Horse racing is one of the most popular and historic sports in the world. In this horse racing beginner’s guide, we will be covering everything from general horse racing terms and understanding form to the biggest events of the year, with plenty more in between. Get your saddle ready, we’re going for a ride!

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Our below guide to horse betting covers everything a complete newcomer needs to know, including the very basics.

Horse racing is a sport where horses, usually ridden by jockeys, compete over a set distance of competition to see who is the fastest. There are many different versions of horse racing, with different rules, obstacles, track surfaces, gaits, as well as availability to horse breeds, weights, and age.

We’ll be breaking these distinctions down in more detail later on in this article; however, regardless of the above-mentioned variations, the simple premise of a speed-based equestrian performance test remains the same.

Horse racing betting is any betting market which allows you to wager money based on the outcome of this sport.

Again, there is a huge number of distinct events and markets to consider here, from simply backing who you think will win to enormously complicated, multi-faceted bets where many different predictions must come true to provide a winning wager. All these things are vital to understanding horse betting fully, but the core concepts never waver.

We have listed below different types of horse races out there to give you a full picture of what this sport involves.

  • Flat Racing

The simplest of all the types of horse races. Flat races traditionally take place during the summer and are run over distances between 5 furlongs and 2 and a bit miles on courses without obstacles. As the name would suggest, they are run on flat, level ground, resulting in a test of speed, stamina, and skill. The lack of obstacles means that many consider this to be the purest form of horse racing. It’s also easy to follow, making it the ideal race type for beginners. In the United Kingdom, there are 35 flat racecourses, including the Royal Ascot and the Derby.

  • National Hunt Racing

National Hunt can also be referred to as jump racing or steeplechases, and traditionally takes place during the autumn, winter and spring months. These races culminate in or around The Grand National, which is usually held on the first Saturday in April. National Hunt races are run over distances between 2 miles and 4 1/2 miles with obstacles such as hurdles and fences.

  • Harness Racing

The most striking visual distinction of harness racing is that the horse has to pull a sulky alongside their weight and a jockey. But even more unusual is that the goal of these types of horse races is not to go as fast as possible, but instead to maintain a pace without breaking stride. It is an incredibly intense, disciplined, and strategic form of this sport. It is no obscure option either, with the Prix d’Amerique in Paris taking in 40,000 spectators for their 100th anniversary in 2020.

  • Quarter Horse Racing

Almost the polar opposite of our previous pick, quarter horse racing is all about speed. This can be thought of as the horse racing equivalent of a sprint, taking place in a quarter of a mile or less. To give you an idea of just how fast these races can be, the world record is held by Winning Brew, who completed a quarter of a mile in 20.57 seconds.

  • Endurance Racing

Once again in this guide to horse betting, we go from one extreme to another. As the name would suggest, endurance races take place over much larger tracks. The Mongol Derby, for instance, takes place over an eye-watering 1000 kilometres. To put that in perspective, it is around 2,484 times the length of a quarter horse race.

If that sounds impossible, do note that they must change horses every 40 kilometres, with the race lasting ten days. This is an extreme example, but it is still common for an endurance race to last 12 hours and go over 100 miles. An astounding test of willpower – as well as ability!

paddy power

Hopefully, you have now got a sense of what horse racing is about; you will need to know what you can bet on.

In this section, we break down the two main categorisations of horse racing bets available across most types of races alongside the actual markets. That way, you’ll know everything you need to make the right bet at the right time.

Straight Bets

These are thus called because they are the most straightforward option here, making them perfect for those of you who are just learning the ropes. Here are some examples of straight bets on horse racing.

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    To Win – Exactly what it sounds like – back your preferred horse to win the race. They win, you win.

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    Place – Increase your chance of winning with a place bet. Here, you win if your selected horse finishes in first or second place.

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    Show – Same as a place, but here, your pick can finish third.

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    Each-Way – A slight variation on the place bet, here you are essentially placing two wagers: 

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    one to win and the other to place, meaning there are different payouts for each result. That is what each-way betting is all about.

System Bets

Also known as exotic bets, system bets are a great deal more complicated than their straight bet equivalents. They are, as the name suggests, a systemic, strategic approach requiring a wide number of different wagers.

Because they are so convoluted, and because the number of bets involved often means they require high stakes, system bets can seem intimidating. However, when you break them down, they are quite easy to understand once you get used to the concept. We have in fact listed the most popular ones later on in this article.

We've explained the basics below, but for a more comprehensive explanation, you can read our dedicated guide to how betting odds work and apply anything you've learned to horse racing in the process.

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    Fractions – Traditionally used by bookmakers in the UK and Ireland for all types of horse races. Fractional odds quote the amount that will be paid out (on the left) should the bet win relative to the stake (on the right). For example, for odds of 5/1, for every £1 you place, you will make a profit of £5 (should the bet win), meaning the total return would be £6.

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    Decimal – Traditionally used by bookmakers in continental Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Decimal odds quote the exact amount that will be paid out should the bet win. For example, for odds of 10.0, for every £1 you place, you will receive a total return of £10 (10.0 × £1).

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    American – Traditionally used by American bookmakers. American odds are denoted by the (-) or (+) symbol, and are based on a 100 take. A (-) number shows how much you have to stake in order to achieve a profit of $100. A (+) number shows how much profit you will make if you stake $100.

Make sure you get the latest information by checking our updated racecards for the day.

If you have never placed a bet on horse racing before, especially if you have never placed a bet online before, do not worry – the process is easier than you think. While we do have a full guide to placing a bet online, we've covered all the basic steps below.

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    Set up an account – This usually requires you to fill in a registration form including details like your name, email, and date of birth. You will also be asked to choose a password for you to log in safely.

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    Log in to your account – Use that username and password to access your account.

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    Deposit funds – If you didn’t already do this during the sign-up process, it is time to deposit funds. The specifics of how this is done depends on your chosen payment option, but it generally all boils down to providing a few details and how many funds you wish to transfer. If you have ever bought anything online, you should know what to expect here.

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    Select the event you want to bet on – All types of horse races 

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    should be easy to find on the bookie's sportsbook. There is usually a tab of current live events as well as a list of available sports. Go there and find the event you have in mind.

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    Select your market – Same process here, but now you are choosing the actual market and horse (or horses) you want to back. Select them and they should be added to your bet slip

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    Finish the transaction – On your bet slip, you just need to enter your stake, confirm your bet, and you are good to go!

This basic process of placing a bet should remain consistent across all good horse racing bookmakers.

Here, we’ll be focusing on the horse racing betting tips that we view as being the most relevant for horse racing betting, as this unique, complicated sport is one that deserves to be understood on its own merits. When it comes to wagering at horse racing betting sites, how to strategise is very important, and our top 10 tips below should help you gain an in-depth understanding of where to begin.

1. Form

Form should be your first consideration when trying to understand a horse's chances in an upcoming race. If you can comprehend how well the majority of horses have performed recently, then your chances of making accurate predictions will very likely improve. That’s why we take the detail provided in this regard so seriously in our list of best bookmakers.

2. The going/Type of race

The going refers to the type of ground at a racecourse. Specifically, it is the amount of moisture measured in the ground. One of the things which separates expert and amateur horse racing gamblers is their ability to coincide the form information with these additional considerations. To put it simply, just because a horse is good on one type of groundwork doesn’t mean they will perform as well on all of them. Their experience on similar tracks will no doubt have a huge impact.

The same can be said for types of races, where the impact can be even more profound. Whether this or the going is a larger factor is a source of debate among experts. Indeed, jump racing in particular naturally adds a wild-card element that must be taken into account.

3. Distance

The points made about the going and the type of race also apply to distance. The reason we have separated it here is that according to many experts, very large races are particularly hard to predict – especially when you go over a long period with many horses that have similar forms.

This doesn’t mean that we think these races should be avoided – far from it, in fact. Just keep in mind that they can be very close races, as they will often attract the best of the best at huge events. Instead of avoiding them, we would recommend considering each-way markets if a race looks particularly tight.

4. Classifications

Horses come in different classifications depending on their performances. It’s essentially a framework for competitive racing to ensure that each race should have a decent number of contenders. Our advice here is really simple, and that is to not only stake on the top grades. Often, lower-grade races actually have contenders that are not as big, meaning if the market you prefer is To Win, they could provide your best betting opportunities.

5. Utilise the process of elimination

People often think that betting correctly is about identifying a winner. But often, it’s actually more tactically sound to work backwards. Identify the weakest links and eliminate them from contention, then work your way up until you don’t feel confident to eliminate any more. What you should be left with is a much depleted set of remaining options that are easier to comprehend.

6. Odds quality

Obviously, you don’t just want to win – you want to win as much as you possibly can. That’s why the odds quality provided by your bookmaker is so vital, and why we considered it of such high importance when compiling our top 20 list. Luckily, odds are very, very competitive amongst the best bookmakers, meaning that – assuming you go with a selection of quality – what you are getting in regard to odds should be decent, especially if they utilise a Best Odds Guaranteed promotion.

7. Trainers

We’ve talked a lot about the quality of horses; however, there are other factors at play. One of the most important is the trainer of the horse you are examining. Experts know this is every bit as important as the form of the horse itself, and indeed, many choose to focus on specific trainers and base their betting around that more so than anything else. We’re not sure we would recommend that as a complete strategy, but it is one of the most valuable things to take into account.

8. Don’t always bet on the big names

This is a piece of advice that goes for trainers, their stables, and the individual horses themselves. The problem with big names is that, while they often get their reputation from winning big, they are also often overly bet on. This means that you can often get better odds from identifying up-and-comers where possible. Don’t avoid them entirely; just try to avoid always backing the big names. There’s a lot of markets out there, and a lot of opportunities to identify the best odds.

9. Look at how the race will be run as a whole

In every market – even if you are just backing to win and aren’t going for something like a tricast bet, which requires more extensive predictions – understanding the race as a whole is vital. A lot of people focus on the horse they are backing and fail to see the bigger picture. What this means is that they overlook not only other opportunities, but also information which might suggest their pick is unwise.

Having a more complete understanding of the race means you’ll make more informed bets. It may take more effort, but taking that extra time to understand the whole race, as opposed to looking at it in a vacuum, will be worth it in the end.

10. The value of going with your gut 

Perhaps more so than any kind of sports betting, people love letting their instinct guide their pockets when it comes to horse racing. Maybe you’ll get lucky, maybe not.

As long as you have insured that you never bet more than you should and have kept your gaming safe and responsible – as you always should – and if that is what you enjoy, then that is entirely your call. A horse is named similarly to your pet and you’ll enjoy cheering it onto the finish. Perhaps you saw it and it just felt right. All of this is a perfectly fine way to enjoy betting.

However, the fact is that it’s just not the most strategically sound. How you proceed is entirely up to you, but if you want our advice on making the smartest bets, then it’s carefully thought-out strategy – and not going with your gut – that is the wisest path.

We have more comprehensively covered all key markets in our horse racing beginner’s guide. However, once we're on the subject anyway, we thought we would break down the top five for you here.

These are based on their general popularity, and aren’t necessarily what will be the best market for you in every circumstance. Quite simply, we think that the best market for you is whatever you think has the best chance of success. That said, what are five of the most significantly and instantly recognisable markets at horse racing betting sites?

1. To Win

If you’ve bet on any kind of competitive sport – whether it’s Wimbledon or the most recent MMA showdown– you should be familiar with this one. You are betting on which horse you think will win the race, as in finish in first place. Obviously, this is more complicated in horse racing than it is where there are two or three possible outcomes, but the core concept remains the same.

2. Each-Way Betting

Because horse racing has far more possible winning outcomes than most other competitive sports, each-way betting is extremely popular. With this market, your pick can finish in other positions alongside first – usually in the top three positions – and you will still be successful. This amount can increase, usually with the use of enhanced place promotions.

3. Forecast Bet

This form of betting sees you predicting both of the two top horses in the exact order they finish. Naturally, this is considerably more difficult to do than either picking a horse to win or backing one for an each-way bet, meaning you get better odds. It does, however, require an incredible amount of accuracy when it comes to predictions. You can go even further with a Tricast bet, which requires you to predict the top three in exact order.

4. Reverse Forecast

If you want to make the forecast bet a touch easier, you can go with a reverse forecast, which still sees you pick the horses that will finish in the final two – but in either order. The downside to your improved chances of winning is that this requires you to provide stakes on both outcomes.

5. Double Bet

A double bet is where you make two distinct selections – so for instance, two horses to win entirely different races – and you only win if both bets come in. This means you get significantly higher odds, and this is actually a type of miniature accumulator bet that is very popular amongst horse racing punters.

Once you have an understanding of horse racing, the next natural step is to learn is how to read racing form cards, with Racing Post a good place to start from in this regard.

A horse racing form card, or racecard, has a deliberate structure and gives you information about each race. Below we explain the different aspects of the card along with other factors you should consider before placing your bets. We've added an image below of a fairly standard online UK race card for your reference.

Horse Racing Form Card Graphic

Number (NO.)

The first larger number (far left) is the number of the horse in the race (which you will also see on the horse’s saddle throughout the race) assigned by the track officials. These numbers are always displayed on a racecard in order of the amount of weight the horse is carrying.

Draw

The smaller number (to the right of the horses number) represents the draw that the horse has got in the stalls. The lower the number, the closer the horse will be to the rails, which can be an advantage on certain tracks and distances.

Form

Below the horses NO. is a line of numbers which represent the horse's form. The latter runs from left to right, with the oldest races on the left and the most recent on the right.

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    The numbers 1-9 indicate the position the horse finished in the race.

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    The number 0 indicates that the horse finished outside the first 9.

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    The symbol ‘–' separates racing seasons. Numbers before the ‘–' are for last season.

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    The symbol ‘/' indicates a longer gap – for example, if the horse missed an entire racing season.

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    P or PU indicates that the horse was pulled up by the jockey and did not complete the race.

The following abbreviations normally apply to jump racing:

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    F indicates the horse fell.

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    R indicates a horse refused.

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    BD indicates the horse was brought down by another runner.

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    U or UR indicates that the horse unseated its jockey.

Horse

The second column displays the name of the horse along with the shirt (known as silks) that the jockey will wear. You will also see a number (which shows how many days it was since the horse last ran) and some abbreviations.

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    C indicates a horse has won on that course before.

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    D indicates a horse has won over that distance before.

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    CD indicates a horse has won over that course and distance before.

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    BF stands for beaten favourite and indicates a horse was favourite for a race, but did not win.

Age

This shows the age of the horse (fairly self explanatory).

Weight

This is the amount of weight the horse will carry (including the jockey and the saddle) as decreed by the conditions of the race. You may also see some more abbreviations depending on whether the horse is wearing or using any equipment.

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    b indicates the horse is wearing blinkers.

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    v indicates the horse is wearing a visor.

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    e/s indicates the horse is wearing an eyeshield.

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    c/c indicates the horse is wearing an eyecover.

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    h indicates the horse is wearing a hood.

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    t indicates the horse is wearing a tongue strap.

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    p indicates the horse is wearing a cheek piece.

Underneath the weight is the official rating of the horse.

Jockey & Trainer

This shows both the name of the jockey and the trainer of the horse. If a jockey has a number in brackets to the side of his name then it means he is an apprentice jockey and is claiming a weight allowance.

Odds

The final column shows the odds bookmakers are offering for the horse to win.

The table below features basic going descriptions that you may come across, along with their abbreviations.

Going DescriptionAbbreviation
FastFST
FirmFM
GoodGD
Good To FirmGD-FM
Good To SoftGD-SFT
Good To YieldingGD-YLD
HardHD
HeavyHVY
SlowSLW
SoftSFT
Soft To HeavySFT-HVY
StandardSTD
Standard To FastSTD-FST
Standard To SlowSTD-SLW
YieldingYLD
Yielding To SoftYLD-SFT

There are a range of different wagers you can place when it comes to the latest horse racing betting. Below we'll explain each in detail.

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    To Win – This is the most simple and common bet, perfect for beginners. When placing a “To Win” bet, you are naturally backing a horse to win the race, so you will only get paid if it finishes first.

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    Each-Way (E/W) – Most common when wagering on horses with bigger odds. When placing an “Each-Way” bet, you are effectively placing two separate bets. The first bet will be on your horse to win the race and the second bet will be on your horse to place. The amount of places that each bookie pays out on can vary, but generally, most bookies pay out on the top three places at a quarter (1/4) of the odds.

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    Double – Consists of two selections taking part in different events. Both must win for you to see a return.

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    Forecast When placing a “Forecast” bet, you are required to predict the top two horses in the exact order they finish.

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    Reverse Forecast – 

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    When placing a “Reverse Forecast” bet, you are required to predict the top two horses in the either order they finish – however, you must stake both outcomes.

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    Tricast - 

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    When placing a “Tricast” bet, you are required to predict the top three horses in the exact order they finish. As you can imagine, this can be extremely difficult, but the rewards can be huge.

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    Trixie – Consists of four bets: three doubles and one treble. When placing a “Trixie” bet, you need at least two of the three horses you have chosen to be successful. The advantage of a Trixie is that should one selection fail, you will still get a return.

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    Patent – Includes three selections consisting of seven bets: three singles, three doubles and a treble. The main advantage of a Patent is that you only need one successful horse to generate a return.

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    Yankee – Includes four selections consisting of 11 bets: six doubles, four trebles and a four-fold accumulator. With a Yankee, you need at least two selections to be successful to generate a return.

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    Lucky 15 – Includes four selections consisting of 15 bets: four singles, six doubles, four trebles and a four-fold accumulator. With a Lucky 15, you only need one selection to be successful to generate a return.

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    Lucky 31 – Includes five selections consisting of 31 bets: five singles, 10 doubles, 10 trebles, five four-folds and a five-fold accumulator. With a Lucky 31, you only need at one selection to be successful to generate a return.

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    Includes five selections consisting of 26 bets: 10 doubles, 10 trebles, five four-folds and a five-fold accumulator. You need two selections to be successful to generate a return.

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    Heinz – Includes six selections consisting of 57 bets: 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 four-folds, six five-folds and a one six-fold accumulator. With a Heinz, you need at least two selections to be successful to generate a return.

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    Lucky 63 – Includes six selections consisting of 63 bets: six singles, 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 four-folds, six five-folds and a six-fold accumulator. With a Lucky 63, you need at least two selections to be successful to generate a return.

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    Super Heinz – Includes seven selections consisting of 120 bets: 21 doubles, 35 trebles, 35 four-folds, 21 five-folds, seven six-folds and a seven-fold accumulator. With a Super Heinz, you need at least two selections to be successful to generate a return.

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    Goliath – Includes eight selections consisting of 247 bets: 28 doubles, 56 trebles, 70 four-folds, 56 five-folds, 28 six-folds, eight seven-folds and an eight-fold accumulator. With a Goliath, you need at least two selections to be successful to generate a return.

Image Of Horse Close Up Mid-Race

While you can understand much of how horse racing works simply by watching a few races, a deeper knowledge of how horse racing works can only serve to make you a better punter.

Do note that the rules stated here are typical examples but could vary with the bookmaker. That said, here are the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to our favourite equestrian pastime.

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    Bets are generally void if a race is abandoned.

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    However, if a bet is postponed by a single day, generally the bet still stands.

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    Bets from the UK and Ireland are generally settled on a first-past-the-post basis alongside the official result.

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    The official result is announced at the weigh-in.

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    Each-way bets have increasing place terms with the number of horses in the race.

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    Typical place terms would include four places for 16 or more runners, three places for less, and two places for a small number of runners (around five).

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    There is no set maximum or minimum bet – this is instead down to the bookmaker.

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    Customers are generally allowed to place bets right until the race begins, even if it is late to start.

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    Best Odds Guaranteed does not generally apply to live betting.

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    If a horse refuses to come out of stalls or start once the race has begun, it will be considered to have lost the race, rather than be counted as a non-runner.

There are a lot of different things that can affect the result of a horse race. Here are five examples to help get horse racing betting explained more thoroughly and that will help you make more accurate predictions.

Type Of Race

The kind of race you are watching has a massive impact on all the horses involved. Despite this, it’s an often-overlooked factor. Usually, horse trainers will stick to a certain kind of race, but the lengths involved in particular will impact the results of the event in question. To put it simply, some horses are better suited to certain races than others.

Conditions

It's not just the type of race and the length of the track you have to consider, but also the condition of the track itself. As we mentioned in our section on horse betting terms explained, this is known as the “going” and indicates how soft or firm a track is. Some horses are specialists in certain conditions, while it can spell disaster for others.

Form

Perhaps the most important thing to find out before betting on a horse is the recent form of the runner in question. In other words, how did their last races go compared to the others? Knowing this and correlating it with conditions and race types is a really strong foundation of knowledge for punters.

Jockey

Always remember that the horse is not out there alone – jockeys play a vital role too. On many occasions, a bad jockey has led to a terrible result for a favourite, so it is something to be considered seriously. You should view the form of the jockey just as you view the form of the horse.

Number of horses

This one is simple. If all other things are equal, more horses mean your pick has a lower chance of winning. More horses also mean more caution, at least to a wise bettor. It may be worth changing a win bet to a place bet, for instance, should the circumstances suggest that is the wisest course of action.

The UK is one of the best places in the world to bet on horse racing, with the finest events available through the best horse racing betting sites in the world.  Here, we’ve compiled a list of some of the very best the British Isles have to offer. Check out our detailed 2022 sports events calendar to find out when each race takes place.

Champion Hurdle (National Hunt)

The Champion Hurdle is a Grade 1 National Hunt hurdle race, open to horses aged four years or older, that runs on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival. It is run over a distance of around two miles and ½ furlong and features eight hurdles to be jumped.

Queen Mother Champion Chase (National Hunt)

The Queen Mother Champion Chase is a Grade 1 National Hunt steeplechase that runs as part of The Cheltenham Festival. The race is open to horses aged five years or older. It is run over a distance of about two miles during which there are 13 fences to be jumped.

Cheltenham Gold Cup (National Hunt)

The Cheltenham Gold Cup betting sites is a Grade 1 National Hunt horse race run on the fourth and final day of the Cheltenham Festival. It is one of the most prestigious races in British racing and is chased over a distance of about three miles 2½ furlongs, during which there are 22 fences to be jumped.

Grand National (National Hunt)

Held at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, the Grand National is an annual National Hunt horse race that runs on the first Saturday in April. It is a handicap steeplechase with a huge field of 40 horses that takes place over a distance of four miles and 2½ furlongs that includes 30 fences and two laps. Despite being among the most anticipated UK racing cards, this is NOT one of Britain′s five classics – no National Hunt races are.

King George VI Chase (National Hunt)

Dating back to 1937, the King George VI Chase is a Grade 1 National Hunt steeplechase, open to horses aged four years or older. It is run on the 26th of December, known in the UK as Boxing Day, and is part of Kempton Park′s Christmas Festival. The race goes off over around three miles and includes 18 hurdles to jump.

2000 Guineas Stakes (Flat)

The 2000 Guineas Stakes is a Group 1 flat horse race in the UK that is open to three-year-old thoroughbred colts and fillies. It is one of Britain′s five Classic races and the first to run each year. The race goes off on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket over a distance of one mile and is scheduled to take place each year in late April or early May.

1000 Guineas Stakes (Flat)

The 1000 Guineas Stakes is a Group 1 flat horse race that is the second of Britain′s five classic races to go each year in late April or early May on the Sunday following the 2000 Guineas. This event is run on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket over a distance of one mile and is open to three-year-old fillies.

Epsom Oaks (Flat)

The Oaks Stakes is a Group 1 flat horse race in Great Britain open to three-year-old fillies. It is run at Epsom Downs over a distance of one mile and four furlongs and is scheduled to take place each year in late May or early June. It is the second oldest of the five Classic races and the third of Britain′s five Classic races to be held during the season.

Epsom Derby (Flat)

Often called Blue Riband of the turf, the Derby Stakes is a Group 1 flat horse race in England open to three-year-old colts and fillies. It is run at Epsom Downs Racecourse over a distance of one mile, four furlongs and six yards on the first Saturday of June each year. It is Britain′s richest horse race, and the most prestigious of the five Classics.

St Leger (Flat)

Established in 1776, the St Leger Stakes is a Group 1 flat horse race that is run at Doncaster and open to three-year-old thoroughbred colts and fillies. It is run over a distance of one mile, six furlongs, and 115 yards, taking place each year in September. The St Leger is the oldest of Britain′s five Classics and the last of the five to be run each year.

Major Horse Races, Meets, and Festivals Each Year

EventRacecourseWhen
The Cheltenham FestivalCheltenhamMarch
Grand NationalAintreeApril
Scottish Grand NationalAyrApril
Craven MeetingNewmarketApril
Sandown Gold Cup CelebrationSandown ParkApril
1,000 GuineasNewmarketMay
2,000 GuineasNewmarketMay
Chester's May FestivalChesterMay
Dante MeetingYorkMay
Epsom Derby Meeting (Derby & Oaks)Epsom DownsJune
Royal AscotAscotJune
John Smith's Northumberland PlateNewcastleJune
Eclipse MeetingSandown ParkJuly
Newmarket's July MeetingNewmarketJuly
King George DayAscotJuly
Glorious GoodwoodGoodwoodJuly
Ebor FestivalYorkAugust
Sprint CupHaydock ParkSeptember
St. Leger Meeting (St Leger)DoncasterSeptember
Western MeetingAyrSeptember
Ascot's September FestivalAscotSeptember
Cambridgeshire MeetingNewmarketOctober
Newmarket's October MeetingNewmarketOctober
Champions DayAscotOctober
North West MastersHaydock & AintreeNovember
Hennessy MeetingNewburyNovember
Tingle Creek MeetingSandown ParkDecember
Christmas Festival (King George VI Chase)Kempton ParkDecember
Welsh Grand NationalChepstowDecember

Horse racing is hugely popular the world over, with UK bookies offering prices on different races going off around the globe. These include, but are in no way limited to, the following:

Melbourne Cup

The Melbourne Cup, known as “the race that stops the nation”, was first run in 1861 and is Australia′s most famous annual horse race. Its distance measures 3200-metres and is open for three-year-olds and over. The richest “two-mile” handicap in the world, this event is held each year at the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria as part of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.

Kentucky Derby

Dubbed the Run for the Roses, the Kentucky Derby is an annual horse race held in Louisville, Kentucky, United States. The race normally runs on the first Saturday in May, capping the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival. The race is an American Grade I stakes for three-year-old thoroughbreds and goes off over a distance of one and a quarter miles at Churchill Downs.

Breeders’ Cup Classic

The Breeders′ Cup Classic is a Grade I Weight for Age thoroughbred horse race for 3-year-olds and older run at a distance of 1 1⁄4 miles. The event, which runs on dirt, is held annually at a different racetrack in the USA as part of the Breeders′ Cup World Championships in late October or early November.

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe

France′s Prix de l′Arc de Triomphe is a Group 1 flat horse race open to thoroughbreds aged three years or older. It is run at Longchamp in Paris over a distance of 2,400 metres and takes place each year on the first Sunday in October. After the Epsom Derby, the race is generally considered to be Europe′s second most prestigious horse race.

Dubai World Cup

Carrying a purse of $12 million, the Dubai World Cup is the world′s richest horse race and has been running since 1996. The race is run at Dubai′s Meydan Racecourse each year in March as the final race Dubai World Cup night.

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In both Flat and National Hunt racing, there are a series of classifications that are designed to help indicate the prestige, prize money and quality of the race. Wrapping your head around these is vital to understanding horse racing fully. Both are split into classes from 1-7.

Class 1 Flat races are divided into the following:

Group 1 – Races of major international importance.
Group 2 – Major international races but of slightly less importance than Group 1 races.
Group 3 – Important domestic races.
Listed Races – Just below group races.

Class 1 National Hunt races are divided into the following:

Grade 1 – The best championship races, where the weight a horse carries is determined by age and sex.
Grade 2 – The weight a horse carries is determined by age and sex, but they are also made to carry more for any races they may have previously run.
Grade 3 – The weight a horse carries is determined by the horse’s handicap rating.
Listed Races – Just below graded races.

After Class 1 races, we then have Class 2 through to 7, which apply to both Flat and National Hunt Racing and are based on a horses handicap rating as follows:

Class 2 – Heritage Handicaps, Handicap rating of 86-100, 91-105 and 96-110.
Class 3 – Handicap rating of 76-90 and 81-95.
Class 4 – Handicap rating of 66-80 and 71-85.
Class 5 – Handicap rating of 56-70 and 61-75.
Class 6 – Handicap rating of 46-60 and 51-65.
Class 7 – Handicap rating of 46-50.

So, how do handicaps work in horse racing? We’ll be checking that out in the following advanced section of our guide.

A handicap race is where each horse is allocated a weight (based on their perceived ability) by a ‘Handicapper' in order to level the playing field and give every horse an equal chance of winning. Famous handicap races include the Grand National (UK) and the Melbourne Cup (Australia).

The speed at which a horse can gallop is affected by the amount of weight it carries, with handicap weights calculated based on the official ratings published by the British Horse Racing Authority and are expressed in imperial pounds.

So, what are horse handicap ratings?

Horse ratings represent a horse's level of ability in relation to the weight carried and are expressed in pounds (lb). The bigger the number assigned to a horse, the more capable it is considered to be.

For example, a horse with a rating of 140 would carry a total weight (including jockey, saddle and irons) of 140 pounds (10stn).

The Official Ratings (abbreviated as OR on a racecard) use the same criteria as the Racing Post Ratings (abbreviated as RPR on a racecard), but are compiled by a different authority.

7 Amazing Horse Racing Facts

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    After winning the Derby in 1921, the world’s most successful horse at that time was discovered to have tuberculosis, effectively meaning it had won with the use of a single lung.

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    No horse over the age of 18 has ever won a race. The life expectancy of a horse is 30 years.

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    The first woman to ride in a professional race was Diane Crump. This was in 1968 at the Kentucky Derby. This was so controversial that she had to be escorted to and from the track due to fears for her safety.

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    The world’s most famous and successful racehorse, Secretariat, holder of the record on every Triple Crown race, was found upon his death to have a heart weighing 22 pounds. That is two and a half times the size of a normal horse heart.

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    The last horse to win the British Triple Crown was in 1970. This is partly because few owners will put their best horse in the St Leger race due to fears its length may have long-lasting consequences for the horse performance-wise.

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    In the 1928 Grand National, only two horses made it to the finish. 41 other competitors fell due to appalling weather conditions.

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    Frank Hayes occasionally took the saddle as a jockey between being a horse trainer and stable worker, and the only race he ever won, he did so after dying from a heart attack mid-race, with the horse carrying his body over the finish line

Understanding horse betting can be made easier by first getting an idea of its history. Here’s a brief look some important historical context.

In one form or another, horse racing has existed for as long as humans and horses have been in contact, with early records showing that horse racing took place in Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece. UK horse racing is believed to date back to the 17th century during the reign of King James I. Consequently, many of today’s courses are sited on or close to old royal hunting grounds.

The sport really gained influence in the 18th century during the reign of King Charles II who established Newmarket, which today is the home of British National Stud Bloodstock, the showcase for British Thoroughbred breeding, at Rowley Mile.

It was for Newmarket that The Jockey Club was established in 1750. The newly formed organisation, which is still in existence today and runs 14 British racecourses, set the rules of the sport, prevented dishonesty and set about creating a level playing field for those involved. Thirty years later in 1780 the Epsom Derby was run for the first time, four years after the first running of the St Leger Stakes in 1776.

Today, along with the 1000 Guineas, 2000 Guineas, and The Oaks, these make up Britain’s five classic races. Through the centuries, horse racing became more and more popular and, thanks to TV and the internet, it is now one of the most watched and bet on sports in the UK.

Our guide is full of advice suitable for absolute beginners, meaning you needn’t worry about requiring any prior knowledge before checking it out.

Fixed odds simply mean that the odds you have accepted, or possibly requested, are locked down for you no matter which way the market moves.

Each-way betting in horse racing is the same as it is in all other sports. It just means your bet includes two stakes: one for the win and another for a place.

You can bet live on many races; the only caveat is that Best Odds Guaranteed promotions may not apply.

The most popular types of horse racing are flat and National Hunt races. The latter is best known for the obstacles such as fences which horses must overcome. Many of these popular races can also be streamed live.

Starting Price (SP) refers to the betting odds on any horse at the start of the race. When you place a bet, you’ll usually be given the choice of the current odds on the selection and the Starting Price. However, most online bookmakers, especially the finest horse racing betting sites, offer best odds guaranteed (BOG) which means you will be paid out at the bigger price regardless.

Non-runner (NR) is a term used when a horse will no longer be taking part in the race. Almost all bookmakers will refund stakes placed on horse racing non-runners. Read more about this in our Non-Runner No Bet (NRNB) explanation.

PU (or P) means the horse was Pulled Up by the jockey. In other words, the jockey has decided that the horse will cease to play any further part in a race. UR (or U) means that the horse has unseated its jockey i.e. the rider has fallen off the horse. BF means that the horse started out the race as a favourite, but was subsequently beaten by another horse – hence the term ‘beaten favourite’. BD (or brought down) means that a horse was knocked down by another horse during a race.

F means that a horse fell during a race.

0 (Zero) means that a horse finished in 10th place or lower.

In horse racing in the United Kingdom, Rule 4 is a ruling put in place to appease the market when a horse is withdrawn from a race after a wager has been placed. It is a deduction on the odds at the rate of 90% to the pound.

A wager placed at least a day in advance of an event is referred to as being ante-post. These can be placed a long time ahead, as soon as the market opens. UK betting sites will not typically offer non-runner refunds on ante-post bets.

When you back a horse, it means you have selected that horse for your bet – usually to win, but it can also refer to other markets.

Cash Out is a widely available betting feature which allows you to take a payout before the completion of a bet, based on the current performance of that market. In other words, you get a larger offer the more likely your bet is to win. You can find the feature at the best cash out betting sites.

This is also known as the overround, and like our last example, is not only heard of in horse racing circles. The house edge is the mathematical edge the bookmaker has based on the provided odds. This is calculated by how far above 100% all converting odds come to. The lower the house edge, the better your odds.

The favourite is the horse considered most likely to win the race based on who has the shortest odds.

If a horse is in the frame, it means they have finished in one of the top four places. The reason this is so important is that many markets allow you to bet on more than just the winners of a race.

You may think that banker has something to do with the operator or cash flow, but it actually is slang for a “sure thing”. However, we would advise that there are no sure things in the world of gambling.

This is a close finish featuring several different horses.

Generally, form refers to the performance quality and results of a horse’s recent races. There is also a form guide, which provides information in this regard.

This is another slang term for the state of the ground – for example, whether the ground is firm or soft. Both the characteristics of the racetrack and the weather can significantly affect a race.

It’s the opposite of a horse being considered the favourite. This is when a horse is considered very unlikely to win. It would generally have one of, if not the, longest odds of all racers.

This is another easy-to-understand slang term – it means you are only backing your horse to win the race.

In some races, the result is so close that photographic evidence is used to determine a winner – hence the term “photo finish”. Another relevant term here is when a horse wins “by a nose”, which means that they won, quite literally, by a nose in length.

A return is the amount of money you receive for a bet, meaning both winnings and stake.

This means that a market’s prices would have been reduced due to a large number of bets being placed in one direction.

Put simply, tote is a form of pool betting where your winnings are calculated by the amount you have entered in the pool alongside the number of winners. It is exceedingly popular in British horse racing.

This is slang for £20 (score), £25 (pony), £100 (ton), £500 (monkey).

Horse racing offers the perfect blend of simplicity with depth. Ultimately, a race of any kind is not too hard to understand. But by digging deeper, just as we have done in this article, you can not only learn how to make smarter bets, but also develop a new appreciation for the so-called sport of kings.

WRITTEN BY Matteo Ebejer View all posts by Matteo Ebejer

Hi, I'm Matteo, a writer who's passionate about all things sports. The typical weekend for me revolves around being glued to all things football on TV, ruining my Fantasy Premier League team, and getting off my lazy butt for a run.

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