Tips for betting on horse racing

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Whether you are a regular punter or a complete novice, it pays to have a good basic understanding of your chosen sport. We have compiled this horse racing betting guide to help you to find your way around the maze of different races, special bets and racing form.

How to bet on horse racing

How to bet on horse racing

Perhaps your horse racing betting has so far been limited to the odd flutter on the Grand National or the Derby? You may have only placed a couple of win or each-way bets and would like to know more about the various types of bet on offer. This section will help you to make the most of your winners and horse racing tips.

Win or Each-Way

The most common horse racing bet is the straight forward “win” bet. Many professional punters maintain that this is the only way to make regular profits but each-way betting certainly has its merits.
Each-way betting gives punters a return if their horse finishes second or third in races of eight runners or more. In handicap races of 16 or more runners, bookmakers pay down to fourth place. For selected races, they will even offer enhanced terms and pay out on fifth place. Your returns are calculated at one fifth of the odds in non-handicaps and a quarter of the odds in handicap races.

Multiple bets

We are regularly told of punters winning a lot of money for a small stake by linking several winners together. The multiple bet or accumulator can be anything from a simple double to a seven or eight-horse accumulator. The obvious risk with these bets is that just one loser means that you have lost your stake.
There are a wide range of special bets that allow you to link horses together in doubles, trebles and accumulators. The Patent links three horses in three singles, two doubles and a treble, totalling 7 bets. The Yankee combines four horses in doubles, trebles and a four-horse accumulator totalling 11 bets. The Canadian is five horses in 26 combinations and the Heinz is six horses in 57 combinations.

Lay betting

The growing popularity of online betting exchanges means that the punter can now profit from losers. You are effectively acting as a bookmaker, laying horses that you do not believe can win. You will have to have sufficient funds in your account to meet any losses incurred. This is quite a specialised field and you should not venture into lay betting without familiarising yourself with the risks involved.

Betting odds

Winning odds in all horse races are returned as starting prices (or SP). You can back your horse at current odds prior to race in the hope of getting a better price. Most bookmakers now offer a best odds guarantee so that, in the event of the SP being greater than your early price, they will stay pay the higher odds. This does not apply to ante-post betting where you risk losing your stake if the horse does not run. This applies unless the race is marked as “non-runner – no bet” at the time of placing your wager.

Picking a winner

There are many variables to consider when making your selections on UK horse racing. Here is our detailed horse racing betting guide explaining the key factors that influence the outcome of any horse race.

Picking a winner horse


The racecourses in Britain and Ireland have more variety than anywhere else in the world. The nature of the track and the draw can have a big say in the outcome of horse races in the UK. There are several excellent industry sites with detailed course guides. For example, low numbers have a big advantage in sprint races at Chester but the reverse is true at Ripon.

The Going

The going is another important factor to consider when making your horse racing betting selections. Most horses run to form on good ground but this is not always the case with extremes of going. Some horses like fast racing ground while others only show their best form in soft or heavy ground.


Races also vary considerably in distance, both on the flat and over jumps. Five furlongs is the shortest race distance in UK flat racing with races going up to two and three-quarter miles. Horses tend to have an optimum trip where they perform to the very best of their ability. For example, a horse that has been winning regularly over six furlongs would not necessarily have the stamina to win over seven furlongs. In jumps racing, the distance range is from two miles to four and a half miles.


Many punters like to follow certain trainers, whether it is Aidan O’Brien on the flat or Nicky Henderson over jumps. There are masses of statistics available online, giving a full break down of their records in different types of races, different courses and their current strike rate.


Most punters tend to favour certain jockeys such as Ryan Moore or Ruby Walsh. Statistics are also readily available on all jockeys across every racecourse in the UK. It is worth remembering the standard of jockeyship is very high so this should not be an area of too much concern.

Types of horse races

One of the most important things to understand about horse racing is the different types of races. The sport divides into the two very distinctive codes of Flat Racing and National Hunt Racing, providing top quality racing action all year round.

Types of horse races

Flat Racing

Maiden Races

Horses come into training from the age of two for flat racing and start their careers in maiden races. This type of race is not the safest to bet on but can be an excellent source for spotting future winners.
The biggest stables often give their slow maturing two-year-olds just one or two races at the end of the season to gain experience. By studying replays of these races from the top tracks you can create your own list of horses to follow.

Flat Handicap Races

Handicaps are races in which the horses are weighted to have an equal chance of winning the race. Each horse is given an official rating based on the form of its previous races. For example a horse rated 100 is rated 10lbs superior to a horse rated 90. At one mile, 2lbs equates to one length so the horse is rated five lengths superior. Although these races are notoriously difficult to predict, they are still the most popular with punters who can usually get better odds for their selection.

Group Races

Group races are to establish the best horse, usually at level weights or weight-for-age. The highest class of flat racing is Group 1 down to Group 2 and Group 3. The best horses can start at prohibitive odds but there are still plenty of competitive Group races to bet on.

National Hunt Racing


National Hunt Flat races (or Bumpers) are races restricted to horses that have never raced on the flat. They were originally introduced to provide experience for the late maturing National Hunt bred horses. They are now so popular that there are championship races in this division at Cheltenham and Aintree.
There are very limited betting opportunities in these races with little or no collateral form to work on. They can help you to pin-point some future novice hurdle winners.

Novice Races

Novice events are the equivalent of maiden races on the flat. Horses can race in novice hurdles from the age of three with many horses switching from flat to hurdles in the winter. Horses can win more than one novice race but carry a penalty for doing so.
Novice chases can be a very risky proposition for the punter with horses racing over fences for the first time. It is usually better to wait until a horse has shown that it is a safe jumper before getting involved in these races. You will also have to take the racecourse into account as the fences at Cheltenham or Aintree are a lot tougher than those on some of the smaller tracks.

National Hunt Handicap Races

The handicap system works the same for the jumps as it does on the flat only with a different weight to distance ratio. Many of the top races over jumps are handicaps including the Grand National. The appeal of National Hunt horses is that they usually stay in training for much longer than their flat racing counterparts. This gives you the opportunity to know their course and ground preferences and their best racing distance.

Grade 1 Races

The top level-weights events in National Hunt racing are called Grade 1 races. These include the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle, the targets of the best chasers and hurdlers in training. There are a variety of Grade 1 races spread throughout the season over different distances with the championship races at Cheltenham, Liverpool and Punchestown.

Major horse races UK

Betting on Major horse races UK


There are five Classic races in England; The 1000 Guineas, 2000 Guineas, Derby, Oaks and St Leger. These are the elite races for three-year-olds to establish the best of the generation. Fillies race over a mile in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and a mile and a half in the Epsom Oaks. The top colts run in the 2000 Guineas and the Derby. Fillies can run in the Derby but it is very rare for one to do so.
Both sexes are eligible for the St Leger over a mile and three-quarters at Doncaster. The 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger make up the English Triple Crown. The last horse to win all three races was Nijinsky in 1970. Aidan O’Brien’s Camelot came very close in 2012, winning the first two before finishing second in the St Leger. The same five Classic races are repeated in Ireland, although the St Leger is open to older horses as well as three-year-olds.
The biggest flat racing meeting of the year is Royal Ascot in June. There are thirty races across five days, including nineteen Group races. There is £7million worth of prize money on offer with top races including The Ascot Gold Cup, The Prince of Wales’s Stakes, The Queen Anne Stakes and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
Other top Festival meetings throughout the year include the York Ebor meeting, named in honour of Europe’s richest handicap race. Glorious Goodwood and the Newmarket July Festival also attract top class horses from Europe and beyond.

National Hunt

The Cheltenham Festival in March is the highlight of the year for National Hunt racing. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the championship race for chasers over three and a quarter miles. The Champion Hurdle is the most prestigious race for hurdlers over two miles. Other top races at the meeting include The Queen Mother Champion Chase, The Stayers Hurdle and The Ryanair Chase.
The most coveted prize in steeplechasing is the Grand National at Aintree in April. The race is over four and a quarter miles over Liverpool’s unique fences. Other leading staying chases include The Welsh National, The Scottish Grand National and the Irish Grand National.

History of horse racing

All of todays thoroughbred racehorses can be traced back to one of three stallions; the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerly Turk. They were brought to England and bred to English and European bloodlines to create the first generation of thoroughbreds.

UK horse racing has a rich history and has been the inspiration of many of the top races worldwide. The rules of racing were created in the 17th Century with the Newmarket Town Plate first run in 1666. Racing soon became a favourite pastime of the Royals and aristocracy, hence the title “The Sport of Kings”.

The St Leger, first run in 1776, is the oldest of the five Classic races and preceded the inaugural Derby Stakes by four years. The Derby has since lent its name to The Kentucky Derby and a host of Classic races across the globe. The Cheltenham Gold Cup was originally a flat race run in 1819 and did not become a steeplechase until 1924. The Grand National first took place in 1839 and now carries prize money of £1million.

History of horse racing


Our guide to UK horse racing should set you on the path to enjoy the sport even more and, hopefully, start to make your horse racing betting pay. If you are serious about making a profit you should keep records of your betting. Betting on horses is for entertainment but it is much more enjoyable when you win! By keeping records and managing your stakes carefully, you can greatly increase your chances of making a profit.
You cannot possibly keep track of the form for every horse in the UK, but you will soon discover which type of races bring you most success. You will also be able to eliminate the races that you tend to lose regularly in. Specialising will enable you to focus on specific races that give you the best chance of winning. Above all, only bet within your limits and enjoy the Sport of Kings!