Sometimes referred to as the ‘SP’, the Starting Price in horse racing is the price offered by bookmakers at the time at which a race gets underway. Whilst the prices are set by the on-course bookmakers, there’s an extent to which the SP is governed by betting placed on the exchanges. Typically, bookies will offer punters the chance to either bet at the price offered at the time of the wager, the fixed price, or else the Starting Price.
There are pros and cons to taking a Starting Price, including the fact that there’s just as much chance that it could drift to longer than the price offered at the time of placing the bet as there is that it will come shorter. In other words, you might get better value or it might end up being worse, so you need to consider both options. The best thing to do is to place your wager with a bookmaker at fixed odds offering a Best Odds Guarantee, meaning if the SP is higher you will get those odds anyway.
The Starting Price Explained
There are a number of things that can influence the odds offered by a bookmaker on a horse. In the build-up to a race, bookies will consider the likes of the horse’s form as well as the talent and ability of the jockey likely to ride it. The other horses taking part in a race will also be taken into account ahead of time, because bookmakers want to consider how likely or otherwise each horse is to win the race or finish in the places.
If the race is a handicap event then how much weight a horse will be asked to carry will enter the thoughts of the bookies, usually compared to how it has done in similar races in the past when asked to carry that amount of weight or more. In short, there are a wealth of things that bookmakers will consider ahead of the race to decide what price to offer on each horse that is taking part in the event.
That is all thought of ahead of the race, usually in the days and weeks prior. Once race day has arrived, on-course bookmakers will then adjust their prices up and down depending on how much is being bet on a horse by punters at the racecourse. A large amount of money being placed on one horse will inevitably see its price drop, mainly because the bookmakers are trying to protect themselves from heavy losses.
If many people are all betting on the same horse then bookies have to consider the fact that there’s something that some people know that they don’t. They will be desperate not to lose too much money, so the price will come in. Equally, if not many people are betting on a different horse then that horse’s price will go out, with bookmakers assuming that punters have seen something that they don’t know about.
With prices moving up and down in advance of a race, there has to be a way of recording what the final price was that a horse went off at. That is the Starting Price, which is the final price offered by bookmakers before they stopped taking bets and the race got underway. It’s entirely up to the bettors whether they want to wait and see what this price will be or not.
How The Starting Price Is Decided
In days gone by, the Starting Price was set exclusively by on-course bookmakers. Whilst that’s still largely the case, the proliferation of betting exchanges means that they have a bigger influence over the SP than in the past. That is also aided and abetted by the ever-dwindling attendances at racecourses and the fact that the sheer amount of racing has increased, making it tougher for the bookies to be on top of everything.
Given that several bookmakers could all offer a different Starting Price on the same horse, there has to be a method by which the SP is calculated. This differs from country to country, but generally speaking there is a panel of bookies that are used and the consensus of their odds is taken. The method of calculating the Starting Price of a horse is outlined in the following manner:
- Prices are ordered in a list from longest to shortest
- The list is divided into equal halves
- The Starting Price is the shortest odds that are available in the list that contains the longest odds
By using this method, it can be made certain that either the Starting Price itself or else a longer price was offered by at least half of the bookmakers in any given sample.
Should You Take A Starting Price?
There are a number of reasons why a punter might consider taking a Starting Price rather than the Fixed Odds price offered at the time of placing a bet. Obviously you’ll have no idea what the Starting Price will be, so accepting it isn’t without a degree of risk. Statistics show, however, that the majority of bets are placed in the final five minutes or so before a race is about to get underway, which is when odds are at their most volatile.
Because of the natural volatility around odds when a race is fast approaching, bettors will often want to wait until the last moment before placing their wagers. This isn’t always possible, however, so the use of the Starting Price offer makes sense. Knowing that you want to bet on a horse is one thing, but you might have noticed that its odds were 9/1 the morning of the race and had drifted to 12/1 two hours before.
In that sort of instance, it goes without saying that you might want to wait for as long as possible in the hope that it keeps drifting. Opting for the Starting Price allows you to do just that, even if there’s no guarantee that they’ll drift out as opposed to coming in. In reality, a horse’s odds drifting usually indicates that they’re more likely to keep drifting than to come in much, so the SP option is the sensible one to take.
Bets Odds Guarantee
There is an inherent risk in taking a Starting Price on a horse, which will encourage many to opt for the price that they’re offered at the time of taking a bet. It makes sense; after all, you would be really disappointed if you accepted a price of, say, 5/1 and your chosen horse drifted out to 9/1 by the time the race got underway. One thing that you can do to mitigate this risk is by looking for a bookmaker that offers a Best Odds Guarantee.
The idea behind the Best Odds Guarantee is that you will be paid out at the higher price if the Starting Price for the horse that you’ve bet on ends up being longer than the Fixed Odds price that you took when you placed your wager. In other words, if you place a bet three hours before the race at odds of 5/1 and its Starting Price ends up at 9/1, you’ll be paid out at 9/1 rather than the 5/1 that you took earlier in the day.
One thing to bear in mind is that bookmakers tend not to offer the Best Odds Guarantee on ante-post bets. The whole point about betting ante-post is that you take a risk in doing so, being offered longer odds as a reward. If you were offered Best Odds Guarantee as well then that risk would be removed, so bookies don’t want to do it.
They will, however, often promote the Best Odds Guarantee on ante-post bets placed on the biggest races, such as the Grand National or the Cheltenham Festival.