Horse racing in the UK and Ireland has something of a mini crisis to navigate.
Rising energy costs and the increase in fuel prices are making it more expensive for racehorse trainers and owners to travel the length and breadth of their country with their prized assets.
The surge in expenses is not, for the most part, being offset by a rise in prize money, and so field sizes in UK racing in particular are reaching critically low levels.
So much so, there have been instances in which only one horse has been declared for a specific race, and on a couple of occasions in 2022 there were even instances where ZERO runners were declared – including one farcical episode at Newbury in July of 2022.
Other factors, including sweat-inducing heatwaves that seem to be becoming more frequent these days, also persuade owners and trainers to stay at home, and the situation could become increasingly problematic if the BHA and other racing stakeholders are unable to find workable solutions.
For punters, small field sizes can be disruptive to their betting. So what does happen to bets when one or even zero horses are declared for a race?
What Happens If Only One Horse Enters a Race?
Some of the best races on UK soil are those that feature medium-sized fields of high quality – think the Cheltenham Gold Cup, or where the field is so large that chaos and unpredictability reign supreme (i.e. the Grand National).
But at lower grade meetings at the UK’s less frequented racecourses, the spectre of low-size fields is far greater – especially at tracks situated in locations that are far from the beaten track.
It’s extremely rare, but sometimes races will be run with just one horse declared – usually it’s as a result of some kind of protest or action, but occasionally it can be that circumstances just unfold in this way.
Although known as a walkover, the one declared runner does not automatically get crowned as the winner – they must still complete the course. Needless to say, the jockey in question will take no undue risks.
This doesn’t happen often as you might have guessed, and you have to go back to Leicester races in 2011 to find the last one-horse race – that came about as a result of, you guessed it, a protest about prize money.
Interestingly, the race – scheduled to be a Class 3 handicap – went ahead as normal, with the winner, Harry Dunlop’s Saint Helena, claiming £6,000 in prize money.
On that occasion bookmakers voided all bets and refunded stakes, but note that if a race gets underway with more than one runner – but only a solitary horse makes it to the finishing line – then they are duty bound to settle bets as normal.
What Happens If No Horses Enter a Race?
Protests and anarchy can lead to no horses being declared for a race.
It happened at Newbury in 2022 and has occurred at other tracks through the years too, and if no race takes place then obviously no bets stand.
Any wagers placed prior to the action being called off will be refunded in full, although in the unlikely event a major race is abandoned with no runners, ante post bets may be settled as a loss at the bookies’ discretion.
If you have a multiple bet featuring a horse that is declared a non-runner, as might be the case in this scenario, then that leg of your coupon is voided and your accumulative odds altered accordingly.