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How To Bet On Horse Racing

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The is my take on how to bet on UK horse racing! Some of the advice will be nothing new for the avid racecourse goer, although a lot of it is based on my personal experiences, tips and knowledge having followed the horses for nearly thirty years. I don’t have a particular horse race bets system, but I do think it’s important to keep an open mind and embrace the almost endless degree of variables that affect the outcome of a race.

First Up here is our suggested bookmaker for horse racing.

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Form Guide, Course, Ground - Passion is Knowledge

People who win regularly when they place bets on horse races are almost always knowledgeable and passionate about racing. Simply studying a form guide is not enough. You have to know the sport inside out as there are so many factors to consider. 

A horse may have useful form but does it like the course it’s about to run on? Is the trainer in form? Does the horse prefer going right handed? The horse won over 3 miles at Ascot, is that good enough to win 3 miles at Cheltenham? All this is knowledge and it comes with experience, time and patience.

I sometimes watch Channel 4 Racing on a Saturday afternoon without even placing a bet, just to increase my awareness and understanding of how horses work, what going they prefer, which type of courses they run better on. Horse racing is a game of almost unlimited variables and you need to take account of all of them when placing a bet on the gee-gees.


Stake - Only bet what you can afford

This rule goes with just about any form of gambling and now with the 24 hour availability of gambling, it is more crucial than ever. Give yourself a figure that you are willing and able to lose and use that to stake on the chosen race meeting. That money is now gone once you have placed your bets. Therefore, anything that comes back is a bonus. By all means re-stake it if you are under the figure you deposited but don’t deposit any more. 

When you have made a profit after an afternoon’s racing, stop.  Even if you only make £1 profit...stop. Don’t be greedy. Wait for your next session because effectively that session is now free because you won’t be spending your next allocated amount. Sounds overly sensible and boring but remember betting on horses is supposed to be fun.


And finally remember, because of the relatively large odds on offer for most horses in a race, you often don't necessarily have to win that many races over a race meet, to bet on the horses and win! Depending on the odds your backing, number of runners and each way places available, a couple of winners and each way places should ensure you turn a profit from a day's racing.


Types of Horse Racing Bets

Win Single

A win single bet is a bet placed on one horse to win a race. Arguably the most common and easy to understand bet. 

Each Way

An each way bet is essentially two bets. One on the horse to win (like a win single), and one on the horse to be placed in the race (finish in say the top 4 places). A £1 stake Each Way, would risk a total of £2; £1 on the win single and £1 on the place bet. We'll discuss Each Way betting in further detail in the next section.

Double, Treble, Multiple Bets

As the names suggest, these bets involve two win bets combined (double), three win bets combined (treble), and multiple win bets combined (multiple).

Straight Forecast

This is a bet selecting the two horses, you are betting on to finish in the correct top two race positions. This is one bet.

Reverse Forecast

This bet is similar to the Straight Forecast, but the two selections can finish in any order. This is effectively two bets (two straight forecast bets).


Select the top three horses in the correct finishing order. This is one bet, and usually accompanied by deliciously generous odds if you are lucky enough to win the bet!

Combination Tricast

This bet is like a Tricast bet, but you do not have specify the correct order in which the selections will finish. Instead you pick three selections, and as long as they finish in the first three places in any order, you will win the bet.

This entails 6 bets in total, as there are potentially six different potential finishing orders assuming your choosing three selections to finish in any order in the top three places.

Each Way Betting

Each way betting is a fantastic option for people who regularly get it right but miss out on the all-important first past the post. This is effectively a 2 fold bet: one stake on the horse being placed (check rules for number of places allocated) and one on the horse winning. Taking the each-way option on multiple bets (Lucky 15, Yankees etc. - need more information on Lucky 15, Yankee, Trixie and Accummulator bets then check out my blog) is a useful way to tackle “seconditis” and can provide large dividends even if none of the selections win.

Always check how many places a bookmaker is offering especially with 16 runners or more. 4 places is the usual offer although many offer up to 5 places. Bet 365 and Paddy Power are particularly generous on this. For the Grand National, some firms even offer 6 places: we will give full information on this nearer the time.


Race Meeting - Bet at the best meetings

Good punters do not try to make big money at Fakenham and Fontwell. They wait for the best meetings such as The Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot, The Newmarket Guineas Meeting, The Aintree Grand National Meeting, The York Ebor Meeting and Glorious Goodwood. There are a number of reasons for this. These meetings feature Championship races whereby a lot of decent horses and jockeys are competing against each other at the best racecourse. The form guide is clearer to decipher as the beforehand prep races were probably televised on terrestrial TV and therefore easier to assess a horse’s chances if you have multiple video evidence.

Often the most successful trainers specifically target these big meetings, as is the case of Willie Mullins for The Cheltenham Festival and they can be caught with useful doubles and three-timers. Avoid the “bread and butter” meetings held in the week as these races are difficult to assess and may contain “non-triers” with horses being aimed at tricking the handicapper to save themselves for a better mark at the bigger meetings. The mid week racetracks can be a good place to learn the basics of how to bet on the horses, but the high profile race meets is where I would suggest you hone your racing knowledge.



Choosing The Right Banker

Every big meeting has a chance to make a virtually guaranteed return on a horse with exceptional chances of winning but at a very short price: a banker. It is called a banker as this is the horse that guarantees your outgoings even if your other selections fail. The only problem is that there are usually three or four possibilities. The key is not necessarily choosing the best horse but selecting the horse which has the weakest opposition.  Thistlecrack winning the World Hurdle at The Cheltenham Festival 2016 was a good example of this.

Thistlecrack's win at the World Hurdle at Cheltenham_.jpg

Following horses with a notebook

It’s tempting, especially with National Hunt whereby horses keep coming back year after year, to follow particular horses. Of course, in some cases this can be lucrative if the horse is improving but on the whole, it can affect an objective choice based on sound form judgement. Using a notebook is a great way to follow horses.

Quite often the focus is too strong on the performance of the winner. However, a good video watch of a big field handicap can be used to identify decent finishers in 5th or 6th who perhaps kept on well to the line and may appreciate a longer test of stamina. It is almost certain that these finishers may have escaped the attention of the handicapper and their rating will not have been increased for their next race. It is vital to remember that information is key to backing winners and information which is not common knowledge is gold dust in racing.


Long Shots - Big Priced Winners

Big priced winners are exceptionally hard to find. There’s a simple reason for their high price...they are not deemed worthy enough to win the race, and in most cases this is true! However, with some careful homework, it is possible to identify horses that may run a decent race at big odds. The course going can be a huge factor. If there has been plenty of rain over an extended period of time and then a dry period, it’s likely that horses who prefer livelier ground and have shown recent poor form, will be priced high. Choose one or two of these big outsiders and read their entire race history to identify which ones have won on fast ground. The same theory applies vice versa.

Horses that have been off the track for a long time are usually priced high. Again, do the homework and check on any recent trainer sound bites on how the horse is performing at home. Horses who have been successful in their earlier years in listed company and lost form can sometimes bounce back in lower rated handicaps. Check to see if the going/distance is favourable and whether the horse is showing even the slightest return to form. Finishing a 15 length 7th might not seem great form in listed company but with a decent mark (weighted favourably according to form and ability) in a handicap; this has the potential to be winning form at a big price.

Avoid very small fields

Surely with a smaller field it’s easy to pick a winner? Not necessarily and the prices don’t give the value either. These races are simply not betting opportunities. In most cases, in a four runner race, you’ll have a hot odds on favourite with a second best priced around 2/1. The remaining two are almost certainly there to gain easy place money, not that you’ll gain much as only one place is awarded up to 5 runners. These races are good for multiple bets, but as single race betting opportunities, they should be avoided at all costs.

Handicaps - Don't back the favourite!

This is where you make your money. All handicaps are designed so that every horse in the race has an equal chance of winning. At least that’s the theory!

If you enjoy in depth study of form, these races can provide great satisfaction after some sturdy unraveling of the form book. However, most working people with families simply don’t have the time to sit down and scrutinise the form book, so I will offer some advice for those who are short of time and want to know how to bet on handicaps! 

First thing first.  Never back the favourite in a handicap.  A lot of people will disagree with this profound bit of advice but it’s a simple rule that I have followed throughout my race betting life. The statistics of winning favourites in handicaps are so poor, that in my mind, there can be no value gained here. The winning percentage of favourites in UK racing is around 25%

Quite often, betting advice websites will tell you to check the form of the second, third and fourth favourites and bet accordingly. My advice would be this. In a race of around 14+ runners, check the horses which are priced from around 8-14/1 and use the statistics section in any of the more detailed racing papers and check their win percentages on the course and going. You should be able to whittle down the choice to about 2 or 3. An each-way bet on the best of these has yielded me a reasonable profit in the last year.


Specialise in flats or jumps

This is a bit of advice you probably won’t find in many quarters. Following racing seriously all year round is a demanding hobby! Therefore, I see no harm in choosing to follow one of the two types of horse racing in the UK.  I have chosen to follow National Hunt over the winter and take a break from betting over the summer flat season. Of course, I might have an occasional flutter on the Derby, Guineas etc. but generally I don’t take a deep interest in it.

I like taking a long break from betting and reflecting how the season has gone and what improvements to my betting I can make for the following season. Your wife/partner and family will appreciate it too probably! Also, it’s worth noting that it is unwise to bet heavily on the flat at the start of the season (March-April) as the form is more than likely based on the previous season and hard to assess. Same can be said for the jumps for around October to November. 


Where to Bet on Horse Racing?

Best Odds Guaranteed with Bet365

Bet365 Best Odds Guaranteed offer is a fantastic horse racing promotion. bet365 pay out at the Starting Price (SP) if it is bigger, meaning you earn more winnings if your selection goes off at a higher price than your backing price.

Say you back an Early Price of 3/1 and the selection at a Best Odds Guaranteed price of 4/1, bet365 will pay out on that 4/1 price.

This offer applies to board prices, bet365 early prices as well as single and multiples for all UK and Irish races that offer a 'Win' and 'Each-Way' betting selection. Also note this offer is not capped to a certain bet amount.

Best Odds Guaranteed Horse Racing

Take a price on your selection and if the SP is bigger bet365 will pay you at the bigger odds.

Available on Horse Racing. Applies to bets placed on Win and Each-Way Fixed Odds markets only. All racing in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong is excluded. Bet restrictions and T&Cs apply. New and eligible customers only.

Best Odds Guaranteed No-Runner No-Bet Cheltenham.jpg

Find out more about bet365's Best Odds Guaranteed offer!

ITV 4/1 Offer

ITV 4-1 Offer.jpg

Bet365 regularly offer existing customers a risk free bet (up to £50) on all televised ITV or ITV 4 races (previously the Channel 4 Offer). This offers run on most Saturdays, occasional Sundays and every day during major Horse Racing meets such as Cheltenham, Royal Ascot, and Aintree.

If you back any winner at odds of 4/1 or more on any race shown live on ITV or ITV 4, bet365 will automatically give you a risk free bet to the same stake (up to £50) on the next televised ITV or ITV 4 race. This process will continue as long as you back winners at odds of 4/1 or more.

ITV Racing 4/1 Offer

Back a winner at 4/1 or more and get a risk free bet on the next live ITV race (up to £50) at bet365.

Offer applies to first single bet placed. Applies to Win and Each-Way Fixed Odds markets and Enhanced Place Terms markets only. Bet restrictions and T&Cs apply. New and eligible customers only.


Open as many online betting accounts as you can. Since the introduction of online gaming, there are numerous firms vying for your cash! It’s very competitive too which means they will offer you lots of incentives to kick start your account.

Howtobet4free features lots of details of introductory offers and it is well worth looking through to maximise your potential winnings - check out our free bets page. It is also good practice to give yourself as many options as possible price wise. It is not uncommon to find a bookmaker offering odds far higher than other firms for a horse you are interested in betting on. By signing up with a number of different online bookmakers you can ensure you obtain the best value odds when wagering on the gee-gees.


The Finishing Line - Conclusion

There are a multitude of variables to consider when putting your money down on a racehorse and all of them should be taken into account. However, with some shrewd homework and objective thinking, choosing a winner from 16 runners can be easily whittled down to several or less.

Nonetheless, even the best thought systems can fail and everybody suffers from a losing streak whether that is a jockey, trainer or punter. The main thing is to keep everything at a fun level. Just like the advertisement for GamCare states, when the fun stops, stop...for a while at least whilst you rethink your strategy!

Matt is Howtobet4free's resident Horse Racing expert, writer, tipster and a huge Cheltenham Festival fan. He occasionally dabbles in Golf, Football and anything else you can gamble on!

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