One of the most fundamental things in horse racing is the SP, or the ‘starting price’. As its title would suggest, this is the price or ‘odds’ for each horse as the race officially begins although until that point, odds for all horses can and do fluctuate.
When betting online or in high street shops, punters can decide to take the price offered at the time the bet is struck, or leave it to the SP. Most online bookmakers also offer ‘best odds guaranteed’ too, meaning you will receive whichever of those two is the highest odds if and when your horse wins.
The SP is crucial to the industry and is now heavily regulated. We’ll take you through how it all works.
The odds you’ll end up getting for your bet will often be determined by when you place it. Odds are higher in advance of the race before all the information is known, while they also fluctuate more in the moments before the off.
As more money comes in for runners close to the off time, or when experts have had a chance to see the runners in the paddock and how well they move to post, odds are moved up and down on each horse by on-course bookmakers every few seconds.
The last fixed odds offered on each horse by certain bookmakers (see below) as the race gets underway then become the starting prices.
Most of the time, you’ll have no way of knowing whether the SP on your horse will be longer or shorter than the early price, though many horses which are truly well fancied within the industry tend to contract strongly in price in the build-up to the race.
How the SP is Calculated
Since 1998, industry-wide rules have been in place regarding how SP’s are created to ensure they are fair for all and cannot be easily manipulated. The Starting Price Regulatory Commission oversees this matter.
In normal times, i.e. when crowds are allowed on race tracks, the SP’s are determined by on-course bookmakers rather than betting shops or online operators.
Samples are taken from such licenced bookmakers who are ‘SP Qualified’, with a minimum sample size of six bookmakers being required, and at major meetings there may be as many as 24 rails bookmakers included to give a very accurate SP.
The calculation is done by listing all the odds offered by SP qualified bookmakers from longest to shortest. The list of prices is then split in half, the ultimate SP being the shortest price available in the half of the list containing the longest odds which then gives us the fairest price.
Starting Price Example
Picture any race on any British racecourse. You may have seen one of the favourites fluctuating between 2/1 and 3/1 at various points throughout the day. At the off, there may be 10 SP qualified bookmakers offering prices on course offering the following odds:
The lowest price would really not be a fair reflection as this could be down to one bookmaker have too much confidence in the horse, or more likely having bigger liabilities on said horse and so shortening its price significantly.
So, the list is split in half with only the higher prices taken, i.e.,
The lowest price from the higher end of the list is taken, therefore the SP for this horse would officially be 5/2.
The starting price doesn’t need to be an average of all the listed odds. So, should those at the top half of the scale all be offering 7/1 or bigger while all the ones in the lower half are offering 6/1 or even less, 7/1 would be the SP meaning punters are not being ripped off.
The Importance of Favourites
SP’s are hugely important then in terms of keeping the sport’s integrity.
This is especially true when deciding on who the race favourite is.
While only around a third of all favourites win and backing them all would not lead to profit, they are generally considered to be favourite for a reason.
A third of them may win, but nearly all of them are carrying most of the punter’s money in each race.
In bets such as the Tote’s placepot, punters who cannot choose a horse based on form can simply nominate the favourite.
While in this case the favourite is based on the amount of money in the pool for each race, it highlights the importance of the industry getting the favourite right in each and every betting market.