Horse Racing as a competitive sport has existed for thousands of years, even as far back as the time of Ancient Egypt. Its continued prominent existence is largely thanks to betting, however.
Horse racing is very much a gamblers’ sport, with most people who watch live horse racing staking some amount of money on the action.
There are of course people who go for a family day out or because they simply love watching horses run at full gallop but betting income is what keeps the sport alive.
In Britain, gambling firms contributed around £384m of the sport’s income through media rights, levy and sponsorship in 2022.
This close relationship between gambling and horse racing is not limited to Britain but can also be seen in other places such the USA, Ireland and Australia where horse racing enjoys much betting interest.
How to Bet on Horse Racing
In the countries where horse racing enjoys its largest fan bases, the racing schedules tend to be rather busy. In Britain, there are roughly 1,000 race meetings held during the year across 59 different venues. The likes of France and Australia also have hectic racing schedules so there is rarely a long wait for the next race.
Unlike other sports with standardised pitches and numbers of competitors, horse racing can vary massively. One race could have four runners competing on a five-furlong straight track, the next could have twenty runners on an undulating course battling away over three miles with fences to negotiate. When you also factor in things such as track conditions and any handicapping/penalties, each horse race has a lot of key variables to consider.
It is for this reason that it is important to do your research before parting with your cash. You can learn a lot by checking the past performances of runners and by trying to discover if an upcoming event is likely to suit them. In races with young horses, who have no or very few past performances, this is admittedly a harder task. For these races, although you can look at their cost and/or breeding, the best guide you have available will be the betting.
If some debutant horse is trading at 100/1, you can usually trust the bookmakers that this is not a decent runner (unless you know something the bookies don’t, of course).
Main Bets on Horse Racing
Compared to most other sports, horse racing does not have a huge offering when it comes to different markets. That said, at most betting sites you will not find yourself limited to just betting on the race winner. If this is all you see, trying again closer to the time of the race could well reveal a few more options, including some of those listed below.
The market offering that most big bookmakers provide is relatively consistent across races, so no matter how big or small, similar options are available. Having said that, the very biggest races may come with enhanced terms and some special bets, but there do not tend to be massive differences. Here are the main betting markets you will likely encounter for most races.
- To Win – Your most standard horse racing bet, this being simply putting your money on the horse you think will win a given race.
- Each Way – An each way bet is a two-stake bet with one stake going on the horse to win and the other stake covering to ‘place’. Bookmakers should clearly state the each-way place terms such as a 1-2-3 finish paying out at 1/4 odds.
- To Place/Top Finish – Here you pick a horse to finish within the specified top x places, for example the top three.
- Place Insurance – A bet on your selected horse to win but your stake is returned should they finish within a place insurance spot. The more places the insurance covers, the lower the odds.
- Betting without X – Almost like a standard ‘to win’ bet only here the performance of one horse, usually the favourite, is excluded. This means that should the favourite win, the winner of this market is the runner that finishes second.
- Unnamed Favourite – If you want to trust the market you can back the unnamed favourite and sometimes the unnamed second favourite at the starting price odds (SP).
- Winning Margin – Not only must you pick the winning horse but you must select by what distance it will win from the available options. This tends to involve betting on x or more lengths, rather than saying under x lengths.
- Forecast – With a forecast you need to pick the two top finishers in the race. This can either be in the precise order (a straight forecast) or you can select either order (also known as a reverse forecast). Returns are always larger when picking the correct order.
- Tricast – Just like a forecast, only you have to pick the top three runners, again either in the exact order (straight tricast) or any combination (reverse tricast).
With most horse racing markets, you will be placing a bet at fixed odds so you know what your minimum returns will be (payouts can sometimes be higher if a best odds guaranteed promotion applies).
There are a couple of exceptions though, one being when backing an unnamed favourite or second favourite. The other is when placing a forecast or tricast bet. Although it is possible to back these at fixed odds, some betting sites calculate winnings after the race using the official starting prices.
Other Types of Bet
In addition to your standard on-the-day bets mentioned above, horse racing also comes with a range of other betting options.
Tote betting has existed for around 100 years. Rather than placing a bet at a fixed price, for example 4/1, you will betting not knowing what your returns will be. This is because the Tote betting operates as a pool betting provider. They collect money from all the punters who have chosen the same market and pay out the winners proportionately out of this prize pot (minus their commission). If few fellow punters picked the winning selection, prize offerings can comfortably exceed those provided by bookmakers. On the other hand though, returns can be lower when a popular selection triumphs.
With the Tote’s pool betting system, you can bet online or at the racecourse itself. There are various tote markets too such win/place, exacta (top two horses) or trifecta (top three horses). These are the ‘single leg’ options but you can also go for multi-leg options that cover multiple races. With the placepot for example, your job is to pick placing horses across every race during a particular meeting. Similarly, there is quadpot, which is like placepot, only it covers races three to six of a meeting.
With ante-post betting you can place your bets on a race before the final declarations are made, often a long time before. For the biggest races on the calendar, bookmakers will gladly allow punters to make early selections on who they think will win. It can result in punters being able to get considerably better odds than what ends up being available by the time of the race. Such bets are not without risk though as should a selected horse not feature in the contest, for whatever reason, this will be a losing bet. Non-runner bets are only refunded if placed after the final declarations.
Given the interest in horse racing and the relatively small number of markets, it is perhaps no surprise that betting sites try to bolster their offering. Many do this by offering regular ‘special bets’ based on the upcoming action. These can include things such as a trainer or jockey to record three or more wins during the day or three selected horses all to finish in the top four of their respective races. There can be a lot of variety here and you may find some of these special bets offer real value for money.
As well as ‘daily’ specials, you can also make longer-term bets. These can be things such as a named horse to win two major races during the upcoming season or the winner of an individual award. Although individual accolades are not a huge part of horse racing you still have Jockey Championships and Trainer Championships that you can bet on.
Important Rules for Horse Racing Betting
Before you place your horse racing bets, it is wise to familiarise yourself with the standard betting rules listed below.
- Each Way Terms – When placing an each way bet, note that the standard terms on places and odds vary depending on the field size and if it is a handicap race.
- Extra Places – For some races, bookmakers will offer extra places in their each way terms while keeping the odds the same.
- Non-runner – If you bet on a horse (and it isn’t an ante-post bet) that ends up being a non-runner, your bet will be refunded. If another horse withdraws instead, your payout may be reduced as per Rule 4 deductions which is an industry-wide rule.
- Rule 4 – When a horse at shorter odds pulls out of the race after final declarations, Rule 4 may be applied to reflect the new chances each horse has of winning. Depending on the odds of the horse, a percentage of any winnings will be deducted to keep things fair – anything from 5% to 90%. A long odds horse being withdrawn late would not have an impact and thus not trigger Rule 4, but a horse with a strong chance of winning definitely would.
- Best Odds Guaranteed – Some bookmakers operate a best odds guaranteed policy for horse racing action in selected countries. All this means is that if you back a horse at fixed odds during the qualifying window, and it wins, you may receive a larger payout. This will occur if the official starting price (SP) was higher than the fixed-odds price.
- Void Bets – All bets are void if a race is abandoned, moved to a different venue, takes place at a later date or the distance changes from that initially advertised.
- Dead Heats – Should two (or potentially more) horses cross the line at the same time, dead heat rules apply. This means you will be paid out as a winner but on a reduction of the initial stake and hence return.
- Final Decisions – Bets will be settled when the winning horse has ‘weighed in’ immediately following the race and following the result of any Stewards Enquiries. Once the result is announced this is final, and later disqualifications will not impact bets.
Horse Racing Betting Guides
If you have ever looked at a race card and wondered what on earth was going on, been baffled by tote betting, or just want to expand your knowledge on betting on the horses, then this page is for you.
We have articles covering every facet of the sport of kings, and they are all presented in simple language as 5 – 10 minute reads, so you can work your way through them at your own pace and know all there is to know about horse racing betting by the end.