Guide: How to bet on Horse Racing

Horse racing and betting go hand in hand, with both pastimes boasting long histories and traditions behind them. With so many races being regularly held around the world, anyone with an interest in the sport will find no shortage of chances to place a bet if they are interested.

Before you begin, though, be sure to familiarise yourself with the rules of horse racing and horse racing betting, while there are also a number of horse racing bet types to get to know. There are so many different races – and types of races – around the world that it can become easy to get overwhelmed.

To help you, just focus on the courses, races and horses which interest you to begin with. Once you have looked at the very basics of horse racing betting, it’s time to look at strategy and how exactly you can look to profit on the horse racing action.

Surfaces and conditions

Some sports are less affected by conditions, whereas others – golf, formula 1 and especially horse racing – can be heavily impacted by the weather and if a course or track is wet or dry. In racing, different horses will do better on different surfaces – hence the term ‘horses for courses.’

Certain runners will fare better on certain courses and under particular conditions, and there are a number of distinctions that can help you figure out which horse is the right one to bet on. This can be measured by the ‘going’ of a track.

Tracks can vary from firm or good, to yielding, soft or heavy. The drier the conditions, the firmer the course, while the wetter the conditions, the heavier the track. Firm courses will suit lighter, quicker horses while horses that like to hit the ground hard will prefer a softer going.

Horse racing can also be categorised into jump and flat races. While horses and jockeys can ride in both categories, some horses will possess characteristics that make them better suited to one type than the other.

Jump racing: Good jumpers will have a combination of strength and coordination. What they make up for in skills at overcoming a fence or hurdle, they may lack in speed or stamina.

Flat racing: Adept flat racers will be quick and, if they are better-suited to longer courses, will possess good stamina. The influence of a jockey is also strong here, as a rider must know when to restrain a horse or when to encourage it to make its push. We will discuss more on jockeys later.

Classifications: In both jump and flat racing, it’s important to know what grade the race you are betting on is. Different groups reflect different quality levels, while a higher-quality race may also attract greater attention from other bettors, meaning greater fluctuations in the prices and odds on offer. Groups can range from 1-7, with a Group 1 race being of the highest quality.

UK, US and international racing

As horse races are run all over the world, there are races available for betting throughout the day as they are held in different time zones. While the UK hosts the biggest horse races, there are regularly races held in the US and internationally (which can take place in countries such as Hong Kong, South Africa, Dubai and more).

Even though the highest volume of betting action will usually be reserved for the hugest UK events, such as the Grand National, Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot and more, there is plenty of daily action to bet on in the US. US racing offers far less jump racing, however, with the UK accounting for approximately half of all jump races across the globe.

US races are generally shorter in distance, as there are so many flat races, while there are also fewer racing classes. US races tend to be divided into Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3 or Non-Graded Stakes. Grade 1 races include the famed Triple Crown: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

What to look out for when studying a horse’s form

Like golfers and tennis players, how a horse is performing over the set period of time can be a vital indicator into how it will fare at upcoming festivals. It is therefore important to research a horse’s form before placing a bet – and this is a principle we would advise across any form of sports betting.

Hot streaks: While nothing is a guarantee in betting, horses in form do tend to put together hot streaks of more than one win every few races. If a horse has also won a recent race by several furlongs, or in particularly easy fashion, it could be worth keeping an eye out for in any races in the coming weeks.
Personal bests: A similar principle is at play here; if a horse has recently run a personal best, it is likely hitting form and is, at the very least, worth monitoring during its next few races.

Opposition: At the end of the day, you can only beat who’s in front of you and, if a particularly strong horse finds itself in a weakened field, its chances of victory will only increase. Similarly, if there are several front runners who like to get out to a strong early start, an outsider is much less likely to keep pace with the leading group.

Outliers: Like any athlete with a busy schedule, some horses may suffer performance dips and only show their true selves the following week. If you have reason to believe a horse is being saved for a big race, such outliers are worth looking out for if a horse’s price has fallen enough to add considerable value.

Similar situations can occur if a horse has recently had its class changed, where an out-of-form horse could suddenly perform much better in its new class. After all, if it was always as simple as a backing the same winning horse to win again next week, there would be little point in betting or even horse racing itself.

Trainers and jockeys

While horse racing is technically an individual sport, with each horse competing alone in a race, it takes a team effort to raise, train and ride each runner. After all, a horse on its own would present an incomplete picture – and a horse whose rider has fallen off is immediately counted as a horse that did not finish, even if it goes on to cross the finish line first.
A horse’s trainer is a vital component of exactly what you are betting on. Different trainers will enjoy better or worse records at certain tracks, so it’s not truly just horses for courses but trainers too.

If a trainer has won at a course before, and if they field multiple horses in a race, the chances are they’ll know how to replicate their winning formula. Similarly, particular trainers can be seen as having a bad time at certain tracks, just as a specific team can be seen as a ‘bogey team’ in football.

Once a race has started, the jockey becomes just as important as the horse itself. Certain jockeys have favourite locations, such as Ruby Walsh at Cheltenham, while others are particularly good at certain types of racing.

AP McCoy, for instance, was one of the most successful jockeys in jump racing before his retirement, while Frankie Dettori is one of the all-time greats in flat racing. Emphasising the element of the team, some jockeys will also gel better with certain horses.

So while it is very important to look at what condition the horse you plan to bet on is in, be sure not to neglect the human element of the sport. Studying trainers and jockeys is just as valuable as looking examining a horse itself.

Beating the price

Once you have evaluated the form and conditions going into a race, the price of your horse remains another layer that can potentially benefit or handicap your bet. Odds can vary more in horse racing than other sports such as football, so always be sure to compare the best odds before you bet.

But, even once you have chosen your bookmaker, prices can change very quickly and frequently within horse racing. A common goal for players is to try and beat the price by either going with a horse’s current price or starting price, which is defined in our guide to the rules of horse racing.

For example:

If you back a horse at 5/1 (6.0), its price could shorten to 4/1 (5.0) as many other punters have followed suit. In this case, if your horse wins, you would receive higher returns if you opted to stick with the price offered at the time your bet was placed.

But a number of factors can influence prices and, if the horse’s trainer suggests it is not in form, its price may lengthen to 7/1 (8.0). In this case, you would receive a smaller return than someone who chose to back the starting price if the horse rode to victory.

Best odds guaranteed

It can be tricky to determine which option is better, with it often being a case of chance. However, a common feature with many bookmakers in recent years has been devised to make this process easier: the Best Odds Guaranteed (BOG) promotion.

BOG is offered by many betting sites and essentially allows a player to receive the best odds possible for a selection. This promotion works to secure you the optimal odds in both scenarios.

For example:

If you backed a horse at 10/1 (11.0) and its price lengthened to 12/1 (13.0) before it won, with BOG you would be paid out at 12/1. Conversely, if the odds shortened to below 10/1, BOG would ensure you are still paid out at 10/1, the best odds offered at any single time.

One key point to consider is that you are receiving the best odds available only with the bookmaker you placed a bet with. So if you backed a horse with Coral at 10/1 and bet365 offered 11/1 (12.0), this would not affect your BOG as that price was offered by a separate bookmaker.

Start out with the right bonus

If you have never placed a horse racing bet before and are looking for the right offer to kick off your wagering, lucrative promotions are regularly offered in racing betting. In fact, sometimes these offers are so worthwhile for the customer they end up costing the bookmaker dearly.

Examples during major festivals can be found in the number of extra places offered by bookmakers in each way betting (see our types of horse racing bets guide for more). Even more emphatic, however, is Sky Bet’s money back as cash promotion.

With this offer, only available on selected races, Sky Bet refunds the win part of your each way bet up to £10 if your horse finishes second, third or fourth. When such money back as cash offers have been offered at major festivals, bookmakers have publicly declared a bad week at the office as so many customers have simply been able to withdraw their losing stake.

If you keep your eyes peeled, the horse racing betting market is full of great offers just like this, so be sure to look at the best ones on BetCompare.

Make the most of each way betting

While each way betting is available across multiple sports, it can be most effective in horse racing – and is certainly the most common when betting on horses. That’s why an each way bet can offer plenty of extra value, whatever the aim of your horse racing punting.

If you are simply looking to watch a race with some added entertainment value via betting, an each way bet can increase your chances of finding a ‘winner.’ Should your horse narrowly miss out on victory on the last lap, an each way bet can still leave you celebrating, as well as having made a profit.

But making the most of each way betting, especially when betting on horse racing long term, does not mean the same as making every one of your wagers an each way bet. The lower a horse’s odds, for instance, the less sense it makes to go each way; odds of Evens (2.0) would only offer 1/5 (1.2) if the extra places offer was at 1/5 odds, for instance.

You should therefore be precise with your each way betting and, if you are planning on regularly betting on the horses, only go for the each way option when significant value is added.

Avoid the common mistakes

In horse racing, the race favourite wins around 30-35% of the time, which leaves for plenty of value bets to be had all around the circuit. But a common mistake is to always back favourites or assume they are shoo-ins for victory.

If you study form and familiarise yourself with track conditions, as we talked about above, look primarily for which horse you think will win or place – rather than assuming the shortest odds option is always the best way to go. On the day of a big festival, for example, it is extremely rare for the odds-on favourite to win every single race.

Equally, while there are many exciting bet types to follow in horse racing, some will require a far greater steak. So if a Super Heinz or a Goliath bet sound like a lot of fun, make sure you treat them as exactly that: a fun, one-off bet. If you are betting more with the objective of trying to achieve a steady profit, don’t become too tempted too regularly by the longer-odds bets available in horse racing – as there are a lot of them.

Another common mistake is to regularly back a horse that is your personal favourite regardless of form or price. Again, if you are only betting on the horses for fun and entertainment, you are perfectly free to pursue this approach. However, if you are betting with the aim of securing a solid return, avoid placing larger steaks on a horse regularly simply because you are a fan – or because you saw it claim a famous victory many years ago.

Gamble responsibly

As with any form of betting, it’s always important to know your limits and gamble responsibly. There are plenty of events on a daily basis in the horse racing world and no one should bet on every single one of them without fail.

Horse racing betting should be about entertainment as well as winnings and betting value, so don’t go in blind and bet on the next race that’s on just because it’s there. Leave the chasing to the jockeys and don’t try and recover your losses simply by betting more.

If you are betting on a race where you don’t know a single horse, it might be time to scale back.

To see where you can put your responsible betting strategies into practice, read our guide on racing’s biggest events of 2020. Check out our reviews of the best sports betting sites to get the best odds on your next horse racing bet.