Why you shouldn’t bet on a horse race until the last minute


With horse racing, timing is everything. Obviously, in terms of the race, it’s all about the order that the horses cross the finish line, but in terms of placing a bet, exactly when you do so can make all the difference to how much money you win or lose.

From the moment a race is announced until the second it starts, and sometimes even over the course of the race, the odds offered on each horse have the potential to keep changing and often do. With large amounts of money constantly changing hands, the odds offered by different bookmakers are bound to fluctuate.

Remember, the odds you are offered as a punter are not the true odds that accurately reflect a horse’s chance of winning. Not only are they adjusted to guarantee the bookie a profit, they are also affected by the amount of money bet on that horse. In other words, public confidence in a horse’s ability to win is as important as its actual chances of winning. Usually, of course, these two factors are closely aligned – but not always.

Why timing matters

It can be tempting to place your bet as soon as possible, especially if you think you’ve got a hot tip. However, it’s generally advised to wait and watch the market until you spot your moment. The longer you wait, the more information will become available, allowing you to make an informed decision.

Any serious punter will also naturally want to avail themselves of the best odds. After all, if you back a horse at 4:1 and it wins, then that’s great; but you’ll be kicking yourself if you know you could’ve backed it at 9:1.

Generally, odds shorten as time goes on, which is why some recommend placing bets early to get the best price and the best payback if your horse wins. However, while this sounds good on paper, there are various reasons why it’s not always the best idea.

Knowledge is power

The most compelling reason to wait as long as possible before you place your bet is that more information becomes available. The closer to race time it gets, the more accurate and comprehensive your knowledge will be. Placing a bet early, when you may get better odds, is all very well if you pick a winner. But your chances of backing the right horse well in advance are usually slim and they will get better the longer you wait.

Waiting till later means you’ll know what the going is like at the track on the day and the draw your horse has been given. You’ll know what the weather is like and you may even be able to watch your horse in the paddock immediately before the race. This will give you an idea of what physical and emotional shape it’s in, which could have a significant bearing on the outcome.

Accurate odds

Experts strongly recommend waiting until the market has settled down before placing a bet. In the internet age, most bookmakers offer similar odds and it’s rare to find a greatly under-valued horse, however early you make your move. Instead, the longer you wait, the more accurate the odds will become. They’ll be less affected by hype and publicity and the predictions of tipsters will also be more informed and worth following. In the case of the upcoming Cheltenham Festival, for instance, smart punters will look for some last-minute Cheltenham hot tips in order to back the horse or horses with the best chance of winning a given race.

The problem with ante-post betting

The market on major races like the Cheltenham Festival can open up to six months in advance, and it can be tempting to place a bet as soon as the opening declarations are announced. But the trouble with ante-post betting, as such advance wagers are called, is that not only are you unlikely to pick a winner so far ahead, there’s no guarantee your horse will even run.

Some horses are enrolled in up to four races at the same festival, with the owners only deciding which one they’ll run the day before. As well as the risk of your horse being withdrawn and entered elsewhere, there’s also the chance that they won’t line up due to injury. It’s very rare for all of the horses in the opening declaration to actually run. If your horse is one that fails to line up, you won’t get your money back.

Race day betting

If you place a bet on race day and your horse doesn’t run, you’re usually entitled to the return of your stake. You’ll be able to choose fixed odds, meaning that if your horse wins you’ll be paid out according to the odds when you placed your bet, or starting price, meaning you’ll be paid according to the odds when the race starts. There’s no right or wrong choice, as odds may either lengthen or shorten after you place your bet.

Some bookmakers may offer Best Odds Guaranteed, or B.O.G., meaning that if your horse wins, you’ll be paid at the best odds offered on it between the time you place your bet and the starting price. This option is usually only offered on the day of the race as the odds aren’t as subject to fluctuation as in the days or weeks beforehand.

The best time to place a bet

A common race track saying is “bet early or bet late.” If you think you have a sure thing then by all means bet early and get the best odds, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to pick a winner so far in advance, unless it’s the favourite, in which case the odds aren’t going to be much better anyway. All things being equal, you are best advised to place your bet on the day of the race, from mid-morning onwards. Some say that 15 minutes before the race starts is best.

Early betting is great if your horse wins, but the trouble is it probably won’t. The odds are more realistic betting late, but so are your chances of backing a winner. And you can at least be fairly certain your horse will run, and get your money back if it doesn’t.