I am sure we all go shopping and we rarely get to the checkout without first knowing what the price is, whether it's a pint of milk or a wide screen TV. If you bet at Starting Price (SP) then you are doing just that. You are asking someone to just let you have whatever they think, no matter how much of a rip-off that may be.
The SP was once the way that the majority of bets were settled. However, over the past few decades, the off-course betting industry has seen some pretty significant changes. I am old enough to remember betting tax of 10% which was reduced and subsequently abolished. Other major changes include the Internet and online betting, spread betting and of course the biggest single change - The Betting Exchange. Betfair has had a massive impact in all kinds of ways and will continue to do so. Most of the changes have benefited the punter in his quest for success and it has never been easier to make a profit from betting on horses; but there are still pitfalls that need to be avoided.
The biggest enemy to making a go of things is to bet at SP. I NEVER bet at SP anymore. If for some strange reason I have no other option, I will leave the bet rather than accept the modern SP. As a professional gambler, I am telling you that to make a living at SP is South West of impossible.
Why the big downer on SP betting? Well, 5 reasons immediately come to mind.
The SP return has always served to keep high street bookies in cigars and that is not destined to change. The prices are such that the man in the street has not a hope of making a long-term profit unless he is extremely good at selecting his bets. Even supposing he is, were he to embrace the other options open to him then he would make a much greater profit.
In the past, the opening show on-course was often the first time that prices were available. This meant that the on-course bookie was suitably nervous and so opened his book cautiously and moved the prices out gradually. It would have been very rare for the SP % not to have been lower than the opening show %. Modern day, this is not the case. Early prices are available on every race by breakfast time and even earlier on Betfair. This means that when the on-course bookie has a lot of information on which horses are fancied, how the market has developed before he opens his book. It is therefore reasonable to expect that there will be little overall difference in the opening show book % and the SP %, regardless of the individual fluctuations. What happens in MOST races these days, is that the SP % is higher than the opening show %. Often 4 or 5 horses are shortened whilst 1 or maybe 2 drift. There is no plausible excuse for this and the SP must be avoided. I will provide some sample data on this at a later date but if you watch the market from the opening show to the SP on a few races, you will soon see what an absolute travesty the SP is. The way the SP's are reported has changed a number of times over the years. A few years ago, a new way of reporting SP's was introduced that returned much fairer SP's for the punter. Predictably, the off-course bookies were unhappy and convinced the powers that be to alter the way SP's were returned to ensure that they made a much bigger margin. Big Mac highlighted this with his usual vigor but the 'unjust and unfair' system is still being used today.
Bookmakers can manipulate the SP quite easily at the smaller tracks where the on-course market is not overly strong. We are back to the 'I give you my money - you just decide how much to give me back if I win' situation!
As I touched on earlier - even if you can make a profit at SP - this profit would be very much greater if you had shopped around and taken a better price.
So, what can we do?
At the very least, ask your bookmaker for 'Opening Show'. This alone will guarantee a bigger return long term in the current climate.
Open an account with Betfair. This will mean that you can take Betfair SP, a new innovation that means that the book % will be on average 105% including commission charges and you can hopefully beat even this by taking a price pre-race. Betfair is an immensely powerful product but to the newcomer it can be a little daunting. The author is a Betfair Accredited Trainer and is therefore qualified and authorized to train individuals or groups on all aspects of Betfair. Email for details on this.
Add www.oddschecker.com to your favorites. This website is free and not only does it show current prices from a whole host of bookmakers, it also provides easy to understand visual information on the market movements of each horse. Open as many accounts as you can. This will pay you back in the long run when you can take the best odds, whichever bookmakers is offering them. There is often a bonus for new accounts opened through our site so if you wish to open an account, then check out the pro-tips or authors website and click on the link to ensure you get any offers that are available.
Learn to assess when a horse's price is going to drift, and when to take the price immediately. This is an acquired skill and of course it is impossible to ensure you always get the best price available, but reading the market will give you a significant advantage. Betfair is a huge help in this area with graphs showing price movements and trading volumes etc. There are also further third party software packages that will effectively bet for you, that however is for another day.
Just a couple of final thoughts - The bigger the field, the bigger the gulf in value between the industry SP and the Betfair SP. Similarly, the bigger the price, then on average the bigger the difference. 33/1 shots quite regularly are available at prices in excess of 100/1 on Betfair!
About the Author: Billy Blakeman is a Professional investor in horse racing. His expertise and application of detailed analysis combined with his vast knowledge and experience ensures he makes a full time living from horse racing. For more details Billy's services can be found at www.web.protipmembers.com