them will trade at short odds at some point during the race.

Essentially, you're betting on the volatility of the in-play market. You set a price at which you want to lay (say, at odds of 2.0), and then lay several horses at that price. The hope is that two or more of those horses will hit that price during the race.

For instance, you might choose to lay five horses at odds of 2.0 for £10 each. If only one of the horses reaches these odds, you will lose £10 (as you're laying the bet, you're on the hook for the potential winnings).

But if two or more horses hit these odds during the race, you'll make a profit. If two horses hit the odds, you'll win £10, as you'll win £10 from each lay bet but lose £10 on one of the bets when the horse wins. If three or more horses hit the odds, your profit increases accordingly.

Remember, the more horses that trade at your chosen price, the bigger the profit.

To learn to trade on Betfair as a full time trader, why not check out guide on how to become a full time sports trader.

Philip Borrowman


I am a full-time marketer and part-time Betfair trader. I have over 10 years of experience in the pre-race and in-play horse trading markets and spend my days writing guides, tips and tricks to help beginner Betfair traders find their way to a profitable second income. Read my story of trading on Betfair.

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