Horse Betting Odds

Horse racing is the second most popular spectator sport in the UK and remains a hugely popular sport to bet on.

Horse racing appeals to many punters because of the variety it offers. There are a large number of races each day, while major race days attract a lot of betting attention, meaning there are big markets to get involved in.

Many different bets are available in horse racing markets, from a simple win and each-way bets to pools-based betting.

The internet has made betting on horse racing far easier, as punters can place bets across numerous races at different tracks and even bet on international horse racing as it happens around the world.

With a few basic bits of information, you too can be ready to get involved in the excitement of betting on horse racing.

Horse Racing Odds

Odds in horse racing represent the chance a horse can be given of winning a particular race. A horse that is 2/1 is thought to have more chance of winning than a horse that is 8/1.

So, a £1 bet on horse one would only win £2 (£3 when you include your original stake), but it would win £8 (£9 when you include your original stake) if placed on horse two.

Odds can vary dramatically depending on the race, the number of runners, and a horse’s level of ability. A horse with an outstanding chance of winning may be odds-on to do so, meaning £1 staked would return less than £1 in winnings.

For example, if the odds available were 1/3, your winnings would be only £0.33 (£1.33 with your original stake being returned).

The aim is always to back a horse that, in your opinion, has a better chance of winning a race than its odds suggest. That is called finding the “value” in a race.

But how do you come to form an opinion on what is and isn’t value?

Form Of Horses

In order to make betting on horse racing a profitable pursuit, it is necessary to study the “form”, or to look at how horses have performed in their previous races.

There are many things to consider when reading the form, but the main idea is to be able to estimate the level of ability of a horse against the ability of its rivals, allowing for certain race conditions, like distance and ground.


The ground in horse racing is a crucial factor in assessing the form. Some horses thrive on the dry or quick ground while others prefer ground that has been softened by plenty of rain, known as soft or slow ground.

Often you can tell a horse’s preference by looking back at their past performances on a variety of different ground conditions.

A look at a horse’s pedigree or breeding may also give a hint as to what ground it prefers. If a horse is untested on, for example, soft ground it may be safest not to back it when it encounters those conditions for the first time.


Like human athletes, some horses are built for speed and others have more stamina. For a horse to achieve its best possible performance it must run over a distance that best suits its style of running and level of stamina.

Many horses begin their careers running over distances that are shorter than ideal and gradually race over longer distances as they mature and grow stronger. Pedigree and run style are ways of judging the sort of distance a horse might be best over.

Previous Runs

If a horse’s last five finishing positions read 9th, 10th, 7th, 12th, 9th then it is safe to assume they are not in good form. But if they have finished 1st, 3rd, 5th, 1st, 2nd, in the last five races then they can be considered in form and so should continue to run well next time.

However, there are several other things to think about when looking at a horse’s past form.

Like all athletes, horses need to be prepared for their races and if a horse finishes 10th in their first race after a long break from racing, then it is probably not the best guide to the form they are in, as they may not have been fully fit.

Equally, a poor run in conditions that do not suit a particular horse (such as soft ground) does not necessarily mean that horse is out of form.

Jockey And Trainer

Jockeys and trainers can also come in and go out of form, so it is important to catch them at the right time. A look at their recent records should give you an idea of the form they are in.

Certain trainers specialize in particular types of horses, for example, sprinters, while others are better at training horses to race over longer distances.

Jockeys and trainers can strike up good partnerships and a trainer might trust one jockey over another if they think their horse has a good chance of winning a race. Look for partnerships that have high win-to-run ratios.

Jockeys also have different styles of riding and these can suit some horses better than others. There is nothing better as a punter in knowing that a horse and jockey consistently produce their best when they team up.

Popular Horse Racing Bets

Many different types of bets are possible when betting on horse racing. The ability to choose the best type of bet in a given race can help maximise your chances of success.


The simplest type of bet. If you are confident in a horse’s chance of winning a race, then this is the bet to go for.

Each Way

A bet which includes a win and a place bet. This means you receive a return if your horse wins but also if it places—finishes in the first three, when there are eight or more horses running, or in the first two when there are between five and seven runners in a given race.

Because bookmakers usually offer place odds of 1/5, most each-way bets tend to be on horses at bigger odds than 5/1 to ensure a return greater than your stake.

This type of bet can be used in big fields when you want a bit of insurance, but it is also very effective in smaller fields. In an eight-runner race for example, bookmakers offer a minimum of 3 places and an each-way bet can be a good way of securing a return, especially if you fancy one of the outsiders at bigger odds.


A straight forecast is a bet where you try to predict the first and second-placed horses in a race in the correct order. A reverse forecast is the same, but the two horses can finish in any order.

It is best used in a small field if you think the favourite is vulnerable and two horses at bigger prices can fill out the first two positions.


Much like a forecast, but you must predict the first three horses in the correct order. Again, there is also a reverse tricast option if you are not confident which of your selections will finish first.

This is a tough bet to pull off but the rewards for doing so are usually well worth the effort.

Betting On Horse Races

There are two main types of horse racing—flat and jumps racing.

Traditionally, flat racing took place during the spring, summer, and early autumn. Recently, with the advent of “all-weather” horse racing where the horses run on synthetic surfaces, flat racing now occurs all year round.

There are many different distances of races from sprints to stamina-sapping staying events. Big races on the flat include the Epsom Derby, the 2000 Guineas, and St Leger.

Races over jumps are longer and more steadily run, but as the name suggests, horses need to jump! Jumps racing occurs mainly in the winter months, leading up to the Cheltenham Festival and other major festivals in early spring.

There are two main types of obstacles in jumps races—fences, and smaller hurdles. They must be cleared a number of times depending on the distance of the race.

The Grand National at Aintree is a major jumps race and perhaps the most famous race in the world.

In both flat racing and jumps racing there are different grades of racing as well as races for horses depending on their age, which will be explained in more detail below.

Flat Racing

Flat races are usually contested over distances of between 5 furlongs and 16 furlongs or 2 miles (there are 8 furlongs in a mile) in distance.

On the flat, horses begin racing at 2-years-old, and their first season tends to be about learning to race and preparing them for the future.

For the best 2-year-olds, their following season is arguably the most important as this is when they get a chance to contest the famous Classic races, including the 1000 and 2000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, Oaks, and the St Leger.

Horses on the flat sometimes continue racing until they are 10 or older, but the best horses are usually retired after a few seasons as they become valuable assets at stud to help breed the next generation of champions.

The traditional turf flat season begins in March each year, with the historic Lincoln Handicap taking place at Doncaster, and runs until the November Handicap, also at Doncaster.

Jumps Racing

Jumps race distances are usually longer than on the flat, from 2 miles to up marathon races of up to 4 miles plus.

Horses must negotiate eight or more obstacles in a race, without falling or losing their jockey.

There are two types of jumps races: hurdle races and chases, where horses jump obstacles called fences. Hurdles are smaller obstacles that younger horses often begin racing over before they progress to the bigger challenge of fences later in their career.

Jumps racing tends to attract a more passionate following than flat racing due to the fact horses often return to race season after season. It’s not uncommon to see a horse begin their career over hurdles as a 5-year-old and still be able to see them running in top races over fences aged 12 or more.

The biggest races over jumps are usually run over extreme distances with horses jumping many fences during the race.

There is no more extreme test than the Grand National, which is 4 miles 2½ furlongs long with 40 horses having to jump 30 huge fences on their way around. It is watched all around the world and is the biggest single betting event in UK racing, with the 2021 Grand National attracting 13 million betting customers in the UK and a turnover of £100 million on the race alone.


In both flat and jumps racing most horses run in handicap races.

There are different levels of handicap race, ranging from Class 2 down to Class 7.

Horses in handicaps carry different weights according to their perceived level of ability. It is a professional handicapper’s job to assign a rating to each horse, and this rating corresponds to the weight a horse must carry in any given race.

Therefore, the best horse, with the highest rating in a handicap, will carry the most weight, with the lowest-rated carrying the least weight.

Horses that are said to be “well-handicapped” are those where their handicap mark is too low in comparison to their ability and so they have a better chance of winning compared to other horses that have been more accurately assessed.

These are the types of horses that punters try to find in handicap races, and this makes handicap races highly popular betting heats.


Maiden races are for horses that have not won a race in the past. Horses in maidens are typically young and inexperienced so it can be hard to estimate their level of ability. This makes these types of races generally less popular betting events.

All horses need to run in at least three maidens before they can progress to handicap races. After three runs their ability can be assessed by the handicapper and they are given an initial handicap rating.

The minority of horses who manage to win before they have raced three times are given a handicap mark after their first victory.

Group/Listed Races

When a horse’s level of ability is better than a typical Class 2 handicap horse, it can run in top-level patterned races.

These begin at the Listed race level and include Group 3, Group 2, and Group 1 races. Group 1 races are the highest level of racing with only elite horses being able to compete in them.

Many major races around the world hold Group 1 status and these often attract top domestic as well as international horses.

In flat racing top Group 1s include the Epsom Derby, Juddmonte International Stakes, Irish Champion Stakes, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Dubai World Cup, Breeders Cup Classic, Kentucky Derby, Hong Kong Cup, and Japan Cup.

Over jumps, the best racing is found in the UK and Ireland. Group 1s are referred to as Grade 1s and top races include the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Champion Hurdle, Stayers Hurdle, King George V Chase, Irish Gold Cup, and Punchestown Gold Cup.

Tips For Betting On Horse Racing

Know The Form

Betting on horse racing is essentially a game of knowledge—your knowledge of the form against the bookmakers’ knowledge. It is no easy task to usurp the bookies when they have teams of analysts making sure horses are priced correctly, but they can, and do, still make mistakes.

Strong knowledge of the form means it is far more likely that you will be able to spot when a horse’s chances have been wrongly assessed.

Watch Race Replays And Live Races

Race replays are freely available online and are a valuable resource. They form a key way of analysing a race or piece of form. There are many things you can pick up on from a replay or from watching live that are invisible when just looking at the form book.

A horse may have suffered interference during a race or have been slowly away from the stalls at the beginning of a race, and so their finishing position of 5th might point to a better run than the bare form suggests. These facts all form an important part of assessing a horse’s chances when they next run.

Be Selective

There is so much racing to look through these days and it is impossible to keep up with all the form. However, one of the great advantages of internet betting is that you can specialise. Focus on a certain type of racing, be it Group level racing, Irish racing or hurdle races.

Be as specific as you like—you might even focus on one particular racecourse. Narrowing down in this way means you are far more likely to find value against the bookies.

Come To Your Own Opinion

The best way of learning how to bet successfully on horse racing is to come to your own opinion about a race and then assess where it went right or wrong. You may think the favourite’s form is weak and that it should be taken on, but what are your reasons for this, and are they strong enough for you to have a bet?

This is a key question to ask yourself before getting involved in a horse racing market.

Use A Betting Bank

Using a betting bank is a good way of recording how much you win or lose. If you choose to begin with a bank of £100 then it is advisable not to use more than 1% of this on each bet, meaning your maximum stake would be £1.

This is a good way of setting yourself up to begin with as it means you minimise early losses and have plenty of time to learn from your mistakes.

Look Into Different Angles

In horse racing there are many ways of finding a value bet, and “angles” refer to a way of analysing a race that most others might have overlooked. To do this effectively a good bit of research is required.

You might choose to look into pedigrees closely and how progeny performs on different ground conditions. You might look at draw biases at certain flat racing tracks or use speed figures to give you an angle over most other punters.

Record All Your Bets

When starting out it can be easy to get carried away after watching a winner storm home in front. Keeping a record of your bets and how horses have run means you are less likely to plunge into the next race, without the necessary form study, just because you can.

Be patient, look for long-term results and hopefully your betting bank will begin to grow.

Find the best odds!

The odds on a horse’s chance in any given race will vary by a bookmaker. To maximise your returns, you need to shop around for the best odds.

Luckily there are odds comparison companies helping punters easily discover the best value, such as BestOdds.