Horse Racing Betting Rules

Whether you are a seasoned punter or just getting started in horse racing betting, it pays to get to grips with rules and regulations governing the sport.

You may have heard terms like Rule 4 before, or maybe you've always wondered what happens if your selection finishes in a dead heat with another runner. Well, wonder no moreā€¦.

Ante Post & Day of Race Markets

When you place your bet on a specific race determines its classification. There are, broadly speaking, two types of horse racing wager: ante post and day of race.

The style of bet you place can have an impact upon your return further down the line. For now, you need to know that ante post wagers are basically 'future betting', e.g. having a flutter on a race that will take place in the future. It could be in three months time or three days - both would be examples of an ante post punt.

Why is this distinction important?

An ante post bet requires you make your selection before the race declarations have been made; that is, before the line-up of runners and riders has been confirmed. The downside of this is that if a horse is later declared a non-runner, you will not get your stake back. Usually the declarations are made 24 hours before the race (longer for the 'big' races), and this is the cut-off point in terms of ante post markets becoming day of race.

The Advantages of Ante Post Betting

There are two obvious benefits to ante post betting, however. Firstly, you won't have to worry about any annoying Rule 4 adjustments. We'll cover this in more depth later in this article, but essentially a Rule 4 deduction will reduce your winnings should a horse after being declared in the field then become a non-runner. This is, unfortunately, a reasonably common occurrence. But if you place an ante post wager, then Rule 4 does not apply and your potential pay out remains the same.

Secondly, the prices up for grabs in an ante post market will nearly always be better than those available on the day of the race. So often we will see a favourite's odds tumble on the day or in the run-up to a meeting if they are in good form, so if you can spot some value in advance then it pays to get involved as early as possible.

A large number of punters like to back their Cheltenham fancies as early as the preceding Christmas, after studying the results from the busy festive schedule!

Dead Heats

You've probably witnessed a dead heat or two if you've spent any time following horse racing: two thoroughbreds going hammer and tong down the final straight before crossing the line neck-and-neck. What do the bookmakers do in this situation?

The good news is that your betslip is still a winning one. The bad news is that you will have to accept a smaller pay-out.

Let's say you've dropped a tenner on a 10/1 hope, who then finishes in a dead heat with another runner. In essence, two horses have won the race, and thus you will take home half the bounty. In this case, that means your stake is halved; so your tenner bet becomes £5, which when multiplied by the 10/1 price means you will take home a profit of £50, rather than the £100 if your selection had won outright.

In the unlikely event of a three-way tie, your winnings will be reduced by a third, so in the example above your bet would become £3.33 x 10/1.

Rule 4

One of the most frustrating regulations in horse racing betting - and one that tends to bewilder those new to the sport - is Rule 4.

Rule 4(C), to give it it's full name, was devised by the Tattersalls' Rule of Racing, and this dictates that bookmakers must be compensated when there is a late withdrawal of a horse from a race.

We're not ones to give the bookies sympathy, but imagine a scenario where a six-horse race is reduced to three runners after a trio of late pull-outs. The bookmakers would be on a hiding to nothing for reasons beyond their control, so we have to expect there to be compensatory action. A new price is formulated by the trading teams, and your payout will be reflective of this.

If you had backed a runner at, say, 4/1 in a six-horse field, then there's no way that price would have been offered in a race containing three competitors. These Rule 4 deductions are made after the final declarations are announced, so if you back a horse that goes on to become a non-runner then you will have your stake refunded.

The bookies use a common formula for calculating this deduction relating to odds and the number of horses competing. This table covers the amount of deduction in every £1:

Odds of Withdrawn HorseDeductions
Odds of 1/9 or shorter at time of w/d90% of winnings deducted
Over 2/11 and up to 2/1785% deducted
Over 1/4 and up to 1/580% deducted
Over 3/10 and up to 2/570% deducted
Over 2/5 and up to 8/1565% deducted
Over 8/15 and up to 8/1360% deducted
Over 8/13 and up to 4/555% deducted
Over 4/5 and up to 20/2150% deducted
Over 20/21 and up to 6/545% deducted
Over 6/5 and up to 6/440% deducted
Over 6/4 and up to 7/435% deducted
Over 7/4 and up to 9/430% deducted
Over 9/4 and up to 3/125% deducted
Over 3/1 and up to 4/120% deducted
Over 4/1 and up to 11/215% deducted
Over 11/2 and up to 9/110% deducted
Over 9/1 and up to 14/15% deducted
14/1 and overNo deduction

There is one obvious caveat to Rule 4, and that is that it doesn't apply to any ante post markets. Here you simply lose your stake should you back a non-runner, and if the race is shortened from five runners to two, for example, then your odds remain unmoved.

Postponed/Abandoned Races

Given that horse racing is an all-year round sport, there's little surprise that the schedule tends to get turned upside down by Britain's delightful weather.

The rules governing horse racing bets placed when races are postponed or abandoned are simple: all bets are cancelled if the race is abandoned or declared void (you may remember the Grand National of 1993 as one such example), the race conditions change or the overnight declarations are subsequently altered.

Occasionally entire meetings or individual races are re-scheduled. If the racecard is not reopened to new declarations then all bets stand, as they do if the race is simply scheduled for later in the same day. Punters are able to request a refund prior to the start of the race, however.

Should a horse have been scheduled for the first race but doesn't return for the re-arranged meet, then all other runners are subject to Rule 4 as this nag is deemed a non-runner. If the overnight declarations do not stand then a void follows.

Faller Insurance

This is a new kind of bet type that many bookmakers are offering, and we felt it worthy of further investigation as the term 'faller' is slightly vague.

Bets are refunded on all horses that are deemed 'fallers' as part of the official Steward's Decision of a race, while - crucially - should your jockey be unseated or your horse brought down by another then again this falls under the remit of Faller Insurance.

Alas, if your horse is pulled up with the jockey still in his or her seat, then this does not warrant your stake back, nor does a horse not finishing the race for any other reason.

Otherwise, all of the usual non-runner, Rule 4 and Dead Heat regulations apply.

Withdrawals/Non-Runners

We have covered these aspects as part of Rule 4, although there are a few other titbits that are worthy of your attention.

If a horse comes under starter's orders then it is deemed to be a runner; even if it doesn't make it out of the stalls or refuses to race. In these instances, your bet is lost.

Should they have been adjudged not to take to the starting line, then they will be declared a non-runner and the usual rules will follow.