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Lay the Favourite Strategy in Horse Racing

You’ve probably heard the phrase laying horses in relation to racing before, but what is a lay bet? We will tell you all about what goes into a laying favourites system and how to spot when to do it.

Remember, a favourite is a horse with the shortest price in the betting on a race. You can back these market leaders with bookmakers if you fancy them to justify favouritism and win, but what about if you think the opposite and lay the favourite?

What Does Laying the Favourite Mean

BMB_ListEver wondered what lay means in horse racing? The answer is simple. The horse lay betting is for when you don’t fancy horses to win races. By placing such a wager, you are saying you feel it will lose.

In laying the favourite, you are taking it on, not with another horse specifically, but you just think something else in the race will win. A lay bet pays you if the horse finishes anywhere but first in the race. It is thus the complete opposite of backing a horse to win. You may have various reasons to feel that way about favourites.

When to Lay the Favourite Horse

BMB_Question MarkThere are certain situations where it is entirely sensible for you to start laying horses in races. What if the favourite failed to justify that place at the head of the betting last time out? Beaten favourites from their previous race have something to prove.

If the market sides with them again and below-par run can be forgiven, then consider laying the favourite. On the other hand, you can locate market movers in horse racing, where the odds do not match the starting price of the runners. Remember, the favourite is expected to win the race because they have the highest implied probability. However, it can be low-priced only because many people have already bet on it early. 

If a horse has no good or winning form at a particular racetrack, then that is another reason to lay the favourite. You need to know how a horse acts on the course in question before backing it. When all the evidence of past form says otherwise, use a lay betting strategy instead.

Those previous performances could also highlight that the favourite horse doesn’t get home over a certain distance. If they haven’t won on the trip, then lay betting systems could be well worth exploring.

How to Determine a Weak and False Favourite

BMB_Horse_HeadOne situation to keep in mind is when the favourite is weak in the outright winner market. That suggests that other bettors may be laying the favourite already, so it might be worth you doing the same. Not looking at what other players think is a very common horse betting mistake, especially because market weakness is easily identified as its price gets bigger. 

If there are joint-favourites for the event you’re betting on, then that strongly suggests nobody – traders or bettors – has a particularly strong view on the race. If nobody knows which horse is going to win, then there is potential money to be made, laying favourites to lose.

Studying the race terms and conditions is also an essential part of any laying horse strategy as you can identify when these don’t favour favourites. The market leader is false if burdened by extra weight via a penalty if an official rating from the handicapper suggests the horse doesn’t have the quality to concede that to its rivals.

Level of Opposition

BMB_Enhanced_OddsWhen any horse steps up in class or grade, they need to improve on their previous performances. A positive approach with younger horses is often taken by bettors when they do this, and you are gambling on potential rather than proven form.

What if racehorses aren’t ready just yet to go to that next level? Each and every equine athlete won’t fulfill their potential, so horse racing lay betting is an alternative avenue to go down if you feel trainers are asking too much too soon.

How Often Do Favourites Fail to Win

BMB_Power IconJust as statistics show us how often on average that favourites win races, that same data also reveals the other side of the coin. How often does the market leader lose? Over the last five years, favourites in UK horse races were beaten 68.31% of the time.

In other words, just over two-thirds of those horses at the head of the betting didn’t deliver and come first. For every three times, you are laying horses that are favourites; you should win on two of them. The tables below show this breaks down between handicaps and non-handicaps.

Lay the Favourite in Handicaps

BMB_Handicap_LineMarket leaders only win handicaps about a quarter of the time. To be specific, the win rate of a favourite in a handicap is 25.68%. That means it is particularly worth your while laying the favourite in this type of race.

Almost three out of every four lay bets should, on average, be a winner for you. That is a very high percentage. It would be much harder to achieve even a similar level of success through simply finding horses to back for a win.

Laying Favourites in Other Races

The table below shows how non-handicaps break down by race type. As we see, horse racing favourites only win these events about 40% of the time. That means more often than not; it is worth laying them to lose. You should be winning about six times in every ten you lay a favourite, according to historical data:

Race Type Runners Favourite Wins Favourite Strike Rate Losing Percentage
All-Weather Stakes 4,754 1,905 40.07% 59.93%
Flat Turf Stakes 9,531 3,626 38.04% 61.96%
Hurdles 6,652 2,764 41.55% 58.45%
National Hunt Flat 1,178 392 33.28% 66.72%
Steeplechases 3,574 3,574 41.91% 58.09%


There is slight variation when looking at the stats in more detail. National Hunt Flat races, for instance, see favourites lose two-thirds of the time. That means you should win two bets for every three times you lay the favourite.
All-Weather races and Flat Turf Stakes respectively sit either side of the rough 60-40 average for favourites in non-handicaps not winning the race.

You will do slightly better with horse racing lay betting on the turf than using the same strategy for races that take place on artificial surfaces. Events over jumps – hurdles and steeplechase – have less than a 60-40 split between market leaders losing and winning. These are the horse races that prove the most difficult to pick out when to lay the favourite, then.

Should I Lay Short Price Favourites

BMB_Number_OneWhatever type of horse racing you like to bet on, the data shows that it pays to lay the favourite. That is regardless of their price because the stats are based on averages. Some favourites are returned at smaller odds than others.

The question is, should you then always lay a short-price favourite? Statistically, the answer is yes. The alternative, backing a short-price favourite, requires you to stake more substantial sums of money for it to win and there may not be any betting value in you doing that.

How to Lay the Favourite

BMB_Number_TwoFixed odds sportsbooks are what you use when you want to back a horse to win a race. However, you cannot use these sites and particular services for laying horses. If you want to do that instead, then you need to use betting exchange sites. These operate differently, and there are different rules.

You aren’t gambling against a bookmaker on the exchanges but other bettors. All you need to do to lay the favourite is name your price and see if another bettor takes you up on the odds you offer. Betting exchanges may charge a small percentage of the bet as a commission (rates vary depending on the operator) for creating the environment in which it happens.

Is it Profitable Laying the Favourite?

BMB_Book SpyLay betting is a simple horse racing system that works, on average, about half the time, and it's statistically proven to turn a profit. The data shows that over the last five years, there is a better than 50-50 chance on all types of horse racing that laying the market leader will be a winning wager.

Laying in handicaps is the most likely to pay off if taking on the favourite. That should be a crucial part of any laying favourites system you use on the horses. The advantage over backing a horse to win is that lay bets payout if it doesn’t finish first, so you are not worried about its final position.

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