How to bet on horse racing

To many who like to bet on sport, betting on horse racing is a big turn-off. It’s shrouded in strange jargon. When they come across the racing page in their daily paper or on their laptop and they struggle to make sense of it. The names of the horses are easy enough but what’s ‘5 11-7’ all about? What does ‘CD’, ‘BF’ or ‘42U-3P7’ next to a horse’s name mean? And what’s a ‘furlong’?

This is part of our series of sports betting guides.
Take a look at our other in depth guides below

What follows should help you to pick up some of the language of horse racing and betting.

Horse Racing Basics

The essence of the sport is easy: the one that gets from point A to point B first wins the race. Just like the football team that scores more goals wins the game, or the athlete who runs fastest, jumps higher or longest, or throws the furthest gets the gold medal. But behind that simple logic we need to dig deeper.

Before getting down to the betting side, let’s remove some of the mystery. For first-timers, a list of runners and riders looks daunting, so here are some basics.

There are two types of horse racing, Flat racing and Jump racing. Jump racing takes two forms, hurdle races and steeplechases. A hurdle is a smaller obstacle, a steeplechase fence is larger, as jumped in the Grand National.

Britain has 60 racecourses. Some hold both Flat and Jump races. Some are Flat only, others Jumps only.

Types of Horse RacesGrand National Horse Racing

In both Flat and Jump horse racing there are different types of races, the main ones being handicaps and conditions races.

In handicap races, horses are allotted different weights to carry. This is based on their perceived level of ability. The faster one carries more weight. The idea is to give them an equal chance of winning. The weight each one carries is decided by a racing official known as a ‘handicapper’.

In conditions races, the weight horses carry depends on factors such as age, sex and value of races won. These include the most important races, known as Group races on the Flat and Graded races over Jumps.

On the Flat, Group 1 races are the most important. They include all the Classics (such as the Derby) and attract the best horses. Over Jumps, a Grade 1 is a race such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup or Champion Hurdle.

Some Basic Horse Racing Terms

  • Card: short for race card. It’s what appears in the papers or online. It contains information such as ‘form’ (see below), name, age, weight to be carried, name of owner, trainer and jockey.
  • Colt: a male horse under five years old.
  • Draw: the position a horse shall occupy in the stalls at the start of a Flat race. There is no draw for places in Jump racing.
  • Field: refers to the number of runners for a particular race.
  • Filly: a female horse under five years old.
  • Form: a horse’s achievements on the racecourse are known as form. The placings appear next to his or her name on the race card.
  • Furlong: a unit of measurement. A furlong is 220 yards or 200 metres. Most Flat races are run between 5 furlongs (1,000 metres) and 2 miles (3,200 metres). Most Jump races are between 2 miles and 3 miles (4,800 metres).
  • Gelding: a colt or male horse that has been gelded (castrated). Most horses that run over Jumps are geldings.
  • Going: the state of the ground for a race meeting. It can vary from firm to heavy (i.e. very soft).
  • SP: stands for Starting Price and is the official odds at which a horse started in the race.

Race Card Information

A horse’s figures run from left to right, the most recent on the right. Numbers 1-9 show the position the horse finished in the race. The number 0 indicates the horse finished outside the first 9.

The symbol – separates racing seasons. Numbers before the – are for last season. The symbol / indicates a longer gap, for example if the horse has missed an entire season.

In addition, the following abbreviations apply to horses in Jump racing. F = fell, P = pulled up, R = refused, U = unseated rider, B = brought down by another horse.

Horse Information and Equipment

The name is followed by a number which shows how many days since the horse last ran. After that may come one or more abbreviations. C indicates a horse has won on that course before. D indicates it has won over that distance before. CD indicates it has won over that course and distance before. BF stands for beaten favourite and means it was favourite for a race last time, but did not win.

This is followed by the names of the owner and trainer, though these may appear elsewhere, depending on the layout. Then comes the horse’s age and the amount of weight the horse will carry in stones and pounds, i.e. 11-10 = 11st 10lb.

There may be more abbreviations relating to any equipment a horse is wearing in a race. These are: b = blinkers, v = visor, h = hood, t = tongue strap, p = cheek pieces.

Blinkers consist of a hood which fits over a horse’s head with shields at the eye holes. This restricts a horse’s vision on either side. The purpose is to focus the horse’s attention in a race. Visors are the same as blinkers but with a slit in the eye-shield, allowing slightly more vision. A hood covers the horse’s ears to reduce sound but has no eye-shield. Cheek pieces restrict vision to the side of a horse. Tongue straps are applied to prevent horses swallowing their tongues.  

The name of the jockey comes next. If a jockey has a number in brackets after their name (7, 5 or 3) it means he or she is an apprentice jockey and that the horse is carrying 7lb, 5lb or 3lb less weight, due to the rider being able to claim a weight allowance for not having ridden the required number of winners.

Types of Horse Racing Bets

horse racing betsOnce you have got to grips with the race card format, the next step is how to place a horse racing bet. Betting on horse racing, just like any other sport, is about knowing the subject. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. That’s not saying the more effort you make, the more you’re sure to win, but there are certain approaches that can help in analysing a race.  

The bookmaker is obliged to offer odds on every race. However, the punter does not have to bet on every race. That’s a big advantage, so be selective. Another thing to bear in mind is that many betting sites feature interactive tools within the race card. These form guides show how your horse and other horses performed in their recent outings. The punter now has more information at his or her fingertips than ever before.

Backing a Horse to win

A straight win is the most simple and common type of horse racing bet. Let’s say the horse you want to back is 5/1. That means for every 1 unit (£1, £10, etc) you stake, you will receive 5 units if you win (plus your stake).

If the horse is 7/2, for every 2 units you stake, you will receive 7 units if you win (plus your stake). If the horse is 9/4, for every 4 units you stake, you will receive 9 units if you win (plus your stake).

When you see the odds the other way around – such as 1/5 – this is called odds-on. In spoken form this is “Five to one on”. Hence, for every 5 units you stake, you will receive just 1 unit if you win (plus your stake).

Evens, or even money, means for every 1 unit you stake, you will receive 1 unit if you win (plus your stake).

Backing a Horse Each-way

To bet each-way on horse racing is to stake equal amounts for a win and for a place. It applies to all races of 5 to 7 runners (1st or 2nd); all races with 8 or more runners (1st, 2nd or 3rd), or handicap races with 16 or more runners (1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th).

The place terms will usually be either one-quarter or one-fifth of the odds, depending on the bookmaker’s terms.

Other Types of Horse Racing Bets

A wide range of ‘exotic’ bets exist. These include:

  • Double – consists of 2 horses in different races. Both must win to give a return.
  • Treble – consists of 3 horses in different races. All three must win to give a return.
  • Trixie – consists of 4 bets: 3 doubles and 1 treble. At least 2 of the 3 horses must win to give a return.
  • Patent – consists of 7 bets: 3 singles, 3 doubles and a treble. You need at least 1 winner to give a return.
  • Yankee – consists of 4 selections comprising 11 bets: 6 doubles, 4 trebles and a 4-fold accumulator. You need at least 2 winners to give a return.
  • Canadian (also known as a Super Yankee) – like a Yankee but consists of 5 selections comprising 26 bets: 10 doubles, 10 trebles, 5 4-folds and a 5-fold accumulator. You need at least 2 winners to give a return.
  • Heinz – consists of 6 selections comprising 57 bets (hence the name): 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 4-folds, 6 5-folds and a 1 6-fold accumulator. You need at least 2 winners to give a return.
  • Super Heinz – consists of 7 selections comprising 120 bets: 21 doubles, 35 trebles, 35 4-folds, 21 5-folds, 7 6-folds and a 7-fold accumulator. You need at least 2 winners to give a return.  
  • Goliath – consists of 8 selections comprising 247 bets: 28 doubles, 56 trebles, 70 4-folds, 56 5-folds, 28 6-folds, 8 7-folds and an 8-fold accumulator. You need at least 2 winners to give a return.  
  • Tricast – need to predict the first three horses in exact order of finish. Not easy but can pay big rewards.

‘Lucky’ Horse Racing Bets

  • Lucky 15 – includes 4 selections consisting of 15 bets: 4 singles, 6 doubles, 4 trebles and a 4-fold accumulator. You only need 1 winner to give a return.
  • Lucky 31 – includes 5 selections consisting of 31 bets: 5 singles, 10 doubles, 10 trebles, 5 4-folds and a 5-fold accumulator. Again, you only need 1 winner to give a return.

Conclusion and advice

There is a lot to get your head around when it comes to betting online or offline on horse racing. From the types of horse races to bet on, to the types of bets you can place. Don’t let the sheer volume of information put you off. However, as with most things, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. 

To conclude, here are five items of advice to set you on your way.

  1. A daily racing tipster must give a selection for every race on every card every day. They do not have time to study every race in detail, so do not follow them blindly. (The Racing Post, on the other hand, has a number of tipsters who can pick and choose their races.)
  2. Likewise, do not place too much reliance on betting forecasts in daily papers. These can vary greatly.
  3. Look for value. If you believe that a horse has a good chance of winning and you believe the odds are too long, i.e. if you see a horse is 10/1 but you feel the real odds should only be 5/1, back your judgement.
  4. Choose your races carefully. Try to avoid low-level races. The form of lower-class horses tends to be inconsistent. Again, remember that, unlike the bookmaker, you don’t have to bet on every race.
  5. Don’t chase your losses. You will back losers but don’t try to win back the money you’ve lost by placing random bets. There’s always tomorrow.

Most important of all, make sure you always bet on horse racing within your budget. Never bet more than you can afford to lose.