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We've all seen it - you've priced up a race, there are two clear-cut chances and you're quite keen on the favourite. Suddenly, the second fav begins to shorten in price, to the extent that you're questioning your initial judgment as your selection drifts. Have I done my analysis correctly, has the stable set this horse up for a plunge, does someone know something I don't ......? Then all of a sudden, bang! The big money comes out for the favourite and before you know it, the opening call of 2.5 is history as well, as the horse has been backed into even money. What happened, and what's the reason behind it? Let's start from scratch. In any betting contest, all the options are assigned a price, which is essentially one person's assessment of their chances of winning. The greater the chance of winning, the higher the percentage of the market it consumes, and the shorter the price offered. Thus when you have a race market with two clear-cut chances, they take up the lion's share of the percentage. This market is trading at 118%, an over-round of 2% per runner - perhaps generous for Sydney bookies, but unheard of in Queensland or South Australia especially!

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The top two in the market add up to 68.5% (40 + 28.5) of the overall figure (58% of the pie). Having such a strong share of the market, any price move on one runner will have a direct effect on the other. If Battering Ram drifts out to 3 because of a lack of interest, that's a percentage change of 6.7% which has to be made up elsewhere, assuming bookmakers want to keep their overall market percentage at a similar level. The easiest way of restoring that balance would be to shorten the price for the second and/or third favourites. So an adjusted market for the favourites could look something like The outsiders could be adjusted also, but the percentage difference between prices is much smaller (51 to 101 is just 1%), hence it is little use to the overall market figure. So if you wanted to get a better price on the favourite, one method of doing it would be to force the price of the second fav in. The main way to do that is to back it. Of course that costs money, but there are smarter ways of doing it for less. To send a price tumbling, several bookmakers need to start dropping their price, which then affects the official fluctuations recorded and transmitted away from the track. Walking up to the biggest bookie in the ring to start the plunge wouldn't be the best place to start. You could walk up with five grand in your hand for the decoy move, and then break down in tears when the big-name bookie decides to stand the whole bet without rearranging his market! Every betting ring has its market leaders and the sheep: those who will go best price on their own, those who will go by their opinion and lay certain horses for significant sums, those who are averse to risk and will only take the minimum wagers allowed, those who have knee-jerk reactions to price changes on other boards and follow them without laying a bet themselves. It's the latter types of bookmaker who help bring this betting coup off.

A number of smaller bets, say $1000 or even $500 at 3.5 on Scenic View will be enough to start the wave. Set the price moving with two or three bookies. Start rushing around making it look like people are desperate to get on. The risk-averse bookies down the line will start turning off the price before anyone's even pulled their wallet out, and then punters who were waiting for the best price on Scenic View will be forced to dive in, scared they won't see any better price after the money comes.  The rank-and-file punter feeds off price plunges - value is irrelevant. "If the money comes for a horse, then I have to be on it too" is the mentality. The trend is your friend as they say in stock broking circles, and a small ripple in the market has now turned into a decent-size wave, thanks to the lemming effect of Joe Public following the leader. The architects of the plunge are then ready for the real attack. The big money comes out and Battering Ram is backed across the board - 3.0, 2.75, 2.5 and a new batch of sheep will trail behind, forcing the starting price down further, perhaps as low as even money, 2.0. Why go to the trouble? These guys know what they are doing, they won't be doing it for fun. Having a saver on the second favourite limits the damage if the coup goes pear-shaped, and the better price taken on the favourite pays for the decoy money and more. This ploy could be just as lucrative on an exchange. The book margin is very tight, so the slightest movement on one horse will affect others. Add to that the better prices, the ability to lay and a massive userbase, many of whom simply trade on price trends rather than form assessment, and the opportunities are obvious. Not forgetting that Betfair lead the market on racing in the UK - if a price moves first on the exchange, bookmakers will move their prices accordingly. Punting syndicates aren't the only ones who try this routine. Australia is known to have some very pro-active bookmakers amidst the ranks - bookies who do the form themselves and then back their judgment accordingly where the value is. Certain corporate bookmakers are renowned for rating a horse at 2/1, backing it heavily around the ring at 9/2 starting a significant plunge which then gets transmitted around the nation on the fluctuations, and then laying it back to punters at 3/1 or 7/2, locking in a profit either way for the book. The reason for revealing this particular type of betting coup? Only a tiny percentage of punters will ever be in a position to manufacture this sleight-of-hand, but many more will be able to realise what's going on and not be fooled into panic betting. Be confident in your initial analysis. Keep a close eye on the volume of bets that moved the decoy price. If you see the smaller bookies on course moving, then chances are it's a smoke and mirrors ploy to manipulate the market. The same on an exchange - if a price is moving, but the amounts getting matched to generate the plunge are quite small, the likelihood is that it's just an illusion......

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