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How to Bet on Horse Racing

Horse racing is easily one of the world’s most popular betting sports, and the sound of hooves hitting the turf is enough to send chills down the spines of punters far and wide.

The most popular form of horse racing is known in the UK as flat racing. This is the traditional format of horses going around a flat course with a jockey on their back. Many of the world’s largest racing festivals, including Epsom, Meydan and the Kentucky Derby, are exclusively flat racing venues.

There are a number of regional horse racing variations (such as English jumps racing or harness racing/trotting) and if you’re looking to start punting on those variations you’ll want to follow up this article by reading about the specific format in one of our other horse racing guides; found in our betting guide.

Betting Markets

UK Punters looking for a bet on the horses have a much wider set of options these days with fixed odds from the bookies, tote wagering and betting exchanges all offering up odds on virtually all races happening globally.

Tote wagering is, effectively, a type of pool betting where winning punters are paid out based on the total amount of money in the pool as opposed to the outright odds.

For instance, if you’re betting on the horse Frankel to win a race, he might be at 2/1 with the bookies and 4/5 on the tote. This means a substantial amount of tote volume has come in on this particular horse, and the tote can only afford to pay out at 4/5 odds. Should a lot of tote money come in on other horses, then you’ll likely see Frankel’s price rise again.

On a betting exchange, you’ll usually see horses priced a bit higher than the tote or fixed odds methods as the open-market style generally means a better price, though sometimes the difference in margin is minimal.

Regardless of where or how you choose to make your bets, you’re going to need to gather as much information on the horses as you can. The easiest way to get the information you need comes by reading the forms.

Reading Horse Forms

Remember that you’re never going to get rich playing just favourites, and the general rule of thumb is that a favourite will win around 30% of the time. Check out the latest statistics from your preferred racecourse and see just how often favourites win there, which stalls tend to produce the most winners and which jockey/trainer combinations do well over course and distance.

On English courses in particular, the going (or surface) is especially important. Certain horses like the ground underneath them to be a certain way, and on certain selections you can see clear and definable patterns based on them performing well with certain ground conditions. Some horses prefer a firmer surface while others flourish on wet, yielding ground.

Looking at a horses recent form is generally considered to be the most popular piece of wagering information, but it’s important to keep a few things in mind when spotting form.

Take a look at the prize money on offer and have a look at what type of race you’re betting on, then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it a handicap race full of horses at all different skill levels, or is it a conditions race where all the horses are pretty much at the same spot in their careers?
  • What has a horse had to do to enter this race?
  • Are all of these horses currently for sale?

All the data in the world is useless if you don’t know how to use it. The first step in understanding horse forms is knowing what you’re looking for, and why.

What to Look For

Changes in class:Be sure to know which horses are moving up and down in class. A horse may be undefeated, but if its only victories are against relatively low-grade opposition, at some far-flung racecourse in the middle of nowhere, then you can’t really put much stock in him to win the Epsom Derby.

Check whether your horse has won at this level before. If he hasn’t, then see whether his victories against lesser opposition have been emphatic enough to step it up in class. Are the other contenders he’s running against proven at this level?

Preferred Distance:Certain horses are bred and trained to run at certain distances. Some horses, known as stayers, thrive in longer races at 1m5f (13 furlongs, 2860 yards) or more. It takes a different skill-set and different type of horse to win a staying race as opposed to a five furlong (5f) sprint.

Check whether your horse has won at the distance or around the distance. One thing that sharp punters keep note of is how well the horses’ trainer does when moving a horse up or down in distance.

Pedigree:Generally only coming into play at higher levels of racing, the horse’s pedigree can be an important factor when placing your bets. Additionally, since two and three year-olds don’t have as much on-track experience, you’ll find punters paying more attention to how well their sires have performed.

Certain high-profile sires command big stud fees because their offspring are proven at certain distances. If your horses’ father excelled at 1m2f and won stakes races at that level, then it’s probably likely that your horse will prefer that distance as well; though this isn’t always the case.

When you have a firm understanding of the horses, the races and the conditions, you’re ready to take a look at the odds and bets offered.

Types of Bets

There are a large number of horse racing bets, and the types of available horse bets can vary by region. Below are some of the most popular types of bets across the globe.

Win:This is the most popular (and easy) bet in horse racing. You put your money which horse you fancy to win. If your horse is 8/1 and you place £5 on him then you’ll receive a £45 payout.

Place: A place bet is a wager on your horse to finish among the top horses in the race. The amount of paid places varies by the amount of horses in the race, and you’ll find the specifics with your bookies or in the program.

Generally, in a race of 5-7 horses, betting on a horse to place will only pay out if your horse finishes in either first or second. The amount made from this bet is the same, regardless of the actual finishing position of the horse. I.E you’ll make the same on a horse to place who finishes in second as you would had the horse come out on top.

Each Way:This is a two-line bet where you back your horse both to win and to place. A two-line bet is simple two separate bets, combined into one for convenience.

Each-way bets are popular on longer-odds selections that may spring a surprise. If your horse is 8/1 and you place £5 e/w on him you are betting a total of £10 and would likely win in the neighborhood of £60 while you’re looking at a pay out of around £18-£20 if he places.

Antepost:This is a type of long-term forecast betting based around major races. The general idea is that a wager on an antepost contender will often pay out at longer odds than the horse would on raceday.

The risk in antepost betting is if the horse you bet on doesn’t run in the race at all. There are no refunds on antepost bets, if your horse doesn’t run the bet is lost.

Sometimes you’ll see a horse at 80/1 in the antepost market because nobody thinks he’ll actually line up in that specific race. If his connections declare him eligible, and pay his entry fee, then his price could tumble to something like 10/1. By betting on the antepost you would still have your bet locked in at 80/1: high risk/high reward.

Forecast/Tricast: This type of wagering can promise some very sizable payouts if you get it right. A forecast is a one-line bet in which you specify two horses to finish in first and second, in specific order.

A tricast is similar to a forecast bet, but has you pick the top three finishers, in specific order.

While the winner odds are multiplied by the place odds of the other contenders, giving you massive payouts, you need a lot to go your way to ensure a victory.

Reverse Forecast: A reverse forecast is a two-line bet that covers the horses in either direction, meaning they just have to finish top two. A combination tricast is a six line bet where your three contenders can finish 1-2-3 in any order.

Parlay:A parlay bet can be known by a bunch of different slang terms based on how many selections you have on your ticket and how many lines you’re using.

The most basic parlay bet is a one-line double where you are picking the winners of two separate races. Both contenders must win in order to ensure a payout.

The win odds will be multiplied together to produce your total payout. For instance, an 8/1 and a 4/1 parlay with a £5 stake would pay £225.

While many sports are popular to bet on, horse racing is one of the only sports which exists almost exclusively for the bettors. The sheer variety of bets lets affords punters the ability to make, create and combine bets to get just about any combination of odds they would like.

While it’s possible to get payouts worth thousands of times your original stake, the higher you push the odds, the more difficult it will be to get paid. The best bettors find the line between value, and reasonably plausibility.

If you’re looking to place some horse bets, especially if you’re looking for jackpot-sized payouts, head to our guide to tote betting.

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