Lay Betting on The Horses

What is Lay Betting?

There are two sides to every bet; someone betting on an outcome to happen (a back bet), and someone on the other side betting for an outcome not to happen (a lay bet). Placing a Lay bet can only happen when you are betting on line.

Lay Betting Explained

Lay betting on horses is the strategy of betting against one or more horses winning a race via betting exchanges. In practice, this entails assuming the role of a bookmaker for a single race. The betting exchange allows you to offer odds on that horse and allows other exchange members to back it at those odds.

If the horse doesn’t win the race, you keep the backer’s stake. If it does win the race, you’re liable for a pay out to the horse’s backer’s.

Lay betting on horses can be as complicated or as simple as you choose. Few bettors will effectively play the role of a bookie, laying every horse in a field and seeking to profit on the race as a whole regardless of which horse wins – this isn’t recommended though as simply laying everything is not a profitable strategy. More often than not, punters will lay specific horses because there are always more losers than victors in any race.

As a result, you have a better probability of picking a horse that will not win a race than one that will.

With normal win bets you’re looking to find more winning horses than losing horses, but with lay betting you’re looking for the losing horses.

How Back and Lay Bets Work

Back betting entails putting your money on something to happen, such as a horse, a team, or a player winning. Lay betting is when you bet on something not happening.

When you lay a horse in horse racing, you win if your horse does not finish first.

If the horse you bet against wins, you lose and must pay the backer his earnings, which could be much higher than the stake. So exercise caution while deciding how much to lay.

How Back and Lay Bets Work

Back betting entails putting your money on something to happen, such as a horse, a team, or a player winning. Lay betting is when you bet on something not happening.

When you lay a horse in horse racing, you win if your horse does not finish first.

If the horse you bet against wins, you lose and must pay the backer his earnings, which could be much higher than the stake. So exercise caution while deciding how much to lay.

Win Betting on Horses
Lay Betting on the Horses

Example of Lay Betting

In this video, Betfair are explaining what a Lay Bet is and how to place a lay bet. In the example it shows an example of lay betting on Boxing, but this is the same method to lay bet on the horses too.

Each betting market will have an option to back a selection or to lay a selection, whether you are betting on football, betting on golf or lay betting on greyhounds for example.

Learn About Profit, Liability And Liquidity

The most important thing to understand about laying a bet is that the profit (amount you could win, also known as returns) and liability (how much you could lose) are different to a traditional bet.

Placing £1 on a 5/1 shot will win you a profit of £5 – that’s what we’re all used to when backing a horse to win.

However, we need to reverse this when you place a Lay Bet

To make a profit of £5, the layer would have to be willing to risk £25.

Liquidity is the amount of money available to back or lay in a given market.

Remember, exchange betting is between users.

Lay Betting Calculator

Lay Bet CalculatorThere are more than a few Lay Betting Calculators available on the web, however calculating a lay bet is relatively straight forward. If your bet wins (ie the selection loses the race) you get returns of your stake. If the bet loses (ie your selection wins the race) then you are liable to pay the equivalent of your stake multiplied by the odds.

Lay Betting Calculators like this one, will also take in to consideration the commission you will have to pay on your winnings too.

A good Lay Betting Calculator can be found on Betfair Lay Betting Calculator page


How to place a lay bet on a horse

In this video produced by Betfair, we are shown how to place a lay bet on a horse using their Exchange Mobile App. You can see clearly on the market page, the blue (to back the outcome) and pink (to lay the outcome). They make sure that you realise the difference between Liability and Returns.

What is the Lay Bet Liability?

Simply put, the Lay Bet Liability is the amount of money you could lose from your bet. The liability is the stake multiplied by the odds. So in the example I used above, if I was to lay a horse that was at odds of 5/1 with a stake of £1, then my liability is 5×1 = £5 The return would be equal to the stake – so in this example it would be £1 returned.

Another example could be I lay the same horse at £5. The liability would be £25 (at 5/1) if it won, but if it loses I would get a return of £5.

What are Betting Exchanges

There are two types of on line betting sites you can place bets at, these are the traditional Sportsbooks (like William Hill, Bet365 and Paddypower) and Betting Exchanges (like Betfair, Betdaq and Matchbook). When you place a bet at a sports book, you are betting against the company, and when you place a bet at an Exchange you are betting against another player.

Difference Between Lay Betting Sites and Sports Books

The difference between Betting Exchanges and Sports Books are that Exchanges is a platform which enables peer to peer betting, whereas when you place a bet on a sports book, you are betting against the company.

Why is There Commission on Lay Betting?

Betting Exchanges charge a commission on winning bets, this is how they make their money. Typically, they will charge a percentage of your winnings for each bet. Traditional Sports Books make their money by taking the stakes of the losing bets – you’re betting against the bookie. With Exchange betting, you are betting against another player, and so the Exchange takes a cut of that bet from the winner.

Commission Charged by the UK’s Leading Betting Exchanges

Exchange Commission

Betfair 2% – 5%*

Betdaq 2%

Ladbrokes Exchange 2%

Smarkets 2%

Matchbook 2%

Betconnect 2% – 3%*

*the more bets you place at these exchanges, the lower your commission becomes

Can I Place a Lay Bet On Other Sports

Absolutely, just like regular bookie sites, there are markets galore available on the exchanges. Whether you want to bet on boxing, football or bet on cricket – they are all available. You could even bet on politics at the on line exchanges.

Lay Horses Strategies

Finding Value Lays

When we talk of value lays, we’re really looking at the liability of placing a lay bet. You will have read above about liability. The liability is how much you stand to lose if your lay selection wins the race. For short price odds, then the liability is low, but as the odds start to climb, so does the liability.

So when we’re looking for value lays, we’re looking for the best opportunities to find those losers.

When to consider lay betting

When you place a bet, there’s only one out come. In horse racing, when you place a back bet, there’s only one outcome , your selection must win. With lay betting, there are many outcomes which mean you are the winner – if any of the horses win, then you win. So it’s tempting to bet on every race – but you can reduce your liability and thus increase your profits if you are more selective with your lay betting. We’ll no go on to look at some options where lay betting is a good idea:

Races to target for lay betting

When looking for races to target, you need to look to those which are harder to predict the outcome, or harder for the form to be a factor in the winner. The following types of race all are hard to call because of a number of factors, from the race type to the horses in it:


Sprint races are unpredictable, to a point. They are fast and furious and the favourites seldom win, especially the short priced favourites, if there’s a large field too, then this can add to the chaos, and the unpredictability of it.


Handicaps are designed to level the field by adding weights to the better horses. This doesn’t take into consideration the bettors piling on a favourite, and the odds being slim, make a good opportunity for the lay bet with low liability.

Juvenile races

2 year old juvenile horses are really difficult to predict, due to the unknown nature of the horses participating. Again laying favourites in these could yield a good return.

Early-season races for 3-year-olds

The change in the season and especially for 3 year old races, brings about uncertainty in the out come of the race. Little race history for the horses and the fact that they haven’t raced for some time, leads to greater error in predicting the favourites, so laying them is a good strategy.

Novices’ races

With little form data to go on, then it’s really hard to predict the outcome of these races. If you lay a short priced favourite then that may stand you in good steady profit. Be aware though, that the odds in these races are generally higher, and so the liability is higher – such is the unpredictability of the horses racing.

Laying the favourite

Laying the favourite is the easiest and most popular way to place lay bets on horseracing.

The reasons for this are:

  1. There are very few races where the favourite wins in fact, only 1 in 3 favourites actually win their race.
  2. Favourites are typically under-priced, due to the bettors jumping on the bandwagon and forcing bookmakers to reduce their liability, this means the probability of the horse winning is lower than what is indicated by the odds.
  3. Low odds on favourites can offer minimal value on back bets, which make them great for lay bets. With low odds, your liability is low, so if the favourite doesn’t win, then you get a return.


Just laying the favourite in each race will not be a profitable strategy, however eliminating more winners, so that you only lay the favourites with the least chance of winning would be. You can use Form Ratings data to do this as we outline it’s usage below when it comes to placing a lay bet.

Top Tips to Make better Lay Bets

Shift in Mindset:

Those who are used to betting on the horses will find the idea of betting on the losers a rather different way of gambling. There will be no big wins, rather (if you are successful) loads of consistent small wins. Remember you are winning what others are staking – it is they who are looking to win big – that is from you. That one loss can wipe out the profit you have made from several other bets, so you need patience too and the resilience to stick to your plan.

Have a plan:

You can’t just lay all the horses bar the favourite in the race, and you can’t just lay the favourite. You need a plan, and you need to stick to it. You can use some of the strategies above to help you form your plan, and you can use the data in Form Ratings to provide with some short cuts too. There are a number of other strategies you can do manually, but the research may be prohibitive and the rewards not justify it for most bettors, except those who make a living betting on horses.

Strategies can include looking out for jockeys who are not in form, or not suited to the horse or a particular race; also jockeys themselves can influence the betting markets so looking where this has happened and taking a view on the suitability of the jockey for the win in the race. There’s track bias, where the horse isn’t suited to a clockwise course or anticlockwise, the draw number and where the horse is going to settle in running. Trainers too have a form record, knowing which trainer’s horses are not performing well can also help with eliminating the winners.

Having a staking plan and a betting bank is very important when it comes to placing a lay bet. Remember what ever you decide is your strategy, keep to it. Do not chase losses, just keep to the plan. Remember, there will be losses, and do not get disheartened by them, just ensure your bank can cover losing runs. You can mitigate this in your strategy, by only selecting horses with odds which you can afford to lose should the lay bet lose. Do not be tempted to bet on horses which you think have absolutely no chance of winning, as their odds are usually very high, I am sure you can remember the last time a 100/1 shot came in. Well, with a lay bet, this means you’d be paying out the 100 times your stake – so be careful and factor this risk into your strategy.

Get yourself the edge:

We’re obviously going to mention our own tool – Form Ratings – again here. The secret to making good lay bet decisions is to be informed about the horses taking part. There’s lots of sources of raw data like Racing Post, Timeform and the like, there’s also tools like ours which take the data from the raw sources and apply algorithms to work magic on the data, to help interpret into a meaningful source of information.

Using Form Ratings to Lay Horses

Most people think of finding winners when they first try Form Ratings, however one of the uses involves using the ratings to find horses which are more likely to lose the race, and hence provide you with lay bet options. Looking through the ratings, you can quickly see a horse which is improving, and you you can see a horse which is not. Look at the LR/2LR/3LR columns this will show values which indicate their previous performances, and spotting those who are not improving is straight forward. You can look at the FRN rating, and simply choose the horses with the lowest rating – the least likely to win based on all the factors. Lastly you could take a look at the HRS column, this indicates horses which are most suited to the race (based on their form), so it stands to reason that those with the lowest HRS are least suited to the race, and so could be considered for a lay bet on them.

We have a number of lay strategies which you can look at on our Smart Selection Page, there’s a brief guide to them below:

Dark Horses – this strategy involves looking for horses with little data, usually their first outing, so unproven, this means their performance will be difficult to predict, making them an ideal lay bet. Caution though, you may still find the odd winner, and the nature of the game, will be at higher odds, so having a betting bank that can take that hit or being comfortable with the risk, is essential – that said, only a handful of winners are selected as Dark Horses, each month.

Well Placed – this strategy looks out for horses which have a chance of winning, but where there’s a horse that has substantially greater chance. So our Well Placed selection is most likely to place – which means that in Lay Betting terms, we win! As you’ll see on the strategy page, it selects a relatively small number of selections per month, but is very effective.

Ideally Suited – this strategy is a strange one, as it’s selections are far from Ideally Suited to win the race, but, they too, place consistently, which works just as good as laying the horse. They are simply the four horses which have the highest HRS score of the day – very easy to spot on the race cards.

We are always working on new Lay Betting Strategies and always happy to hear from members about ideas for a new lay strategy.

UK’s Top Lay Betting Sites in 2021


The Betfair betting exchange, which launched in 2000, acts as a middleman for players to place bets against one another. Simply said, it allows you to behave as a punter or a bookie. On one side, there are bettors who want to buy (back) a horse and those who want to sell it (lay). The bet is considered matched if both sides ‘’agree’’ on the odds.

The Betfair exchange makes money from the commission it charges on winning bets, which starts from 5% in the UK and Ireland, and rises up to 7% in other countries. While wagering, you can collect points and qualify for a discount on the commission.


Betdaq are the world’s second biggest online betting exchange and as such doesn’t offer the same levels of liquidity as Betfair, but the site has the same features when it comes to backing or laying bets on a betting exchange. Bought by Ladbrokes, the Betdaq exchange can now be found as the Ladbrokes Exchange.


For bettors in the United Kingdom, Smarkets is one of the top betting exchanges. The platform simplifies peer-to-peer trading on athletic events, esports tournaments, current events, and political events. Smarkets is best suited for high stake liquidity laying.


Matchbook is emerging as a viable alternative to Betfair as a betting exchange. Matchbook provides bettors with extremely competitive standard commission rates as well as improved liquidity.


Betconnect is a social betting platform, which distinguishes it from other betting exchanges. With just a few mouse clicks, you may follow and repeat the identical bets of experienced tipsters. Instead of guessing who will win or lose, you can look at actual statistics and follow the most profitable gamblers.

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