The public opinion, both professional and recreational, drives betting market movements for horse racing — and all other sports for that matter.
This public opinion is most accurately formed on the betting exchanges (e.g. betfair), where for every outcome in a sporting event there are optimistic Backers and pessimistic Layers. As we get closer to the start of the event (e.g. the race), the public opinion reaches a consensus. At this point the odds are at their most accurate and the phenomenon referred to as the “Wisdom of Crowds” has played it’s part.
In this article I explore the factors that may consciously or unconsciously form the public opinion in the lead up to a horse race.
Statistics & Form
Many bettors are heavily influenced by facts surrounding an upcoming horse race. Some influential items of data are:
- Horse-specific: How the age, sex, fitness, and weight-over-distance ability compares with the other horses
- Form: For example, the Jockey/Trainer strike rates
- Race type: How horses are likely to perform on a specific race type based on their track record
- Weather conditions: How the horses typically perform under the current weather conditions.
Bettors often consider such factors, and deliberately or subconsciously assigns a level of importance (“a weighting”) that this has on their betting choices. Unless, of course, selections are being made completely at random!
Many bettors consider weather conditions to be most influential and relevant to horse racing. So some try to base their selection(s) heavily around horses that relish a wet, muddy track and those that despise it. The same logic applies for a dry, stiff track.
Using past data to make selections can be as basic as circling horses from the Racing Post, to analysing thousands data items in Excel. And then there’s even more complex data mining techniques, too.
To fully analyse your sports bets to identify trends and measure performance I highly recommend Betting.com’s Portfolio Tracker.
Odds are moved by factors influencing large groups of people:
- Commentators: The opinion of a racing expert may affect the volume of money placed on a horse. Especially around the time the opinion was broadcast.
- Tipsters: Professional horse racing tipsters operate with a large audience and reach out via email, phone or social media. Hundreds or thousands of people may place bets after receiving a tip, typically within a short timeframe, causing market movements to occur.
- Insider knowledge: A taboo topic in Horse Racing. But it’s undeniably responsible in initiating many large market movements. Big money stakes backing horses at odds well above the fair value helps bring the market closer to accuracy. Following the large stakes, the odds begin to reflect a more accurate probability of the horse winning the race.
We generally associate market movements with activity on the betting exchange. But for many punters the exchange odds may as well not exist; because Bookmakers are their go-to option.
Bookmaker odds provide a rough approximation of the chance each horse has in an upcoming race. It gives the public a basis to build their opinions around. However, these odds constantly change on the lead up to a race because of:
- Price inaccuracies. Bookmakers adjust their odds if they long longer accurately reflect the real-life chance of an outcome occurring. So there are ample opportunities for bettors to pick off value odds in the hours leading up to the race — before the odds form with greater precision.
- Risk reduction. Bookmakers hedge their risk by reducing popular pre-race prices, and boosting less-popular ones. Consequently, this reshapes the opinions held by a large section of bettors.
In addition to shaping public opinion with their odds, some Bookmakers are also said to reduce their risk by laying off horses where they’ve accepted a high stake (i.e. high risk). The exchange odds will be impacted by their activity; so will the opinion of many traders monitoring prices on the betting exchange.
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Human factors influence Horse Racing price movements. As irrational as it can often be, our nature leads us to form strong opinions.
The most common human factors which influence Horse Racing markets are:
- Superstition & random choice. Horses are chosen for the most peculiar reasons, like the name, colour, or even just a “feeling”. The choice isn’t necessarily well founded.
- Herd mentality. Odds rise or fall as a result of momentum. Once the market has moved in one direction many bettors jump on the back of it and push the odds further in the same direction.
- Pre-race observations: A horse’s appearance in the parade ring influences our perception. Its gait, sweating, or restiveness can impact our confidence. This is very similar to watching football players as they stand in the tunnel before a match. The public observes (and acts on) signs of strength or weakness, as tenuous as they may be.
Horses declared non-runners create waves in the market. I find this the most interesting of all the factors as you can observe and analyse the changes in the market following an announcement.
In the following graph I show the impact of a non-runner on the favourite in a race starting at 13:10.
- “NR” shows the point where our sources first alerted us of the NonRunner at 07:05:29 AM
- By 07:40 AM the odds moved from 3.25 down to 3.0 (-8% change)
- The odds rose to 3.2 by 07:50 before hitting an all-time low of 2.84 at 08:20 AM (-12.6% move since the NR)
The volatility is high, caused by the increase in activity due to the Non Runner. When a sudden event like this occurs, the market reacts and creates a difference in opinion which in this case lasted for just over an hour before stabilising and reaching a consensus.
To find out more on how the public opinion shapes the fair odds of a sporting outcome, read my post on the Wisdom of The Crowds theory for betting.