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How to bet on horse racing

Betting on horse racing is one of the most popular types of sports betting across the world. Sometimes referred to as a ‘gambler’s sport’, betting is a key part of horse racing as a spectacle and its day-to-day functioning. There are not many other sports where betting plays such an integral role, so understanding how to bet on horse racing is important when learning about it in general.

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To a newcomer, horse racing can be quite daunting. There are plenty of words and phrases unique to the sport so having a basic knowledge of what they mean can help you understand how to bet on horses.

This is a quick guide to the basics of betting on horse racing, which takes place in the UK, Ireland, USA, Australia, France, and many more countries around the world.

Odds used for horse race betting

Almost all horses racing in a professional capacity will have betting odds attached to them which can change in the build-up and during a race. These odds indicate how likely each horse is to win, and bettors will try to find the winner, and which horses are more likely to win than their odds suggest.

Betting odds are generally presented in four different forms; fractional, decimal, American, and percentage. In the UK and Ireland, fractional odds are the most traditional and common form and look like this:

  • 2/1
  • 11/4
  • 13/2
  • 10/1

These are just examples, but there are many more different odds ranging from as small as 1/1000 up to as much as 5000/1 and maybe even higher.

Put simply, the number on the right is what you would need to bet to win the amount of money on the left as profit, for example on a 13/2 horse you would need to bet £2 to win £13 profit (£15 total return, £13 winnings + £2 stake).

Something ‘to one’ - e.g. 2/1, 8/1, 20/1 - are the easiest odds to understand, but when something is less than 9/1, there are some different odds that you will often see when betting on horse racing. Here are some examples:

  • 8/13
  • 6/4
  • 15/8
  • 11/4
  • 10/3 (sometimes written as 100/30)
  • 9/2

The reason for these odds is that fractional odds never include decimal numbers and the odds above mean that you can bet at different odds between each number ‘to one’ - e.g. between 2/1 and 3/1 you will see 9/4, 5/2, and 11/4 rather than only being able to bet at either 2/1 or 3/1. Generally, once the odds are higher than 9/1, you will only see them presented as X/1, e.g. 33/1.

If using a betting exchange - rather than a traditional bookmaker - for your betting, you will see odds presented in decimal format, where you simply multiply your stake by the odds to get your total return (stake + profit). For example, betting 10 at 4.5 (7/2 in fractional odds) would return £45 (£35 profit + £10 stake). You can learn more about betting odds here.

Types of horse race betting

Now that you understand how odds are presented, it’s time to go through the basics of betting on horse racing.

In the UK, the most common types of horse race bet are either win only or each way. A win-only bet - sometimes referred to as ‘on the nose’ - is simply one bet on a horse to win, while an each-way bet is two bets placed at the same time - one on the horse to win and one on the horse to place. ‘Placing’ means finishing in the predetermined places, which are usually decided based on how many horses are running in a race. 

The odds of your each-way, or place, part of an each-way bet are a fraction of the win-only odds, again determined based on the number of runners in a race.

Here is the standard each-way terms for races in the UK:

  • 1-4 horses in a race = no each-way betting, just win only
  • 5-7 horses in a race = two places, each-way portion of bet paid at ¼ of win-only odds
  • 8+ horses in a race = three places, each-way portion of bet paid at ⅕ of win-only odds
  • For handicap races with 12-15 horses, each-way portion of bet paid at ¼ of win-only odds

As an example, you bet £5 each way on a horse at 10/1 in a race with nine horses (each-way terms: 3 places, ⅕ odds):

  • If the horse wins you get £70 return (£5 at 10/1 wins + £5 at 2/1 (⅕ of win odds) wins)
  • If the horse finishes second or third you get £15 return (£5 at 10/1 loses, £5 at 2/1 wins)
  • If the horses finishes fourth or lower you lose £10

It is common to bet at the odds currently available, but many bookmakers will also offer you the chance to bet at SP (Starting Price). Learn more about Starting Price here.

As well as win-only and each-way single bets, you can also bet on accumulators - or multiples - both win only and each way. Examples of some more ‘exotic’ accumulator bets include a Trixie, Lucky 15, Yankee, and Heinz.

Things to look out for when betting on horse racing

There are several factors that you need to consider when placing a horse racing bet. We won’t go into too much detail here, but bettors will often think about these things when deciding what horse to bet on:

  • Recent form - how has the horse been performing recently?
  • Course form - how well has the horse performed at this racetrack before?
  • Distance form - how well has the horse performed over this distance before?
  • Going - how well has the horse performed on similar ‘going’ before? 
  • Trainer form - how have other horses trained by the same person been performing recently?
  • Jockey form - how has the jockey been performing recently?
  • Draw (flat races only) - does the horse have a good starting position in the stalls?
  • Headgear - is the horse wearing new headgear (such as blinkers)?

You could add many more things to this list, but these are the key stats often presented to bettors in racecards on the day and some of the factors that need to be considered when betting on horse racing.

Click here to find more betting education on our Help Centre.


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