Horse Racing Betting Guide

People have been betting on horse races for centuries all around the world and it has developed into a multibillion dollar global industry, with big prizes on offer for jockeys and trainers. To understand horse racing and become a successful bettor yourself it’s good to start with the basics, figuring out the typical bets you can place on a race and learning about the sport in general.

Of course, there is no need to be physically in attendance at a race track to enjoy racing. Watching a big race in the pub or at your local bookmakers can often be an exciting experience too.

For those with a cool head they might want to place their bets online, away from the drama of the event itself. In contrast, they may wish to quickly place an ‘In-running’ bet via a bookmaker’s app on their phone at a racetrack where they are watching live racing. In the digital age, options for bettors are almost endless.

Types of bets

With any bet you place on a horse race you will be offered odds – sometimes referred to as prices – by the bookmaker. If the horse you are backing is 7/1 for the win, for every unit you stake you would gain seven units in return, plus you’d get your stake back, if the horse is the winner. So if you bet £5 on a horse to win at 7/1 and your selection is successful you would win £35 and your £5 stake is returned to you.

In that example the type of wager is a ‘win only’ single bet. You could also have a single ‘place only’ bet, where you back the horse to finish first, second or third, but the odds you will get won’t be as high as they would be just for the win.

An each way bet, meanwhile, sees your stake split in two, with half placed on the win and half placed on a top three (or sometimes top two or four) finish with fractional odds. Here you are effectively placing two bets, so if you still want to put the same stake down as you were planning for the win only, then you have to double your stake to bet each way.

Other typical bets are straight forecast and reverse forecast bets. In the straight forecast you are predicting the which horses will specifically finish in first and second places respectively, whilst with a reverse forecast your selections are the two horses you believe will be the first two across the line, regardless of the order.

Once you get the hang of it horse racing offers a multitude of additional options in terms of bet types. With Tricast bets you look to correctly predict the exact order of the top three finishers, whilst with a double bet you are putting a wager on two horses in different races. A treble is where you back three horses in three separate races and the options increase if you want to add more events, with four-fold and five-fold accumulator bets and so on. These could be win only or each-way bets, so the possibilities really are numerous for the punter.

With a Trixie bet you pick three horses in three different races and you need two of the three to get a result in order to be successful. There are then more complex accumulators such as the Yankee, Lucky 15, Lucky 31 and a Heinz. The latter involves six horses, six races and 57 different bets combined in one. Those more complex combinations are probably best left to the experts and experienced bettors.

Another way to bet is on the ‘Betting Without’ market, where punters can back horses in a race and exclude the favourite from the result. So if you’ve taken this option and the horse you backed comes home in second place behind the favourite you have still won your bet. This is particularly interesting when a short-priced hot favourite is running and you fancy a wager on another horse in that race.

There are now also betting exchanges online where more experienced punters can participate by essentially taking the role of the bookmaker and lay on horse to lose. So they ‘win’ if the horse loses, but they have to pay out to those they have exchanged bets with if the horse wins. In the digital era it is also possible to place ‘In-Running’ bets as odds move up and down during the course of a race. In addition, many bookmakers offer free bets on horse racing - and other sports - to incentivise new customers to open accounts.


Making selections and picking winners

There is nothing to stop you from picking a horse just because you like the name or the colours the jockey is wearing. But when you are getting serious and really trying to pick a winner there are several key factors to consider. These will include, the odds, historical and recent form of the horse, the stable and trainer, the jockey’s ability and form, the horse’s suitability to the ground (‘going’) and the weather at the racecourse.

You will also want to consider the number of runners, the distance of the race, the weight the horse is carrying in a handicap race, tips from trusted sources and whether the odds are fluctuating just before the race gets underway. Keep an eye out for late ‘non-runners’ as when horses are pulled out of races it logically affects odds and will affect your bet, especially if your selection becomes a non-runner.

Also keep an eye out for early prices offered by bookmakers - which are usually online by the eve of the race – and their eventual difference to the final starting price (SP), which refers to the final odds being offered when the race gets underway. Many bookmakers offer best price insurance, should the SP turn out to be better for the punter than an early price that they have bet at.


Horse racing: the sport

Horse racing as a spectacle itself is exhilarating, especially when witnessed in person: the drama, the tension, the crowds, the smells, sights and sounds, the speed and athleticism. It’s a sport with great history and tradition, dating back to ancient Greece and Egypt and popular amongst the British nobility for centuries. 

In the UK there are two different types of racing, those being flat and National Hunt. In flat racing the race starts, the horses run and the winner is the first past the post. It’s a simple as that. Then there is also National Hunt racing, which is further split into two more key categories, steeplechases and hurdles. The difference here is that the obstacles in steeplechases are higher than those in hurdles and there are often water jumps behind the steeplechase fences. The Grand National, which takes place each year at Aintree and is one of the most famous races in the world, is a steeplechase. 

Within flat racing and National Hunt the races have different classifications depending on distance and the age, experience and quality of the runners. In flat racing there are handicap races, listed races, then Group 3, Group 2 and Group 1, with Group 1 being the highest and most prestigious classification, also offering the biggest prize money to winners. 

In National Hunt it’s bumpers (flat), handicaps, listed, Grade 3, Grade 2 and Grade 1, with Grade 1 being the best. Listed and grade races are also categorised as ‘Class 1’. In handicap racing horses carry weights, with the idea being to produce closer contests. The better the horse is rated, the higher the weight it must run with.

There are races going on all year round and horse racing is particularly popular in the UK and Ireland, Australia, the U.S. and the Middle East, with events such as Royal Ascot, the Cheltenham Festival, the Kentucky Derby, the Melbourne Cup and the Dubai World Cup providing huge excitement and fantastic racing.