Horse racing is one of the most popular sports to bet on in the UK. From April 2019 – March 2020 off-course bookmakers turned over nearly £4 billion on bets placed on horse racing.
Part of the attraction is that there are so many different bets and markets to get involved in. Here we explain many of them and look at the importance of choosing the right bet.
For any horse race, the type of bet you place is nearly as important a question as to the horse you place it on. This is because every race market is different, due to the number of horses running and the betting odds of those horses.
Knowing the best bet to place in different circumstances can improve your chance of winning and there are many to choose from when betting on horse racing.
Here are a few examples.
A bet placed on a single outcome, for example, on one horse in a race.
A win bet is best placed if you are confident in a horse’s chance of winning a race. You will only get a return if your horse crosses the finishing line first.
A bet where you receive a return if your horse finishes in the first three (depending on bookmaker terms). For fields between 5 and 7 runners, your horse will need to be in the first two to be paid out.
When there are big fields with lots of horses racing, the bookmakers sometimes will pay out if your horse finishes in the first four, five, six or even lower than that. It will depend on the conditions of the race and what the bookies are prepared to offer.
This is often the way to go if there is a short-priced favourite that you think will win, but other horses at bigger odds have a chance of getting in the first three and offer better value than the favourite’s short odds.
An each-way bet is also placed on a single outcome. However, it is a bet that includes a win and a place bet, meaning you receive a return if your horse wins but also if it places.
In an eight-runner race, for example, bookmakers offer a minimum of three places and an each-way bet can be a sensible way of securing a return, especially if you fancy one of the outsiders at bigger odds.
As 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.
An accumulator bet or multiple is usually placed on four or more different horses across separate races. It can be a win bet, where all horses selected need to win, or it can be an each-way bet where all horses have to at least place in order to guarantee a return.
Accumulators are risky bets and small stakes are usually used, but owing to the cumulative nature of the odds of all selected horses, returns can be huge.
A common strategy is to group several short-priced favourites together.
There are two types of forecast: a straight forecast and a reverse forecast.
A straight forecast is a bet where you select two horses to finish first and second in a race. They must finish in the correct order to win the bet.
With a reverse forecast, the two horses can finish in any order.
This is a bet best often used when there are few runners in a race if the favourite is vulnerable and you think two horses at bigger prices can fill out the first two positions.
A combination bet is where two different horses are chosen across two different races. Doubles can be placed as win or each-way bets.
Doubles can be a good way of maximising your return if you strongly fancy two horses in different races. If one or both of your horses lets you down and runs poorly, then you lose your entire bet.
Much like a forecast, there are also straight and reverse tricasts.
A straight tricast challenges you to predict the first three horses in a race in the correct order.
A reverse tricast gives you a few more possible outcomes if you are not confident about the finishing order of your selections.
This is a tough bet to pull off but the rewards for doing so are usually well worth the effort.
If you fancy three horses across different races, a patent bet is something you might look at.
It’s made up of seven different bets – three singles, three doubles and one treble. This means that you only need one winner to ensure a return and if you get a second or third winner then your returns increase significantly.
The advantage of a patent over a standard treble is that you are guaranteed a return with just one winner.
A Yankee is a bet struck on four different horses and is made up of 11 different bets – six doubles, four trebles and a four-fold.
Because there are no singles included in the bet, you need at least two horses to win to guarantee a return. In a similar way to a patent, returns increase with any further winners.
This is usually a good bet to use when putting four short-priced horses together.
A Jackpot is a pool bet run exclusively by the Tote, with the aim being to pick six winners on the nominated Tote Jackpot card.
You can pick a single horse in each race for a £1 total stake, but you can also add further horses in those races, which increases your chance but also your stake.
There is a minimum winning prize of £10,000, but it could be much higher depending on the number of winners who share the Jackpot pool with you.
The best way to succeed in the long run when betting on horses is to have a clear strategy.
It might take a while to form a strategy that is effective, but once you do you should try to stick to it as much as possible unless something changes to make it less effective.
You have a better chance of assessing the form correctly if you specialise. You might pick a certain type of racing – Jump or Flat – to concentrate on, or you could be more specific, choosing only to look at Class 2 and Class 3 handicaps on the Flat.
Specialising will mean you have a smaller pool of horses to follow and so will be better placed to take advantage if they are wrongly assessed by a bookmaker.
There are many different ways of deciding on the conclusion of a race. You may base your assessment on times that horses have run in the past, often called “speed-figures”.
These enable you to work out which horse is capable of running fastest over a certain distance. Many people use speed figures to assess a horse’s chances and are successful using this method.
Of course, it doesn’t always work, as differences in track and ground can make comparisons difficult. It may also not be your ideal way of approaching a race.
Instead, you could use a more tailored strategy that looks at a horse’s starting draw at certain racecourses and the effect that different ground has on results.
Other people are content to trust their visual judgement of a horse’s performance, and with experience, their skills can become highly tuned.
Over time, many followers of horse racing work out what suits them best, and often their strategy comprises different elements of form reading, visual analysis, trends, stats and times.
It’s important to decide over time which strategy is going to give you the edge to beat the bookmaker more often than not.
You might think that finding winners is most important for those interested in betting profitably on horse racing, but in the long run, the main consideration is “value”.
Here what “value” means is finding and betting on a horse where the odds are too high and underrate its chances of winning a race. Of course, the challenge is finding a horse in a race that has been overlooked by a bookmaker and so may be considered “value”.
This is where your strategy comes in, and in the long term, it must be capable of finding horses that have odds that are too high.
This is why it is always so important to shop around for the very best odds. This way, you maximise your chances of achieving the best return possible.
There may not be a horse that represents value in all races, but if you do find one, according to your strategy, then you should place a bet on it.
Of course, your horse may not win, and you are unlikely to have as many winners as someone who consistently bets on favourites, but in the long run, you should turn a better profit.
Handicaps are a way of rating a horse’s ability. All horses, after three runs or after a victory in their first two outings, are given a handicap mark by the official handicapper.
Sometimes, they set the wrong handicap mark and these can then be used to find an edge over the bookmaker.
A horse’s rating increases if they win handicap races, or run well in such a race, and usually decreases after they lose races. When betting in handicap races, it is important to have an idea of whether a horse is rated in line with its ability or has been underrated or overrated.
There are several ways of finding a horse that might have a handicap mark that underestimates its ability.
Horses need to run in a minimum of three maidens to gain a handicap mark. Often when starting off in handicaps horses can find themselves on a mark that underestimates their ability.
An example might be horses from smaller yards, as they are often not expected to win maiden races and might be given a few runs to gain experience before stepping into handicaps.
It is difficult for the handicapper to assess these horses correctly when they begin in handicaps because they are unlikely to have shown anything like their full ability in their maiden races.
A good angle for handicaps can be to look for horses that are trying something new.
This could mean finding a horse that is running over a new distance. For example, a horse that has plenty of stamina in its pedigree will be unlikely to win a race over six furlongs, but if they suddenly have the chance to run over eight furlongs then they could improve.
Some horses are difficult to ride or have “quirks”. Often, they need assistance to show their best form, and one way of helping them can be to apply blinkers, to help them focus.
If a horse hasn’t been showing its best form because of a lack of focus, then it can suddenly improve and that might be enough to win off a handicap rating they had struggled to defy in the past.
As horses win handicap races, their rating is reassessed, and they get given a higher rating. This might mean they carry more weight if kept to the same class of race, or they could be forced to move up in class and take on better horses.
All horses have a level of ability that peaks at some time in their careers. For handicap level horses this is often called their “highest winning mark”.
Eventually, when their rating or mark becomes too high, they cannot win races anymore and as a consequence, their rating begins to decrease.
A horse’s last winning mark can be a good way of judging its current level of ability. Once a horse begins to lose races and drop in the handicap ratings, it will eventually reach a rating that is not far from its last winning mark.
When this is the case, they might be able to win a race again. Spotting when a horse is close to its last winning mark can be a profitable way of approaching handicap races.