It is known as the sport of kings, and few betting moments get the heart pumping in quite the same way as cheering on your horse as it enters the home straight in the lead.
Horse racing betting dates back more than a century, and in that time many punters have aimed to replace their lump of coal with a gold nugget by developing a strategy that works time after time.
We hate doing this to you so early on in the article, but unfortunately there is no horse racing betting strategy available that is a shortcut to guaranteed success. If there was we’d all be adopting it, and the bookies would be out of business.
Even the simplest of horse racing betting strategies – blindly backing the favourite – has been proven to be a damp squib, with the favourite winning roughly just 35% of all races; which when you consider how many start the race at odds-on prices it’s easy to see that you would lose money in the long run.
That’s why when favourite loses at the major meetings the biggest cheer comes from the on-course bookmakers!
But there are ways in which you can enhance your win rate, and there are horse racing betting strategies that – while far from foolproof – will at least increase your chances of success by improving your discipline and giving you a framework to stick to.
That consistent, methodical approach is your best hope of being profitable in the long run when it comes to backing horses.
How to Back a Winner in Horse Racing
Again, to reiterate, there is no quick and easy way to back winning horses race after race.
Horse racing is an incredibly nuanced sport, especially when you factor in handicaps and other unique conditions, and as such there are a myriad of outcomes that can unfold in every single race around the world.
To help minimise the house’s edge, to borrow parlance from the casino, you simply have to do your research. There is no other way of increasing your chances of success. In horse racing betting, consider yourself as something of a detective – you are looking for clues as to how to solve the puzzle of who will win a specific race.
So what sort of thing should you be looking for? The list below is by no means exhaustive, but here are some elements you absolutely must consider when analysing each race:
- Current form
- Course form
- Going and distance
- Jockey/trainer form
- Handicap (where appropriate)
Let’s look at each of them in turn.
Understanding the Form Book
Horses are like humans, in some senses: they too have good and bad days at the office.
And that’s why taking a look at the formline of a horse is so important, because you can quickly identify a runner that is consistently good and one which simply isn’t able to compete at a given level.
Let’s say you are analysing a Grade 3 race, and in the field you have a horse that has excelled at this level before with continuous good form, and one which continues to finish outside of the places.
Which are you more inclined to back?
The great horses tend to beat all-comers and go on winning streaks that last years, but there are also horses that never go on to achieve great things but who can be reliably backed at specific courses.
That’s why course form is so important, because the characteristics of each track can be so different. Some jump left-handed and some to the right. Some are completely flat and some are undulating. Some are a near-perfect circle and some are more oval in shape. Some have sharp bends. Some have uphill run-ins. Some have long home straights.
So, you can take a horse whose current form is mixed, but when they return to a unique track such as Leicester or Sandown they boast a seriously good pedigree. And that’s why we offer equal weighting to current and course form – if you can back horses with both on a regular basis, you won’t go far wrong.
A Class Apart
Keep a close eye on the level that each horse in a field has competed at before.
Let’s say we are once again shortlisting horses in a Grade 3 race. Horse A has a formline of 5-3-7-8 in their last four starts which have all come in Grade 2 starts, whereas Horse B has a formline of 2-1-3-2 in Listed outings.
Which is the better bet? Of course, there are other factors that go into answering that question, but we just wanted to highlight why course form is only part of the equation – exactly where that formline has been achieved is also a key consideration.
It’s generally considered that a horse stepping down in class will perform better – again, this is not an exact science.
Often connections (owner/trainer) don’t always get their horse’s appropriate grade right – this is especially true for runners in their first season – and if you believe the cynics, some owners and trainers deliberately enter their charges at the wrong level in order to get a more agreeable handicap mark.
Going and Distance
Send Usain Bolt out to race Mo Farah over 10,000 metres and the result is inevitable. Similarly, if that duo competed in a 100m sprint Bolt would surely win by a comfortable margin.
In the equine world, some horses are considered ‘stayers’ e.g. they run better over longer distances where their stamina can come to the fore; others are bred to be sprinters in 5f and 6f shootouts. Then there are those who fit somewhere in the middle.
The point is that some horses campaign with lots of success over a specific distance before being sent over a shorter/longer stretch – results are often mixed, as we saw in Altior’s experiment in the longer Christy 1965 Chase, where his long winning streak was brought to an end.
Our advice is to back consistent campaigners over the same distance – horses being tried over a new distance are a risk rarely worth taking for punters.
Another conditional factor is the going. This is essentially the firmness of the footing, ranging from good (usually found on the flat and late on in the jumps campaign) through to heavy, when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Some horses prefer quicker going so that their sheer speed can come to the fore, whereas others are happy with a mud-soaked grind. Again, do your research to determine who is likely to prevail on any given day.
What you will find as you embark upon your race research is that some connections – the term used to describe the trainer-owner partnership – perform better at certain tracks than others.
After all, what other explanation is there for Willie Mullins winning seven of the last ten editions of the leading trainer award at the Cheltenham Festival? Quite simply, his horses are targeted at the March extravaganza all year long.
Will you make money if you bet on Mullins’ horses blindly at the Festival? Not necessarily, but of course it’s a good starting point for your strategizing.
You will find these quirky trends at other courses too, with the likes of Dan Skelton enjoying an excellent record at Hereford – close to his Warwickshire base – and so on. This is really useful information to have at your disposal.
As you may know, racehorse breeding is big business.
Owners bid big money to get their hands on a prized foal that comes from a sire and dam with a history of birthing big race champions.
That pedigree is another factor to add into the mix then, especially in maiden races where typically very little is known about the horses. A lineage of high quality running over sprint distances or in 3m + races is often a strong hint as to how an unknown quantity will perform.
At a Handicap
It would be fair to say that handicap races can be some of the most difficult for punters to try and predict.
Each horse is assigned a weight to carry based upon their past performances, and the general logic is that the top weight is at a disadvantage to the rest of the field. It doesn’t always pan out this way though, and plenty of top weights win in spite of their handicap.
The job for punters is to work out whether a high mark will be enough to level the playing field between the favourite and the rest of the entrants in a race. Remember, handicap marks change all the time, and often an excellent guide is looking at a horse’s mark today compared to the last time they won (or at least were competitive).
Handicap races can be tough to fathom out, but they can offer plenty of reward for punters who do their homework.
Horse Racing Betting Strategies
The reason for outlining the shortlisting criteria above is that these are the basic building blocks for success in horse racing betting.
If you use those alone, you might enjoy some success, but of course there are many other pitfalls that punters fall into: poor money management, chasing losses, a lack of discipline etc, and that’s where betting strategies become so useful.
Here are some of the most popular horse racing betting strategies you could follow:
Horse Racing Betting Strategy #1: Each Way Gains
Absolute newcomers to horse racing betting tend to stick to the win only market, thinking that each way is some kind of trick because you have to stake on two bets for a single selection.
The reality, however, is that you will make more money from backing your selections each way than you would win only – it’s a simple fact.
Place terms remain pretty generous with the bookies – generally, races with seven horses or fewer pay out on the first two home, 8-15 horses pay on the top three, and 16 or more on the top four. The big races, such as the Grand National, enjoy enhanced each way terms in which you might get paid on the first six or seven to finish too.
So, if you bet exclusively on eight-horse races with each way terms, your chances of success increase exponentially.
As suggested, when you bet each way you are placing two wagers: one on the win market and one on the place market. Your win bet will pay out slightly lower than the true odds, but the emphasis here is on spreading risk, building your bankroll and trying to minimise the number of races in which you don’t make some kind of a return.
It is so much easier to pick horses that will finish in the first three, rather than the outright winner, that all punters – no matter what their experience level – really ought to be betting each way.
Horse Racing Betting Strategy #2: Finding Value
You often hear the (wrongful) claim that a short-priced favourite can’t be ‘value’, or that long-odds outsiders offer great value – presumably because of their big returns.
The notion of value is a funny thing in sports betting, because it is intangible, really – just a sense that a horse has been priced wrong; either too short (where Strategy #4 becomes a possibility) or too long, at which point you will have found perceived value in the market.
Finding value selections stems from the pointers we have outlined in this article as to how to find a winner, with the idea being that – in the long term – if you can continue to find horses that have been undervalued or overrated by the market you will profit.
One of the ways that professional sports bettors measure their success is by their ability to ‘beat the closing line’. From a horse racing perspective, that means that if you back a horse two hours to post at 3/1 and it’s SP is 5/2, you have found a value bet and beaten the closing line – in effect, the market tells you that you have found a strong horse at a great price.
Now, that particular horse may or may not go on to win, but the point is that you are a value punter if you can consistently beat the SP – in the long run you *should* be profitable.
Horse Racing Betting Strategy #3: Dutching
The natural inclination for punters is to find one horse in a race that they think will win or at least finish in the places.
But have you ever considered the possibility of backing more than one horse in a single race?
Betting on two or more selections is known as Dutching, and this can be a profitable system. That said, of course you will still need to find regular winners, and your stake will be doubled when betting on two horses, tripled for three and so on, so the risks are obvious.
The key to Dutching is in improving your chances of winning, and the best way to explain that is to use implied probabilities to highlight the key points.
Let’s say we have an eight-horse race.
We back the favourite at odds of 2/1 – that horse has an implied probability of winning of 33.3%.
We then Dutch the favourite with a second horse we fancy at 4/1 – that horse has an implied winning probability of 20%.
So already we have, theoretically at least, a one-in-two chance of backing a winner according to the market prices, and if we are smart in how we stake on the two horses we can achieve an equal profit should either take the spoils.
Add a third horse and your implied probability increases further (as does your risk). Any more than three selections and you will seriously eat into your profitability.
Initially thought up by maths whizz Otto Berman back in the 1930s, Dutching can be an excellent way of increasing your chances of winning, and is arguably best employed in races where there are two or three strong favourites around the 3/1 mark with the rest of the field expected to lag behind.
Horse Racing Betting Strategy #4: Become the Bookie
How do bookmakers make their money? There are lots of avenues for the books to profit, but one of the most prominent is when the favourites lose – especially in the big races where the market leader is available at odds-on prices.
The bookies face the risky proposition of laying bets, and in the long run most are profitable from this tactic.
You too can lay horses when you open a betting exchange account with the likes of Betfair or Smarkets. By laying a horse, you are predicting that it won’t win the race – meaning you profit from any other runner in the field that does.
Laying is a risky strategy – your liabilities will likely be higher than your standard back stake, but let’s be honest it tends to be easier to find a loser than it is to back winners in horse racing!
Some Final Thoughts on Horse Racing
By doing your research, being willing to learn from your experiences and following the basic pointers above, you will soon be able to pick out the odd winner from a horse racing card.
If you are somebody that struggles with discipline or consistency, that alone might not be enough for you to be profitable long-term, however.
This is where horse racing betting strategies come in handy. These aren’t shortcuts to success nor golden egg laying geese, but they do offer a set of theoretical rules for you to follow with your punting.
And, when you look back on your bets over a given time period, that might just be the difference between making money and not.