What Are Drifting Odds?

Betting on sports

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One of the most common phrases you will hear muttered within the betting industry is ‘the odds are drifting’. So, what is drifting? Drifting odds are simply those getting bigger. For instance, if a horse was 3/1 and is now 4/1, its odds are drifting. ‘Drifting in the market’ is something selections do on almost all sports betting options, with the phrase most commonplace within horse racing.

The opposite of drifting is known by various industry-specific terms, such as ‘shortening’, ‘contracting’, or well-backed selections can be known as ‘steamers’. ‘Steamers’ and ‘drifters’ lists are shown on various betting-related websites, especially where horse racing and football is concerned, to give punters an overview of where the money is going that day and, perhaps more crucially, where it isn’t.

Why Do Betting Drifts Happen?

When watching horse racing especially, you’ll often hear a commentator say phrases, such as “this horse is drifting like a barge!” This is a daily occurrence in the betting world, as prices are linear and move up and down almost constantly. Once you put up a football team at 5/4 or a horse at 7/1, it is highly unlikely to remain at those odds until off time. There are always market fluctuations. There could be any number of reasons for a betting choice now being on the drift, including:

Lack of Money for the Selection

This is a very genuine one. If people are not backing a certain horse or team, then bookmakers will raise its price to entice more customers in. Drifters can simply be the result of not being fashionable in the market.

Others Are Being Well Backed

A balance in the betting market has to be maintained. So, if another selection is being particularly well backed, resulting in its price contracting, some contenders will then drift to keep the market right.


If the best players are not announced in a football team, there is a change in conditions, such as the weather, or there is word that a horse is not working very well, then it can lead to major drifts in the market.

How Drifters Can Dramatically Change Returns

Race horse

“The horse doesn’t know it’s drifting”

In most cases, a team or a horse drifting is not a good sign, despite the fact that this will lead to higher returns should it win. When there is no confidence behind a horse especially, drifts can be marked and statistically usually lead to defeat. On the other hand, a famous saying within horse racing is “the horse doesn’t know it’s drifting”, which is very true! It’s not great to see your horse drifting once you’ve got a bet on, but plenty of drifters do win. This is especially true within other sports, most notably football.

The reason for a winning drifter could be down to things not connected with professional betting or reliable statistics. For example, in August 2022, Brentford played Manchester United. The away side lost their opening game and were in turmoil, while Brentford were on a high. The fact is though that Manchester United have a much bigger fanbase and many of those will back their team blind. In this case, the weight of money on Man United led to Brentford drifting from 5/2 to 7/2, yet they were 4-0 up by half-time!

If you’d backed Brentford that day, their marked drift in the market would not have bothered you one bit and would have led simply to a higher return. Winning drifters can turn out to be extremely positive. Unlike in banking or the stock market, we aren’t usually dealing with a couple of per cent or less.

Winning Horse Racing Drifter Examples

These examples are typical of winning horse racing drifters, with figures based on a pretty standard bet for the type of horse:

Drifting example

£10 at 8/1 (opening price) = £80 net win; £10 at 9/1 = £90 (+£10)

Drifting example

£25 at 7/4 = £43.75 net win; £25 at 5/2 = £62.50 (+£18.75)

Drifting example

£20 at 10/3 = £66.67; £20 at 4/1 = £80 (+£13.33)

Drifting example

£20 at 4/1 = £80; £20 at 9/2 = £90 (+£10)

Drifting example

£30 at 9/4 = £67.50; £30 at 11/4 = £82.50 (+£15)

Drifting example

£10 at 28/1 = £280; £10 at 40/1 = £400 (+£120)

Put another way, these selections paid out 12.5%, 42.8%, 20%, 25%, 22.2% and 42.85% more based only on the drift from their opening price on the track to their starting price. They may have been even shorter prices earlier in the day.