How to Spot a Steamer in Horse Racing

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Two horses leading the pack in a race.
BetMGM @BETMGM Mar 10, 2022, 11:23 AM

If you’re a fan of online sports betting and horse racing, you’ll have been on the lookout for any edge to help improve your chances of winning. Some believe you might be able to boost your chances of making a profit by knowing how to spot a steamer. Learn how to do this below and grow your library of horse racing betting strategies and skills.

What is a steamer?

A steamer is a horse that starts receiving backing, resulting in even more people backing it, which further results in even more people backing it. This results in the odds shortening, which, in this case, means the horse is believed to be more likely to win, even if this is not necessarily the case when looking at things more objectively. 

What leads to a horse becoming a steamer?

No matter what kick-starts the steamer, the reality is that each one is created because people “jump on the bandwagon.” When people see others backing a horse, they don’t want to be left out and risk losing out, even if there is a lack of proof indicating that it is a sure thing. This leads to a shortening of the odds and, as a result, a steamer is born. But what are some of the reasons that could lead to this happening?
A steamer can be created for a number of reasons. Here are a few examples:

  • There’s a change in conditions: The weather can play a significant role in creating a steamer. For example, heavy rains may soften the track, leading to speculation that certain horses who prefer those conditions will perform better than expected.
  • A jockey is replaced: While more often than not, this change is discussed in relation to a drifter (where the odds of a horse winning decrease), any event that leads to a jockey being replaced could result in the creation of a steamer. In the event that a jockey is replaced with a jockey who is more skilled or perhaps more suited for the conditions of a particular race, bettors may decide to back a horse, even if it wasn’t viewed favorably leading up to the race.
  • A “tip” leaks on social media: A tip, whether it is genuine or not, can undoubtedly lead to a horse becoming a steamer. For example, a positive comment by a reliable source could spark the flame that creates a steamer. On the other hand, a rumor being repeated enough times could also lead to a horse becoming a steamer.
  • The horse receives good press: This follows a very similar pattern to what occurs on social media (and is very much connected to it), but an article or headline that grabs the attention of gamblers can also kick-start a rush towards a particular horse.
  • How a horse acts in the parade ring: With many sportsbooks accepting bets up until the point horses line up in the starting gate (and some even accepting wagers during a race), it’s not surprising to discover that even how a horse acts during a parade ring could influence bettors. A horse that appears to be in fine form could inspire people to take a chance on it, even if it’s normally not an exceptional racer.

These are just a few of the factors that could result in a horse becoming a steamer, and these elements could differ depending on whether a horse is involved in a single race or a horse racing tournament.

How do I recognize a steamer?

Generally speaking, spotting a steamer can be incredibly easy. In order to spot a steamer, all you have to do is follow the odds and whether people are consistently backing a horse. If the odds didn’t have that much faith in a horse but they start to shift in its favor and continue to do so, congratulations, you’ve found a steamer.

Can I take advantage of this knowledge?

Yes, but it’s not through simple betting, but rather exploiting the shift in odds and the costs associated with a bet by placing a bet at one price and hoping its price shifts so you can exit the bet and make a profit. This makes it more akin to stock market trading than sports betting. Even if this has your curiosity piqued, taking advantage of this shift is incredibly difficult, as it requires you to spot the wave of a steamer as it’s starting to form, and who knows if this wave may come crashing down, causing you to take a loss? Gamblers may be no stranger to risk, but this is a different strategy than simply trying to figure out what is the best horse for you to wager on in a race.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.