Those who wager on sports and competitions such as horse or dog racing have many different betting opportunities, otherwise referred to as “markets.” The odds offered by bookmakers on such markets can fluctuate, sometimes quite greatly, between the time the market first opens and the time the event actually begins.
One popular way to wager on a market is something called the Starting Price or SP Bet. As the name implies, it is a bet placed at the price of the market when the event commences and no more betting is allowed. In a horse race, for example, the Starting Price of each entry will be equal to the official odds prevailing in the on-course fixed-odds betting market at the racecourse at the point the race begins.
Different countries use different methods for determining the Starting Prices. The typical method is for an appointed panel of “SP reporters” to determine them by consensus, based upon their observations of fluctuating prices. In the U.K., an average of the prices offered by on-course bookmakers is used as the SP at the start of each race. It doesn’t matter whatsoever where or how an SP Bet is made, because the payout must be at this officially announced rate.
Those making wagers trackside should note that Starting Price (SP) betting does not apply to Tote or pool betting. Those forms of wagering return their own “tote” dividends, as calculated through the “totalisator,” a computer that registers bets and divides the total amount wagered among those who won (also know as a pari-mutuel machine, totaliser or totalizator). There is no connection between the Tote and the SP.
Because nobody can know exactly what the odds will be at that exact moment the Starting Price is set, such a wager has certain advantages and disadvantages. The payout may be either higher or lower than the fixed odds offered on the market by betting ante post, which means choosing a winner from a field of competitors as much as three months, six months, or even a year before they actually go to post.
Most SP Bets are made when there are no early fixed odds available for the event in question. However, another good time to make an SP Bet is when the odds are trending upward and it appears that the Starting Price will return greater odds than either the early prices or the Tote board odds displayed at the track.
To attract more early wagers, bookmakers often offer “best odds guaranteed.” That means the payout will be either the fixed odds agreed upon in advance or the Starting Price, whichever is the higher of the two.
For example, if an ante post price of 7/2 is taken and the selected horse comes in at an SP of 4/1, a £2 bet will pay £8 not £7. Conversely, if 4/1 is taken ante post and the winner pays an SP of 7/2, the payout will still be £8 on a £2 wager—best odds guaranteed.
Another aspect of SP Bets to be aware of is how betting exchanges set their Starting Prices. In the case of betfair, the world’s largest betting exchange, the SP is based not on trackside odds but on the number of backers and layers in a given market. Unlike the odds-making methods of bookmakers, there is no margin for profit built in. The betfair SP is determined solely by balancing bets from customers who want to back and lay at Starting Price, and it is announced immediately after a market turns “In-Play.”