What Are Shortening Odds?

A horse race in progress

Odds shortening within betting markets is a very common occurrence. As confidence grows in a team, player or horse, their price gets lower as bookmakers look to keep their liabilities low. Put simply then, ‘shortening odds’ are those getting smaller. Should a football team start out at 6/4 with a bookmaker, then move to 11/8, 5/4 and even 6/5, its odds are shortening. Likewise, a horse coming in from 10/1 to 7/1 has ‘shortening’ odds. The opposite is known as ‘drifting’, whereby a selection in a sports bet has lengthening odds.

In terms of phraseology, shortening odds are often known as ‘contracting’, with well-backed horses in particular being known as ‘steamers’. To give punters an easy daily overview of which horses and teams are being well supported or otherwise, many industry websites and TV stations show the day’s ‘steamers and drifters’.

Why Do Odds Shorten?

Horse racing is where we see the biggest market moves within sports betting. Being ‘well backed in the market’, ‘shortening significantly’ and being ‘backed off the boards’ is something we see of many horses each and every day, while strong moves for football teams and other sports selections also take place. Such moves in the market are completely normal. Prices are put up on selections initially, however, they are fluid and aren’t expected to remain stagnant.

Once a horse is quoted at 9/2 or a football team is put up at 7/4, they aren’t expected to stay that way until the time of the event. Market fluctuations are normal and always occur. Contracting odds can be caused by numerous things, the basics being:

Strong Money for the Selection

When a race horse or sports team is very well backed, its odds have to contract. A strong public opinion can change the odds, or some good ‘inside information’ on perhaps a horse can ensure the odds are at least trimmed.

Others in the Market Are Drifting

Usually, drifts happen on the back of something in the market being well backed, but it can occasionally happen the other way around. Some horses, for example, can be so weak in the market than a favourite’s odds will keep shrinking as it appears to have easily the best winning chance.

Market Whispers

Market whispers

Those in the know can often leak information, not necessarily nefariously, about a big-hitting player being fit to play, or about a young racehorse having been working very well at home. When those with the right info start backing a certain selection, the odds can absolutely crash as bookmakers look to balance their books or protect themselves.

How Shortening Odds Can Hugely Alter Your Returns

There is a balancing act to be found with well-backed sporting selections, especially within horse racing. True, your horse being well backed is seen as being a good thing as there is apparent confidence in it, however, if you don’t get your bet on in time you could be taking 6/4 about a horse than was 3/1 earlier in the day.

Lots of big gambles go unrewarded in sports betting. In football, teams can be well backed and still be beaten as the bets may not be professional ones, but rather there was simply a weight of money for one team. In horse racing, however, a very big market move usually starts from stable staff, owners or trainers understanding that their horse has a better chance than the original odds suggest, though sometimes the money is left in the bookies’ satchels.

Well backed winners tend to give a lot of pleasure to punters collectively. It’s the never-ending battle against the bookies which creates that. Seeing the layer get smashed with a hugely well backed favourite brings us all much pleasure, but still if we jump on too late or rely on the SP then our returns can be severely affected by shortening odds. We aren’t talking about losing 1% or so, we are talking about big differences in returns.

Examples of Horses with Shortening Odds

In the below three examples, these horses were all well backed on course. Their changing odds are only based on what price they opened ten minutes or so before the race compared to the starting price. They may have been even higher earlier in the day.

Shortening odds example

£20 at 9/1 (opening price) = £180 net win; £20 at 5/1 (SP) = £100 (-£80)

Shortening odds example

£10 at 20/1 = £200 net win; £10 at 12/1 = £120 (-£80)

Shortening odds example

£30 at 7/2 = £105 net win; £30 at 11/4 = £82.50 (-£22.50)

To put it a different way; the winning returns of these three winners shrank by 44.44%, 40% and 21.42%, respectively, and they aren’t even the biggest gambles we’ll see on a yearly basis.