Quickly picking through the form of runner and rider on the papers pinned to the wall of your local betting shop before hurriedly shuffling up to the counter to back your horse of choice as it goes into the stalls. A thing of the past – it’s not how modern professionals turn a profit on horse racing meetings such as Glorious Goodwood and the Cheltenham Festival.
Antepost betting is all the rage and, although it may seem strange to average punters, in simple terms it’s betting on a horse to win a race before the final field has been confirmed. Yes, sometimes you’re taking double the risk – will it run and will it win – but the rewards are bigger for shrewd backers.
Antepost betting can be used on all major sports. Your side busy in the transfer window? Back a football team to win the league before a ball has been kicked in competitive action. The next up-and-coming boxer on the knockout trail? Play Don King and back him to beat the champion before the end of the year.
All great fun with real value up for grabs, but there’s no doubt horse racing betting is the real home of the antepost punter and here’s why…..
Listen To The Experts
Taking the Cheltenham Festival as an example, the race markets are usually up for most of the year before the off and the biggest name horses are often quoted in more than one event.
That doesn’t mean a horse is going to have a busy week, running twice over monster trips; it just means connections don’t know which contest and field best suits their runner, and if they do, they haven’t made it known to Joe Public yet.
Apples Jade was a stunning winner of the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham 2017, bettering the more fancied pair of Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini. Will Gordon Elliott send her in for more, looking to double-up or will he steer her towards another major race?
She was quoted favourite for the Mares, and a convincing jolly at that, but you could also find her name near the head of the betting in the Champion Hurdle and Stayers' Hurdle.
You don’t need to have a man on the inside telling you the plan of action – there are usually hints and clues to the intended route in her warm-up races, including distance covered and rivals faced that’ll steer you onto the correct path.
You’ll also find horse racing trainers are a pretty honest bunch, if not a bit tight-lipped when speaking to the press, so it’s worth keeping your ear to the ground.
Gordon Elliott himself was quoted as saying the Mares' Hurdle was the right race for his superstar. Case closed. If you choose to take him at his word then there’s no need to wait for the final declaration stage a couple of days before the Tuesday of Cheltenham week.
If you fancy her – act now. Back your selection to run in the Mares, as those close said she would, and back her to win the race. In doing so, you’re on early and have secured a better price by not waiting around until every penny punter and their granny has had their stake money down.
Plenty Of Value On Offer
That bet also has a knock-on effect in other major races. Keeping with the Cheltenham and Apples Jade example – that’s just what it is, an example, as this thought process can be used on any horse quoted in any race – knowing your pick will race in the Mares changes the lie of the land in other legs of the four-day festival. Of course it does.
Listed as one of the shortest prices in two or three other races, you’ve just magically shortened the field by correctly guessing what race it’ll run in. Backing her for the Mares you’ve now taken one of the favourites out of the Stayers' Hurdle.
If you wait on that to be confirmed, the price of every runner is now cut by traders as there’s more chance of the new fav winning. From then on, the season becomes a jigsaw puzzle to those with a keen eye.
Who runs and who doesn’t in the campaign’s biggest races paves the way for value. Back enough overpriced horses in the antepost list and you’ll make a profit over the course of a season. That’s lesson number one in the ‘how to beat the bookies’ handbook.
The Risks Involved
As with all forms of betting there are risks attached to antepost wagering. We all like the idea of betting on a horse at a bigger price than other backers are able to get later in the day but for your bigger odds you also have to factor in the risk of injury, illness, loss of form or even a change of thinking from handlers.
Your horse is flying early in the jump season. Edging up the distance, beating fields by a considerable margin and giving the type of progress you’d expect from the next big thing.
Maybe you analysed the Grand National with interest and instead of following the crowd, a certain runner, who finished down the pecking order in the bare stats, could’ve done better with a bit more luck.
As soon as one Grand National is in the books, odds compilers are frantically scratching up prices for the next, well before the dust has settled and connections have had their say.
So you’ve done your homework, watched the races back and are convinced you’ve found the winner of the next National, or even the Scottish or Welsh versions, and well before anyone else too. Great, get it backed and get on with your year, happy in the knowledge you’re smarter than everyone else.
But a year’s a long time in sport, especially for horses and jockeys who are often pushed to their limit, seven days a week. We’ve all seen plenty of good things injured in the run-up to a big race or falling in a warm-up contest and sitting the rest of the campaign out at home.
You’ve now got a selection backed to win Europe’s richest race with the horse sitting at home eating hay and nursing a sore leg.
Prices Can Go OUT As Well As IN
Prices can come in and go out too, depending on performances of horses or even their stablemates. Sickness in the yard and your boy misses a period of training, or just doesn’t feel right in a race but should be back to normal for the main event.
You just backed a 50/1 horse at 33/1. It’s possible to go back in again, as many do over the year, but you’ve also signed yourself up to a period of monitoring the markets like a trader.
The closer to the off we get, the more the price begins to shorten, but a few safety nets start to creep in, such as Non-Runner No Bet. This often makes an appearance in the weeks before race day, meaning you can still get in before the flood of money but will get your stake back if the horse doesn’t run. The best of both worlds; it’s worth looking out for.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*