Starting Price (SP) in Horse Racing

Learn what the starting price of a horse is when betting on a horse race, how the SP odds are calculated, and how to pick the right runners.

In this article, we will cover multiple aspects of how Starting Price works in horse racing betting, highlighting positives, negatives, and also the maths behind it.

Starting Price betting is a special type of betting in which punters bet on horses' starting odds before markets move them.

What does SP mean in horse racing?

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In horse racing, the starting price (SP) is the odds existing on a particular horse in the fixed-odds betting market at the time a race begins.

Choosing to bet on a horse at the starting price has its positives, these being that if the odds of your chosen horse begin to drift before the off, and it starts the race off with higher odds than at the time the bet was placed, you will be paid the higher odds from the starting price.

However, this can also be flipped. and if the horse is well backed before the race, you will be paid out on the shorter odds should your selection win.

Betfair SP

The Betfair Start Price (BSP) is calculated by the Betfair Exchange, the world's most popular betting exchange. It is a runner's odds calculated from bets placed by both backers and layers in the market.

Amongst punters, it is argued that the BSP offers a more accurate starting price than the traditional SP as it is based purely on the betting market and punters, with no bookmaker's influence.

Betfair seems to claim that their SP is generally better than the official SP offered by many sportsbooks. While the rationale makes sense, it is a matter of personal preference.

SP Favourite

The starting price favorite (SP Favourite) is the horse with the shortest odds at the start of any given race.

Betting on an SP favourite is generally not an effective betting strategy since their odds are very low, meaning meager returns for the risk carried. But S favourites are often part of a more elaborate full cover bet, for example.

How is a horse's starting price determined?

The SP has traditionally been calculated by a panel of officials at any given racecourse. It is based on the odds quoted by on-course fixed-odds bookmakers at the time the race begins.

In the United Kingdom, the process of calculating each horse's SP involves:

  • gathering the starting prices offered by the on-course bookmakers,
  • ordering these from lowest to highest,
  • then dividing them into equal halves.

The SP is then recorded as the shortest price in the half with the greatest odds offered by the on-course bookies. 

When there are no on-course bookmakers (like currently where racing is carried out behind closed doors with no spectators or on-course bookmakers) the official body, The Starting Price Regulatory Commission (in the UK) will calculate the Starting Price from a list of popular online bookmakers.

Starting Price Horse Racing
The Starting Price in Horse Racing 101

What are the differences between starting price and fixed-odds?

When you place a bet using the SP of a horse, you are effectively hoping that the odds of that horse before the race will be higher than when you placed the bet. The odds can end up being higher, or lower, resulting in fluctuating potential profits before the race.

Fixed-odds betting, however, means that when you place a bet on a horse or any other sports market, the bookmakers will honor the price from the time the bet was placed should your selection win.

Example of SP vs Fixed-Odds

  • Bet Slip A - I place a £5 bet on the SP of Red Rum (starting price).
  • Bet Slip B - I place another £5 bet on Red Rum (fixed-odds).
  • He is currently 3/1 (4.0).
  • The race begins, but Red Rum's price is now 1/1 (2.0).
  • Red Rum wins the race:
    • Bet Slip A - I win £10 (£5 * Odds of 2.0)
    • Bet Slip B - I win £20 (£5 * Fixed odds of 4.0)

In this example, using the starting price got us profiting less since our selection's odds shortened. But in as many cases, you would be profiting more as the selection's odds go up and up.

What does Best Odds Guaranteed mean?

Best odds guaranteed, sometimes abbreviated to BOG, is a promotion that bookmakers use for their punters' benefit. If you place a bet on a race that has "best odds guaranteed", and your selection wins, you will be paid out on the highest price of the horse in between the chosen fixed odds, the time of your bet, and the starting price.

Although this technically means the odds for some horse races are not "fixed", who can complain at better odds than you first thought!

Is the starting price important when betting on horse racing?

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The starting price of a horse is definitely important as it gives a clear indication of which horse is being favoured by the bookmakers to win.

Imagine if a horse sits in the market at a price of 5/1 for the hours before the race. And suddenly gets backed into 2/1 five minutes before the off. This may indicate that there has been a lot of money staked on this horse by fellow punters, and could be the result of some inside information.

The Starting Price is obviously useful as it can give a strong indication of how your horse may perform. On the other hand, horse racing is a very unpredictable sport. No matter how many hours of research you put in, you will never pick every winner.

That said, the start price of a horse may rapidly drop (compared to the one at the time of the bet) because of new information appearing about the horse. For instance, the horse may have looked weak on TV during the Parade Ring in the paddock.

To conclude, the start price of a horse is definitely important when betting on horse racing, but it is never the be-all and end-all.

Can you be profitable betting at the SP?

Betting at SP has its advantages and disadvantages but can prove difficult to be profitable from.

Sometimes the SP will end up being greater than the odds offered at the time of placing a bet, although taking fixed odds with a Best Odds Guarantee would make sure that you would be covered if this was the case.

The main difficulty SP bettors will face is that the Starting Price is completely out of your hands and they will never know what exact price they will be backing a horse at. Meaning, you cannot determine whether a bet is at valuable odds or not.

Horse racing, like any other sports betting, is about placing bets at odds greater than the real probability of winning (i.e., value betting). The aim is to manage this over an extended period of time to produce an overall profit.

We hope that this guide and introduction to the Starting Price (SP) in horse racing was beneficial and wish you the best of luck with your betting. Please make sure that you keep up to date with Bet and Beat for all your betting needs and information.