Or is it a question of where. This method of betting on horses works by being able to back and lay the same horse. A betting exchange like Betfair is an ideal place to do this. For a horse who's odds are shortening (steaming) the idea is to back when the odds are wider and lay the odds when they are shorter. The rule of thumb to make money by movement in the odds is to lay short odds and back longer odds. So, if the horse is drifting you lay when the odds are short and back after they lengthen. This is a type of betting arbitrage and locks in a small profit whatever the outcome. The profit is determined by the difference between the odds (back and lay) and the size of the stake.
I know, I know, this all sounds very easy when we are sitting in ivory towers, but what about the real world. There is skill to betting on steamers and drifters, which involves selecting in advance which horses will show these profitable characteristics.
If you are unfamiliar with Betfair it is worth taking sometime to get to know the website.
Here are 3 ways to find steamers and drifters. But first, a tip to aid you in the quest for spotting steamers or drifters. Get comfortable with Betfair and how the odds change before a race starts. Notice which horses have an imbalance of money backing or laying. Significantly more money backing a horse can be an indication that something has happened to improve the horse's chances. Consequently other Betfair members may offer shorter odds, which can turn the horse into a steamer. The opposite is true for a horse who's likelihood of winning reduces for some reason.
Ok, now for three tips for finding steamers or drifters.
The weather. If the whether changes un-expectantly or by more than what has been predicted the chance of certain horses performing well or badly can change dramatically. Let's expand on this. The weather affects the state of the race track, known as 'the going'. The condition of the track is tested by an official at the race track. They push a stick into the track to see the state of the earth. There are a range of classifications that are used; hard, firm, good to firm, good, good to soft, soft, and heavy. Some horses perform much better on certain surfaces than others. For example, if 'the going' is good it suits a horse that has speed. If the ground is less than good (good to soft, soft and heavy) then a horse with stamina will perform better.
If the weather forecast foretells that the going will be good the favourite will be a horse with speed. If you have a more reliable weather forecast or you have information about a change of conditions as they happen you can back or lay the horse before its odds change.
Imagine there is unexpected rain or more than expected. If a horse is favourite because it has speed it's odds will lengthen significantly (drift), and a horse's odds who has stamina will shorten (steam). In this example you would lay the favourite to lose at short odds. Then back the horse to when after the odds have drifted. The same works in reverse for the horse with stamina who's odds will steam. This is just one example of how a change in weather can produce steamer and drifters.
The rider. A change of Jockey can produce a steamer or drifter. If a jockey is injured, then the horse is allocated another jockey. As you might expect an experienced jockey will perform better than a jockey who hasn't had as many races or good performances. The odds will drift (lengthen) if a jockey is replaced by one with less experience. The odds will steam (shorten) if a less experienced jockey is replaced by one who has had better performances.
The third and final method of finding drifters or steamers is to watch the horse closely before the race. During this time the horse will be warmed up by the trainer. It is possible for the horse to use up too much energy during the warm up. Tell tail signs of a horse that is expending too much energy before 'the off' are lots of sweat (actually loads of sweat caused by anxiety), rearing, and kicking the hind legs. You can not use this technique in isolation. A good knowledge of the horse and trainer is important. This makes it easier to spot abnormal behavior shown by the horse before the start.