Market moves in opening horse racing betting markets have emerged as a leading signal for social punters looking to follow intelligent big bets.
The minutes before the prices are first posted on bookie race pages resemble shopping centre queues in anticipation for the Boxing Day sales.
Like bargain hunters at the front of the queue, sharp punters sit poised with their rated runners and self-priced markets, ready to pick-off the bookies’ mistakes one by one.
Is there a better opportunity for the social punter to ride on the coat tails of the punting elite as their early big bets carve betting market trends and create signals for everyone to see?
Do smart punters really move early betting markets?
No doubt they do.
While the lack of liquidity in initial betting markets restricts the extent to which punters can get on, the smart money certainly flows when odds come up.
The evidence is everywhere: the growing list of bookmakers waiting to learn from opening betting moves before they open their markets, premium priced services that give their clients the jump, the list goes on.
Sydney horse racing form analyst Adrian Sciglitano keeps a close eye on betting moves and sees 9 out of 10 markets being shaped by early activity.
Smart money and pro money is a big part of modern day racing when markets are posted early.
Successful punters rely on getting the right price. Their success is as much about finding horses priced over the odds as it is to select the runners with a winning chance.
Sciglitano refers to punters ‘betting the price’ they need for a particular horse and if they don’t get the price they want, they will look elsewhere rather than take unders.
It stands to reason: if you are getting better than even money backing heads in two-up, you’re a moral to finish in front.
Don’t follow early market movers- it’s a furphy!
Does it all sound too good to be true?
Our discussions with several respected Australian racing and harness form analysts brought up more issues than benefits for following these opening market signals.
The early market mover might flash like a beacon in the night, but is it a pit of fools gold?
Issue #1 - following opening betting moves is flawed
If the opening price has already dropped by the time you get your bet on, then surely you are more likely to be getting unders or closer to true odds at best. A point supported strongly by NSW horse racing analyst Dean Watling.
Revered Victorian form specialist Deane Lester, underlines the importance of price when placing a bet.
Remember you are actually buying those odds when you place a fixed odds bet – are you happy with your purchase?
Victorian form expert Deane Lester
The impact of betting moves in the initial hours of betting appears even greater in Australian harness racing markets.
Harness racing form analyst Tommy Hudson refers to the ‘domino effect’ that occurs with this phenomenon, where momentum pushing each punter to follow the signal grows faster with every drop in price. Sucking out every ounce of value from the weight of money.
Pro punter Kurt Burns says the odds seem to shorten straight away when harness betting markets open and then again in the last 10 minutes before they race.
Issue #2 - can smart money be picked amongst early moves
Does every early market move come from a smart punter having a crack? Definitely not.
There are other less intelligent punters influencing Australian betting markets as they place their early big bets. For example:
Overenthusiastic owners chomping at the bit to place their big bet before other punters learn what they already know; and
The social punter who is hell bent on getting on that unlucky last start runner.
Racing commentator Lewis Willoughby from SKY Racing questions the amount of big smart bets that are placed when markets open. Willougby refers to the minimum bet laws which restrict pro punters from getting on before race day morning as a key reason for his opinion.
Willougby also sites the lack of liquidity in the market which drives volatility at this stage of the betting cycle rather than a large volume of big bets.
It only takes very small amounts of big bets to over-manipulate an early market and make it seem as though a horse has been heavily backed , Willougby said.
Willougby suggests punters should follow late betting moves if they want to follow a signal. It’s a better time to bet as there is less margin in the market for bookies and it is easier to identify horses who have been over bet he says.
Issue #3 - early markets tend to open with trendy elements under the odds
Deane Lester points to the Jamie Kah Phenomenon as an example here.
Equipped with the knowledge of money that follows the talented hoop, bookies will often apply a discount to opening odds in anticipation of the money that will certainly follow.
Leading Australian jockey Jamie Kah
Sydney form analyst Josh Reed sites the heavily backed Surprise Baby in the 2020 Melbourne Cup as another example of a trendy element. Taken by the hype surrounding the horse’s 2019 Cup run, punters piled in from everywhere to drive his price to a level where many pro punters assessed it as well under the odds.
Tasked with avoiding mines like these, the punters that you follow better be very good at pricing betting markets.
Issue #4 - too many unknowns when markets open
There are too many factors unknown that far out from the jump which make an informed decision challenging to say the least. There’s weather and scratchings with their potential to impact speed maps for starters.
Deane Lester sites this as another reason for punters to focus more on late fluctuations compared to early ones:
Market fluctuations are most relevant in the final 30 minutes before the race jumps, when all variables have been exposed - Lester says.
Issue #5 - fixed odds deductions often remove value from early bets
Victorian and Queensland horse racing form analyst Rick Morris sits on the side of the ‘Furphy’ in this debate.
While it gives punters a good guide, he says later fluctuations are more reliable and any early price advantage is not locked in.
In particular, Morris points to the deduction percentages which he sees as disadvantageous to the punter.
The numbers don't add up on fixed odds payouts due to scratchings for mine , Morris said.
Follow the early moves – it’s a fill-up
There is no doubt that a proportion of big bets placed in early markets come from sharper punters. So, what is wrong with time-poor punters following to make a buck?
Follow reason #1 - smart punters make a profit
Deane Lester and Mark Hunter, two of Australia’s most astute form analysts are examples of smart money going early when the opportunity presents.
Together with NSW form analyst Chris Beaumont, the trio have proven the value on offer in early markets through their Early Overs service.
Since its inception back in October 2020, Early Overs has yielded 67% profit on turnover (POT) against 15% POT from best starting price for the same selections 20 July 2021.
Early Overs updated statistics
Punters are often getting the opening price or close to it as the service sends an SMS with the selection and where to get the best price.
While followers of market moves are coming in later than subscribers, the extent of the gap between Early Overs profit and Starting price profit (i.e. 67% vs 15% POT) suggests there is still value in the follow for those coming in a bit late.
NSW racing form analyst Dean Watling underlines the opportunity that exists for pro punters who are equipped with the requisite information and skills:
If you are doing your form and setting your own odds prior to markets opening then there is a great edge to be found.
So if there are pros having a go when markets open, isn't their an opportunity for social punters if they can pick the smart money?
Follow reason #2 - identify market moves driven by smart money
Thoroughbred form analyst and racing commentator James Beeson studies early market movers and identifies those which appear more likely to be driven by smart money. Beeson reports his top 8 movers weekly at thegreattipoff.com.
Beeson has spent years analysing betting market trends and is confident in the factors that he uses to compile his Top 8 list for Saturday racing each week.
We started collecting data on Australian market movers years ago. Over time we have learnt that certain factors correlate to runners that perform better in the run, Beeson says.
Beeson’s Early Market Movers currently shows a tidy 22.4% profit on turnover over the past 90 days using starting price. Remember the price available at the time that these moves are reported at thegreattipoff.com is often much higher.
Strong enough evidence to suggest you can pick the smarties and make a buck?
Sydney racing form analyst Josh Reed supports Beeson’s approach.
Reed says some market moves are smart money while other moves might come from an army of micro-share horse owners lining-up to get on.
You have to take each market move on a case-by-case basis and assess it on the possibilities of why the market is moving that horse’s price.
Follow reason #3 - reliable racing insights
Popular harness form analyst Tommy Hudson sees trotting market moves as a very reliable source of knowledge.
In harness racing, market movers often end up leading the race or at least playing a key part throughout.
Pro punter Kurt Burns who also focusses on the trots agrees, 90% of the time the money is bang on. The old saying is true “Money talks”.
Follow reason #4 - back more winners
While everyone aims to make a profit from punting, the reality is that most of us will struggle to lose less than 10% of our turnover.
Form analyst and professional horse racing punter Ben Beare, says early market movers were a source of information when he was a hobby punter.
It’s different for Ben now as a full time analyst, but he recognises the appeal for time poor social punters.
If following early market movers gives punters a few more winners than they would have otherwise backed, then surely the punter is better off.
Isn’t that a good enough reason to follow?
To follow or not to follow
Is it possible to identify smart money in early market moves and if you do is the prize worth the effort?
Should we just agree that it makes many time-poor punters better-off? Backing more winners than they would otherwise have landed on.
Surely there is no one size fits all here, but rather a case where the answer depends on the punter’s profile.
What’s the verdict? Early market movers: Follow or Furphy?