How To Bet On Horse Racing

how to betThese pages are mostly dedicated to the Cheltenham racing and the Cheltenham Festival, telling you all about the different races and the best bookmakers to use when you’re looking to have a flutter on them. If you have a look around you’ll also find hints and tips on how to take advantage of the different offers that bookies put forward for both new customers and people who have already signed up to their services.

Yet what if you’re not totally sure how to place a bet? It’s not uncommon for people to become interested in the Sport of Kings around the time that the major races are run each year; whether that be the Cheltenham Gold Cup or the Grand National. On this page, then, you’ll find some suggestions for how best to take on the bookmakers and place some wagers on horse races. Generally speaking these are all transferable, so you don’t need to worry about the specific race you’re looking to bet on.

Standard Horse Racing Bets

The more you get into betting on the horses the more you’ll begin to experiment with the different types of bets that you can place. If you’ve already been placing these for a while then you’ll probably want to skip this section. If you haven’t, though, then these nice simple bets will get you going in the best way possible.

Ante-Post

An ante-post bet is one that is placed usually a day or more ahead of the event time, sometimes even as advanced as a year before the race is due to take place. The major advantage of this is that can get really good odds, but the disadvantage is that if your horse ends up not running in the race you will lose your stake.

Not all races will have an ante-post option, but you’ll often find the big ones such as the Grand National and the Cheltenham Festival races do, along with the Classics in flat racing. Bets placed before 10am are normally classed as ante-post and do not qualify for non-runner money back (though bookies sometimes relax those rules for the big races).  Conversely ante-post bets are not subject to rule 4 if another horse withdraws, whereas on the day bets will be.

Straight Win

The most simplistic of all bets is a straight Win bet. Place this if you believe that the horse you’re betting on is going to win the race outright. Often this bet is reserved for dead certs, but you might just 'have a feeling' and that’s entirely valid.

These bets are also often termed 'on the nose' and generally provide the best value due to high bookmaker competition resulting in lower margins.

Win Bet Variations

Bookies will offer variations on the 'Win' bet, such as 'Win Without X'. If there is a clear favourite in the field, for example, then you might be able to bet on a horse that you think will come 'second' but that will be the 'winner' once you remove the favourite.

One thing to bear in mind is that you’ll need both the favourite to win and your horse to come second (or indeed win outright) for that be a winning bet.

Each-Way

Each-Way bets are actually two bets, so you’ll pay double the amount that you’d pay for a Win single. You bet one unit on your horse winning the race and one unit on it finishing within the places. If your horse wins you get paid out on both bets, the win bet and the place bet.  If the horse places only you lose the win bet but will still see a return from the place bet.

How many places pay out normally depends on how many horses are in the race, though some bookmakers will offer to pay out on extra places for the big races in order to entice in customers. The amount paid out is the same wherever your horse ends up, so in a 4 place race you’ll be paid equally if it finishes second or comes fourth.  Also look at the odds provided for a place, standard is 1/5 but many bookies will enhance bigger races to 1/4.

Place Bets

A place bet is basically an Each-Way bet without the Win part. You’re betting on your selected horse finishing in the top two, three or four depending on how many horses are classed as placing.

The key thing here is that you don’t get any extra if they finish first as there’s no separate unit being bet on the win.

Accumulator Bets

accumulatorAccumulators are a slightly more complicated type of bet, simply because you’re suggesting that several things are all going to happen. The upside is that the odds on this occurring are much higher, making it a better bet in terms of value. The downside is that if just one part of the bet goes wrong then it’s not going to be a winner.

In simplistic terms there are two types of accumulator: Win accas and Each-Way accas. In the former you’re betting that all of your selections will win their respective races, whilst the latter bet indicates that you think they’ll all finish in the places. Obviously a bet on every horse winning will have greater odds than a bet on them all placing, but it will also have less chance of coming home.

An accumulator is so named because the bets accumulates as it goes on. If you were to place five single £5 bets that Horse A, Horse B, Horse C, Horse D and Horse E were all going to win and you got 2/1 for each of them then you’d receive £50 winnings if they all did so. An accumulator, meanwhile, works as follows:

Horse A wins AND Horse B wins AND Horse C wins AND Horse D wins AND Horse E Wins

You need all four things to happen, so the odds increase exponentially the more legs you have in your accumulator.  In this case a single £5 bet at 242/1 (the cumulative acca odds if each horse is 2/1) would give you £1215 back.

Acca Insurance

Now is probably a good time to mentioned Acca Insurance, which is offered by lots of different bookmakers. The idea behind this is that you will get your stake back as a free bet if one of the legs of your acca lets you down.

Following the above example, Horse A, Horse B, Horse D and Horse E could all win but Horse C loses. Ordinarily you’d just have lost your bet, yet with Acca Insurance you get to have another go with a free bet token. If you’re going to place a lot of accumulators then it’s a handy thing to do.  William Hill have a great all sports acca insurance that is very useful for this type of betting.

Full Cover Betting (e.g Lucky 15)

luckyThe basic notion of a full cover bet is that it covers all of the possible multiple bets available for a given number of selections. This gives you an increased chance of winning a bet, but you will also need to place more bets, so it will also cost more. That’s because these are not one bet, like an accumulator, but several different bets in a convenient package, but you still need to pay for each of them individually.

A selection of full cover wagers are called 'Lucky' bets. The best way to think about them is a way of doing several small accumulators that come as close as possible to guaranteeing you a return. The most common full cover bet is a Lucky 15 that is a full cover bet for four selections, it consists of 15 individual bets and works as follows:

  • Four Single Bets
  • Six Double Bets
  • Four Treble Bets
  • One Four-Fold Bet

You pick four horses to bet on and if any of them win then you’ll win the Single bet associated with that horse. If two of them win then you’ll get your Doubles, whilst if three of the horses win then the Trebles will kick in accordingly. Finally, if all four of them win then the Four-Fold is a winner for you. Basically, the more horses in your selection that win the more money you’ll earn.

Again, if you’re interested in knowing more about Lucky Bets, including where you can get offers, then head to our page where we discuss them in detail.

Full cover bets can either include single bets or not.  Obviously inclining singles increases the number of bets.

Full Cover Bets With Singles

  • Patent - Three Selections with 7 bets, 3 singles, 3 doubles and a treble
  • Lucky 15 - Four selections with 15 bets, 4 singles, 6 doubles, 4 trebles and a four-fold
  • Lucky 31 - Five selections with 31 bets, 5 singles, 10 doubles, 10 trebles, 5 four-folds and a five-fold
  • Lucky 63 - Six selections with 63 bets, 6 singles, 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 four-folds, 6 five-folds and a six-fold

Full Cover Bets Without Singles

  • Trixie - Three selections with 4 bets, 3 doubles and a treble
  • Yankee - Four selections with 11 bets, 6 doubles, 4 trebles and a four-fold
  • Super Yankee (Canadian) - Five selections with 26 bets, 10 doubles, 10 trebles, 5 four-folds and a five-fold
  • Heinz - Six selections with 57 bets, 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 four-folds, 6 five-folds and a six-fold
  • Super Heinz - Seven selections with 120 bets, 21 doubles, 35 trebles, 35 four-folds, 21 five-folds, 7 six-folds and a seven-fold
  • Goliath - Eight selections with 247 bets, 28 doubles, 56 trebles, 70 four-folds, 56 five-folds, 28 six-folds, 8 seven-folds and an eight-fold

Other Bet Types For Horse Racing

Forecasts

A forecast bet asks you to predict the horse that will come first and the horse that will come second in a race. That is tricky enough in and of itself, but what makes it even harder is that you need to predict them in exactly the right order.  Saying that you do get high odds for these bets so if you do guess right you will be well rewarded.

Reverse Forecast

This is the 'easier' variation of the Forecast bet as you’re just predicting the horses that will finish first and second in any order. As a consequence the odds will be significantly lower than a straight Forecast.

Combination Forecast

With a Combination Forecast you can bet on as many horses as you like, the only problem is you have to pay for it. You’ll win the bet if two of the selections that you’ve made finish first and second, regardless of the order. This is a number of different straight Forecast bets so if, for example, you made six different selections then you’re actually placing thirty different bets.

Tricast

The clue is in the name here. A Tricast is like a Forecast except you’re predicting the horses that will finish first, second and third in that exact order. 

Comination Tricast

There is no 'Reverse Tricast', so that option comes under the banner of a Combination Tricast. As with a Combination Forecast, you’re predicting the horses to come in the top three in any order. Again, this is a combination of Tricast bets that mean six selections will this result in 120 separate bets.

Tote and Totepool

totepool signYou’ll often hear talk of the Tote, with racecourses having Tote betting available throughout the UK. This is, in essence, a betting pool, where all of the money placed on it gets split between the winners. How much you’ll get back depends on how much your stake was, how many people bet on the same horse as you and the type of bet you’ve placed. That’s all minus the bookmaker’s cut, of course!

When it comes to the type of bets you can place, the Tote works in the same way as any other bookmaker. The only real difference is that the bets are given different names when you’re placing them through the Tote. Here’s an example of what we’re talking about, with the Tote name followed by the straight bookie’s name for the same bet:

  • Totewin - Win single
  • Toteeachway - Each-Way bet
  • Toteplace - Place bet
  • Totetrifecta - Tricast
  • Toteswinger - Combination Tricast
  • Toteexacta - Forecast

Where the Tote really comes into its own is with jackpot bets. A Totejackpot, for example, asks you to correctly predict the winners from six different races. A Toteplacepot is similar, except you need to figure out the horses that will place in six races. It’s a fun, interesting way of betting that is a bit more complex than with straight bookmakers, though the rewards tend to be higher, too.

Read our totepool page for more information.

Horse Racing Odds Price Classifications

We’ve already discussed ante-post betting, but what other price types are there that you might want to be aware of?

Early Prices

As the name suggests, Early Prices are odds offered by a bookmaker before the official prices from the course have come through. One way to think about it is that prices tend to settle the closer you get to a race. When you’re nearing the off of the race you’ll get Board Prices, but in between them and the ante-post bets are the Early Prices.

These are normally from 9 or 10am on the day of the race.  If you spot an horse that is likely to come it in price it is good to get an early fixed price, this way you are getting better odds and are also protected by no-runner no bet rules (unlike an ante-post wager).  If you bet with a bookie with best odds guaranteed (see later) the n it won't matter if you got it wrong and the odds lengthen and you will be automatically upgraded is the starting price is greater than your fixed price.

Board Prices

These kick-in 30 to 15 minutes before the start of the race and are the 'settled' fixed odds prices that have been agreed upon by the on-course bookies. You can see where the name comes from, they reflect the prices but up on a bookmakers board for the next race.

Starting Prices

The Starting Price is the odds that are given when the race officially gets underway. Instead of taking a price that you’re offered before the race you can choose to take a Starting Price. The gamble here is that you might end up with longer odds than you were offered, but you may well end up with shorter odds. It’s a real case of risk-reward, to be honest.

Considering you can get best odds guaranteed on early and board prices these days it seems silly to take an SP.

Best Odds Guaranteed

best price guaranteeThe reason the price you take matters is that you may or may not be able to take advantage of a Best Odds Guaranteed with certain bookmakers. The Best Odds Guarantee says that you will be paid out at the best odds available to you compared to the Starting Price. So if, for example, you take an Early Price of 7/1 on a horse and the Starting Price ends up being 10/1 then you’ll be paid out at the Starting Price of 10/1.

The same thing does not happen in reverse, however. If you’re offered 7/1 and you decide to gamble on taking the Starting Price then you’ll end up being given the Starting Price, even if it’s 5/1 or something. That’s why we don’t recommend taking a Starting Price with a bookie that offers a Best Odds Guarantee, simple because if the SP is better than the price you’re offered then you’ll be paid out at it anyway.

Non-Runner Money Back

voidThe Non-Runner Money Back offer is another one that can normally only be taken advantage of if you take a specific price. Or, to be more accurate, if you don’t take an ante-post price. As mentioned earlier, the risk with ante-post bets is that you might lose your stake if the horse ends up being a non-runner. These rules are often relaxed ahead of the big races, with bookies knowing that casual punters will have a flutter on the likes of the Grand National or Gold Cup but may not understand why they lose their stake if the horse is withdrawn.

The general rule of thumb is that Early Prices, Board Prices and Starting Prices can all take advantage of the Non-Runner Money Back offer but ante-post bets can’t (unless there is a specific offer that says otherwise). So if you place a bet after 10am on the day of the race and the horse you’ve bet on ends up not running then you’ll get your stake refunded to you as though you’d never placed the bet.

Cash Out

cash outOnce you’ve placed your bet, should you just let it ride and see where it ends up? That depends entirely on how confident you are, of course, thought you might want to the Cash Out option. Most bookmakers don’t offer this once a race is underway (although some do, see our cash out article) but they nearly all give you the chance of doing so with accumulators.

If you’ve bet on on a ten-fold accumulator, say, and nine of them have come home do you want to take the risk that the tenth will too? Or do you want to quit whilst you’re ahead and take a small amount of winnings instead of risking getting no winnings at all?

Streaming

live streamYou’ve placed your bet and you know that you can Cash Out any multiples that you’ve placed, should you wish to, but how are you going to watch the race itself? Presuming that you’re not at the racecourse, your best bet (pun intended) is to use an online bookmaker’s streaming service.

In order to do this all you need to do is place a bet on the race that you wish to watch, normally with a minimum stake of £1 or 50 each-way (some bookies 50p, or 25p each-way).  You can then watch the race in the comfort of your home and keep an eye on how it’s going, looking to Cash Out a multiple if it’s heading the wrong way.

Should You Bet On The Favourite?

favouriteOne other question that you might want to consider is whether or not it’s worth betting on the favourite in any given race. The reality is there’s no clear cut answer on this front. On the one hand there’s normally a reason that bookmakers believe a horse is favourite and has low odds and that’s because it’s probably going to win. On the other hand, anything can happen in horse racing and horses with long odds have won more than a few times over the years.

Favourites are more likely to win in races with small fields, for rather obvious reasons. Even so there’s evidence to suggest that the favourite only wins just over a third of races, which means that two-thirds of the time it’s a horse that the bookies didn’t expect that ends up victorious. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a long odds horse that wins, but one win for a horse with big odds can result in larger winnings than winning a couple of races with the favourite.

Handicaps and Betting

weightThe final thing you’ll want to think about when it comes to placing bets on horse racing is handicapping. If you’re watching a handicapped race then all of the horses taking part in it will be carrying extra weight to some degree or another in order to ensure that the race is as level as possible. The better a horse is rated the more weight it will carry, with the theory being that this will ensure the playing field is as fair as it can be.

Why this matters for betting is a lesser fancied horse will likely be carrying less weight than a favourite. A horse that has won a race recently will also carry extra weight as a penalty, This is all stuff you’ll want to think about when betting on a handicap race, especially if a horse with long odds has been running well recently. If their form suggests that they’re likely to do well in the type of race you’re watching and you know that they’re carrying less weight than other horses then you’ll want to consider sticking a bet on them and seeing where you and up.

Conclusion

As we’ve said elsewhere, this is not an exhaustive list of options when it comes to betting on horse racing. You’ll find plenty of variations on the different bets that we’ve put forward, but how much you’ll want to use them will come down to personal preference.

The reality is that there is no guaranteed system for beating the bookie. If there was we’d all be rich by now! Instead you’re best off trusting your instinct, doing your research and placing bets that you’re comfortable with.