Horse racing and betting go together like cheese on crackers, and it’s even fairly unusual for someone to watch a race without having a bet on it. This makes it different from any other sport where betting is secondary.
Understandably, this means racing has massive coverage with most online betting sites with the majority offering markets on all UK & Irish Racing. Some bookies go one step further and also offer odds on races overseas – including the USA, Dubai and Australia.
Here we give you the run down on the 10 best places to bet on the horses.
Horse Racing Overview
Betting on the horses is a rite of passage for some and a weekly institution for many, whether it’s an on-the-nose flutter on a favourite that is highly fancied or a small stakes Lucky 15 to add a bit of excitement when watching a meeting from home.
To the layman, betting on a specific horse to win a particular race seems a pretty straightforward thing, and it’s true – horse racing betting is easy to learn, and yet difficult to master profitably (that’s not to say that many don’t, and indeed there are professional horse racing bettors out there for whom their wagers are their sole source of income).
Whether you are completely new to horse racing betting or simply want a quick refresher, in this article we have tried to publish just some of the things you will need to know in order to a) place your bets and b) hopefully pick up a winner or two along the way.
At a Glance Guide to Betting on Racing
First things first, you’ll need to have a live account with an online bookmaker, or access to a high street betting shop, to get up and running – happily, there are many welcome bonuses and promotions out there that will help you to get started in fine fashion.
You’ll then place your bet based on a spot of light research, from which you will learn the horses in a race that have a better chance of winning/placing than their odds imply – this is called ‘value’ betting. Some of the parameters for shortlisting value horses can be found later in this guide.
Once you have drawn up your shortlist of selections, the time has come to place your bets – as mentioned, load up your chosen bookmakers’ app/website, or get your shoes on and head into town.
How to Bet on Horses – Win or Each Way?
One of the reasons people love horse racing betting so much is that you don’t even need to back the winner in a race to profit.
Of course, you can place a ‘win only’ bet if you want to, but the option for an each way wager should not be overlooked.
What is Each Way Betting?
In the running races at the Olympic Games, you will see gold, silver and bronze medals handed out to those finishing first, second and third. And similarly in Formula One you will note that the post-race celebrations are enjoyed by the first three drivers home, who then get to spray each other liberally with expensive champagne because… well, because they can, really.
Think of each way betting in those terms: you only need your horse to finish on the podium to net a return.
The actual size of your return will vary on the horse’s odds, where it finished and the terms that the bookmakers are offering, because different races have different each way placings to finish in.
As a rough guide, here’s how many places are paid based upon the number of horses in the race:
- 1-4 runners – win only
- 5-7 runners – top two place
- 8-15 runners – first three place
- 16+ runners – first four place
There are some exceptions to the rule, with some bookmakers offering special terms on the big races like the Grand National, where they may pay as many as eight places, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, where they may extend their place payments based upon the prestige of the race.
How are Each Way Winnings Calculated?
There are a couple of things to note here: specifically, where your horse finishes, how many places are being offered and the terms that the bookie has put in place, which tend to be 1/4 or 1/5 depending on the size of the race.
Let’s run through a quick example. You have backed One-Legged Wonder in the 15:00 at Kempton at odds of 5/1. You have placed a £5 each way bet, which means that your total stake is £10 – £5 for the win portion and £5 for the place. The bookie is paying out at 1/5 of the odds on the first four places.
One Legged Wonder wins – hurrah! To calculate your winnings, you take the win part of your bet (£5 x 5/1) and the place part (5/1 divided by the 1/5 place odds) and add them together, which in this case equals £30 profit (£25 for the win and £5 for the place) plus of course your £10 stake returned.
One Legged Wonder places – not bad. Here, we have lost the ‘win’ portion of the bet so that £5 disappears, however we get our £5 place return. As such, we basically break even at these odds and with these place terms.
One Legged Wonder lives up to his name and finishes last – damn. Our £10 is lost, and we move on to the next race.
Horse Racing Bet Types
You can place a single wager on a horse you fancy in the win only or each way market if you want – what could be simpler.
But there are additional bet types, which we’ll compile together under the heading of ‘multiples’. The intriguing pay-off here is that while increasing the likelihood you will lose your stake, they also enhance your profit should it land.
There are traditional multiples such as doubles, trebles and accumulators, where you need all of the horses to win/place to get your hands on the loot. You can back multiples in win only and each way fashion.
And then we have ‘cover bets’. Also known as combis for reasons that will become clear, these wagers feature three or more horse selections and your return is their combined performance, e.g. a Trixie requires you to pick three horses, and on those you will place four bets – three doubles and a treble. If two of your three horses win/place, you are assured some kind of return.
Other combi bets include a Patent (three selections and seven bets of three singles, three doubles and a treble), Yankee (four selections, no singles), Lucky 15 (four selections), a Canadian (five selections) and so on, right through to a Goliath which is an eight-fold accumulator of 247 bets.
What is the SP in Horse Racing?
It’s interesting to know about the Starting Price (SP) in horse racing, because this may result in you getting better odds on your bets – and thus make more money if they are successful selections.
The SP is calculated using an average of the odds offered by on-course bookmakers at a race meeting, with an appointed panel of judges determining the SP based upon the fluctuations in price that they observe.
The majority of bookmakers use the SP, and those running the Best Odds Guaranteed (BOG) promotion – more on that shortly – will always pay out the higher amount on winning bets, whether that is at the odds you took when you placed the wager or the horse’s SP at the start of the race.
However, where BOG isn’t offered, you have a gamble in all senses of the word – will you take the odds supplied by your bookmaker, or will you take the SP and hope that it secures a better return?
How to Bet on Horse Racing and Win
The title of this section is a little misleading – there simply is no guaranteed way of betting on the horses and winning.
That said, you can greatly increase your chances by doing your research, studying the formbook and making a more insightful set of selections based upon what you have learned.
There’s an old saying that form is temporary but class is permanent. Well, in horse racing betting, we’re actually looking for both – form, both as in recent performances and course form, plus class in the sense that the horses we’re backing have won at the level before, or at least shown signs of being able to make the step up in grade.
You’ll often hear horses being referred to as course and distance winners, and that is another useful insight. History at a particular track should not be overlooked, because many of the UK and Irish racecourses have unique characteristics – they could be left or right handed tracks, the fences can be stiff or more forgiving, the surface can be undulating or flat, it could feature an uphill run-in, and so on.
If a horse is successful at the course and has previous over the distance – many specialise at a certain length of race – then that augurs well, and for the same reason many punters avoid backing those who don’t have C&D pedigree to their name.
Winning at the course and over the distance is one thing, but has your horse achieved success in the prevailing conditions in the past? The weather in the UK and Ireland is changeable to say the very least, and one week the going can be good in a dry spell before turning to heavy if a deluge of rain comes. The going determines how soft the ground is, and some horses prefer quicker conditions while others feel right at home in a mudbath.
There are certain trainers that thrive at specific racecourses. Maybe they are local to the area, or in the case of Willie Mullins and Cheltenham you sense the Irishman trains his horses specifically for success at the famous track. That connection, plus his or her partnership with a jockey with whom they’ve enjoyed glory in the past, should be looked for as well as the history of an owner in a particular race or meeting – JP McManus, for example, has stacks of winners at the Cheltenham Festival under his belt.
All of the above applies in handicap races, but there’s another factor to consider – the horse’s rating as determined by the handicapper. This will dictate how much extra weight a horse will have to carry, so if you are going to wager on the top weight then you will need to make sure that they have the class to outrun the field even accounting for that.
The Best Horse Racing Betting Features
So now that you have an understanding of how to bet on the horses, you’ll need to consider where you want to place them.
Some punters are enticed by welcome offers and promotions that the bookies put on the table, and it has to be said that these do offer a chance for you to build your bankroll – food for thought indeed.
But clearly there’s more to joining an online bookmaker than just that carrot, and we advise all of our readers to consider the perks of a long-term relationship with your chosen betting site.
To help focus your mind on that front, there are some common promotions and features that you should be aware of when making your decision.
The first is Best Odds Guaranteed, which we have touched upon already. This ensures that you get the very best price on all of your bets, which if you are betting at high volume really does make a difference in the long term.
There are plenty of bookmakers that offer live streaming these days. You can catch all of the latest action via their mobile app, including UK and Irish racing as well as some overseas meetings from France, Australia and beyond. Even if you have a subscription to Sky Sports Racing etc, live streaming could be a factor if you are betting/watching on the move.
If you will be betting prominently on the National Hunt calendar, you will certainly be interested in promotions like faller insurance. As the name suggests, if your selection falls then you will have your stake refunded, and that can be of great peace of mind.
There are other nice touches offered by some bookies, such as the ability to add horses to your own stable so that you are notified when they are running, but really a combination of the above plus generous odds (be sure to research which bookies offer the best prices for the type of races you want to bet on) will ensure you get the best possible foundation for your betting.
And the rest is up to you. Here’s hoping you can back a winner or two.