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How to bet on horse racing online

Publication date: 09/08/2022

Betting on Horse racing has the largest turnover of any sport in the UK, making it a big deal when it comes to online bookmakers and gambling in general. Here we will attempt to break down some of the jargon making it easy to understand what happens and how to make sensible horse racing bets which you will enjoy watching run and hopefully get some value from as well.

Understanding Horse racing odds

Horse racing odds are not actually any different to any other type of odds. And odds are just a numerical expression of the ratio between your stake and your winnings. There are several ways to show this relationship, with Fractions, Decimal, and American being the main ones (although there are several others). In the UK at any horse race meeting the odds will be displayed and referred to in Fractions. There are many slang terms used for the odds which you may hear, such as:

  • Major Stevens - 1/1
  • Bottle - 2/1
  • A carpet - 3/1
  • Rouf - 4/1
  • Ching - 5/1

These phrases, which we have just given a tiny sample of above, are dying out now as fewer and fewer people bet at the race course and instead place their bets online. The odds always do exactly the same thing though, like all ways of displaying odds it is just the ratio of stake and winnings.

The official odds a horse wins at, known as the "Starting Price" or "SP" for short will always be in fractions. To calculate the possible returns you need to know that betting at 2/1 means that for every £1 bet, if your horse wins, then your total return is £3, made up of getting £2 back as profit and £1 back as your original stake. This ratio is the multiplier you apply to your bet stake. If for example you bet £7.50 on a horse at 2/1 then your total return would be £22.50, with £15 the profit and £7.50 your stake. It is £15 because that is £7.50 x 2.

The most popular types of Horse racing bets

  • Win Bets: The most popular horse racing bet by quite some way is simply betting on which horse finishes first. This is known, not surprisingly, as a "Win bet" and there are a few variations of it.

    The first variable is WHEN are you betting, because if you are betting weeks in advance then there is a good chance your bet will be ANTE POST. The odds will be really good but be careful because if your horse does not run in the race, your bets still lose. On the other hand, when you start betting nearer the race time, usually a few days before but definitely on the day, your bet will be "NRNB" which stands for "No Runner No Bet", meaning if your horse does not run then you get your stake amount back.

    The second variable you will have is the odds. For Win bets, you can choose to bet on the SP, which is the starting price odds of the horse. You will not know for sure what odds you will get until the race begins, they could go up or they could go down. Alternatively, you can take the EP, which is the early price. Whatever odds you are given when you strike the bet are fixed.

  • Scoop6: Another popular type of bet is known as the Scoop6 and this is run by the Tote every Saturday, but you can place bets on it at almost every bookmaker. On Saturday there are 6 horse races chosen which will be broadcast on TV and the aim is to pick the winner of six consecutive races. You do not get odds for who you chose, you can pick any horses and if you get all 6 correct, then you win the stake amounts of everyone who entered. What makes this particularly exciting is that there is also a bonus race the following week and winners can try to pick which horse finishes first in this, and if you do then you win the bonus fund. If there is no winner the prize fund rolls over and is often rolled into hundreds of thousands of pounds!
  • Winning distance: An increasingly popular way of betting on horse racing is not just for your horse to win but you can find much higher odds by betting on how far it will be the winner by. This type of bet is particularly useful for odds on favourites and can result in much higher returns. Whilst you can bet on all varieties of how much your horse will win by it is most common to bet on it winning bet more than X lengths.

Each Way bets on UK Horse racing

Each Way betting is a type of bet specific to Horse Racing and it is essentially placing two different bets at once. Half of your stake is placed on your horse winning which is very simple, the other half is put on your horse "placing" and this is a bit more complicated. The number of places that result in a winner will vary from race to race, but it will usually be the top two, three or four. If your horse does not win, but does place, then that half of the bet is a winner but you are paid 1/5 of the odds. Although you can bet Each Way on any horse it is most common to do it on outsiders who you think perhaps won't win but will be there or thereabouts.

Exotic Wagers on US Horse racing

Exotic Wagers are a type of Horse racing bet which is basically a glorified accumulator bet, but all on the same race. You are betting on not just which horse will win, but also who will come second (an exacta bet), and in some cases who will come third as well (a trifecta bet). Sometimes your bet can be on the 1-2-3 in any order, sometimes you have to get the exact order correct. As you can imagine the odds on these bets are often very high indeed.

Horse Racing Betting Strategies and Tactics

For strategies and tactics, there are several factors which will influence what are the correct ones to use.

On of the main ones is where the horse race is taking place because UK horse race betting and US racing are very different. For US racing who will win is decided by probably 80% to 90% which horse is quickest and 10% to 20% the skill of the jockey. In the UK racing it is very different and around 30% speed of the horse, 30% skill of the jockey, 30% the ground conditions, and 10% luck (especially if jump racing).

There are a few reasons for this, the main one being that US horse races do not (as a rule) involve any hurdles. The horses are never jumping so there is not as much skill involved with the jockey needing to stay in the saddle and less luck involved because all horses will stay on their feet for the whole race, and with a jockey on board. If there are hurdles to clear the horse in front may come down bringing your horse down too and that can happen to anyone and is just bad luck. Similarly horses regularly unseat their riders and a loose horse can cut across yours and interfere in the race and there is nothing anyone can do about that. The other variable is the track, because US races are normally (not always but normally) on all weather surfaces, so there is much less influence from the rain in the days before the race and the horses form is more consistent and less likely to be affected by such things.

We have listed our top six Horse racing betting tips below.

  • One rule which is perhaps controversial but it is good advice, is do not bet on any horse race which has one Irish horse running in it. That horse will either win by a mile, or be a complete donkey, but there will be no in between. You wont know which it will be, and therefore have no way of judging the prospects of any other horses in the race with that wild card in there. So just leave that race alone. Trust us on this.
  • Follow good jockeys, especially if they only have one ride all day. It is unlikely that the jockey would have gone all that way, or been paid to go all that way, to sit on a horse that has no chance whatsoever. It might not win, but you know that the horse has gone there to try to win at least, not just make up the numbers. A good jockey is also not afraid to make a bold move if they have walked the course and formed an opinion. Very often average jockeys will just follow the pack and hope at the end their horse is quicker, there is very little skill in that. The best jockeys will do everything they can, including running the risk of looking stupid if they are wrong, to make their horse win even if they are not quickest if it is a straight race. An example of a jockey thinking for themselves, being brave, and getting a win is below:

    This example of winning ride also ties in nicely with our next point...

  • The more observant of you will have seen that the one winning horse stayed in the middle of the course whilst multiple horses bunched up at the rail. If you looked at the ground of the main bunch at the beginning of the race huge clods of turf are being thrown up because that ground is soft. To think what this would be like imagine that you are running on sand. The winning horse has a small amount kicking up but nothing like as much because that ground is good, or good to soft, and much much easier to run on. By the time the ground firms up for the chasing pack they are already exhausted and it is too late to catch the winner.

    So as you can see from the above the ground conditions matter, and some horses are just better on softer ground than others. Some horses will have a higher top speed but not as much stamina as a horse who may not run quite so quickly, but they can keep on going at that speed for longer and in any conditions. This is where looking at horses' form is important and seeing how they perform in different conditions. Sometimes horses will run against each other, or certainly against other horses who have run against each other several times over the year. You can look at it like an Algebra equation:

    There is a race on good ground and three horses finish in the order of, (Horse A > Horse B) and (Horse B > Horse C)

    Later on there is soft ground due to a lot of rain, Horses C and A meet again. Now this time:

    Horse C > Horse A

    They do not have to have won the race either time but you are just comparing where each horse finished relative to each other. If everything else stays the same, same distance, same jockeys, same handicap weights, there could be a new race next month which this time has Horses B and Horses C in it (No Horse A this time). From the above information you know that:

    If there is Good Ground: Horse B will win

    If there is Soft Ground: Horse C will win

    By "win" we mean finish ahead of the other one. You will have many other horses to think about too, but certainly from just the above info, looking at past races, even though Horses B and C have never raced together on soft ground before you can work out who will win when they do.

  • Don't back odds on favourites in jump races because any horse can have a bad jump and unseat the rider, and even more so any horse can land behind another horse that has fallen and come down that way. If you are betting odds on, there is no value there when either of those things could happen to your horse.

  • Do not bet on a horse if the odds are drifting because this indicates there is no support from the connections who know about the horse and its chances better than anyone else. If they are not betting on it then you probably shouldn't either.

  • Betting Each Way when there are two horses far better than the rest, but one of those better than the other, is an excellent way to get value on the place part of the bet. This is because although a horse could be 5/1 to win because there is an odds on jolly in the race, if the other horses all have no chance, it is much more likely than evens that the horse will place. These bets are called "thieving" bets by the bookmakers as they see it as stealing their money. Placing these bets, especially if you do them as doubles will very likely get your account closed or limited. It is good whilst it lasts though.

Horse racing betting tricks for beginners

It is not necessarily a trick as such, but good all round sports betting advice is to always start with very very small stakes and learn what is going on that way.

Do not bet more than you can afford to lose and never ever chase your losses by betting more and more on consecutive races. If you start with £10 and lose it all then stop, come back a different day. It is just as easy to lose £10,000 as it is to lose £10, so be very careful.

Also as a beginner do not overthink it and just try to back winning horses. To start with it is as simple as that.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the safest bet in horse racing?

Do not bet, is the safest bet! To be honest there is no such thing as a safe Horse racing bet, although when people think there is they call it a "Banker", meaning you should put your whole bankroll on it, because it is so safe. This is nonsense. All the horses have a chance to win so never put your whole bankroll on anything, and never think any Horse racing bet is safe.

To answer the question though the safest Horse racing bet we have seen, and have made money on quite consistently, is betting on whether or not the Cheltenham festival will go ahead as scheduled. Only once has it been called off for foot and mouth disease in 2001. It seems as if every year there is some scare story the week before the race and you can bet on the event being called off, or going ahead. It is a very safe bet to back it going ahead.

What is the most profitable bet in horse racing?

It will depend on how you define profitable, and if you mean in the long run as a type of bet or as a one-off bet. As a type of bet any accumulators tend to be very profitable IF they win, but that is the catch, the chances of them coming in are very low. It is possible that the Scoop 6 could be the most profitable bet, especially if the bonus race has rolled over a few times. It is also incredibly hard to win but sometimes the odds you get in reality for winning can be higher than if that bet was placed as an Acca.

What is the best type of bet in horse racing?

A good bet is any bet that is providing you value. Also with Horse racing, a good bet (if you are watching it) is a bet that gives you a run for your money. That way you are entertained even if it loses. Everyone is different though, so there is no universal "best" type of bet.

What is "Best Odds Guaranteed?"

Best Odds Guaranteed is a type of promotional bonus offered by a number of bookmakers. It does not, (confusingly!), mean that you are getting the best odds. In fact you are likely not to be getting the best odds if you are betting with Best Odds Guaranteed. What it means is that if you take an Early Price on a Horse (accept certain odds and place a money bet) then if the official odds for the horse go out and the Starting Price (Official odds at the start of the race) is higher than the odds you were given, then you will be paid out at the starting price.

The "Guarantee" is that your odds will always be at least as good as the SP odds. It is not a guarantee that your odds will be the best available.