Betting on horse racing dates back a long, long way and gambling is inextricably linked with the sport so much so that it is hard to imagine the sport existing independently of betting on it.
There is horse racing in the UK on virtually every day of the year, with Christmas Day and Good Friday the only real exceptions and betting on the horses is a fun part of everyday life for millions of people.
In total, there are over 60 racecourses in the UK and many days have multiple meetings taking place simultaneously. And with racing also taking place in many other parts of the world too, including Ireland, the US, Australia, France, South Africa and Dubai, those wanting to bet on horse racing are never short of options.
For those new to betting on the horses, or the gee-gees as it’s sometimes known, we’ve got some basic information on different types of bet, rules to look out for and our guide to the best betting sites for horse racing. There are now more bookies than ever and with all them all trying to attract the custom – and of course money – of the betting public, there are more great betting offers, promotions and bonuses than you can shake a stick at, making now a great time for us punters.
Best Bookmakers For Betting On Horse Racing
Most of the top British bookmakers, the big high street institutions, started out at a time when bookmaking was almost exclusively about betting on the horses, with a bit of football thrown in perhaps. As such many of them are real specialists in horse racing betting, whilst those that came along later had the bar set very high and have responded accordingly.
Along with football, racing attracts the highest volume of bets in the UK and so it’s no surprise that online and mobile bookies – and their high street retail outlets – place great importance on their racing product.
As one of the UK high street big boys, Coral’s commitment to top notch horse racing betting is unquestionable and they are a fine choice for racing fans. Racing features prominently on the homepage, making accessing racing odds quick and easy, whilst there is simple access to today and tomorrow’s racing, as well as UK/Irish and International racing tabs. With a customisable racecard too, there are lots of nice touches to help you find and arrange your racing bets.
You can watch live streams of UK and Irish races when you bet just £1 on the renewal in question, with footage available on your computer, tablet or Apple or Android mobile, with Coral Radio also as a useful backup. With a nice results service too, as well as great odds, Coral is certainly a fantastic choice, although they don’t match Tote in terms of additional stats and tips – but then nobody does.
Coral do, however, offer an excellent choice of racing-specific promotions, free bets and offers. Once more they offer Best Odds Guaranteed (this is standard practice among our elite racing bookies, but not with all in the industry) and also tend to be among the first bookies to offer Non-Runner No Bet for the big meetings, as well as offering good each way enhancements on some of the biggest races and really eye-catching promotions for Cheltenham, Ascot and the like.
In terms of ongoing promotions they have two superb offers, one for the flat season and one for National Hunt. On the latter you can claim money back (as a free bet) on fallers, whilst Beaten By A Head applies to flat races and offers a similar deal if your horse is beaten into second by a head or less. For regular punters this can equate to a significant number of freebies over the course of a season and offers real extra value.
BetVictor are our final pick as a top bookie for horse racing fans and again, they offer a strong all round package, with good odds, a wide range of races from various countries, and, of course, all UK meetings, as well as a site that makes it clear racing is a priority.
In terms of streaming they go beyond some who just offer UK and Irish races by also offering footage of certain international meetings, including those in South Africa and the UAE. They offer virtual racing as well and whilst their odds are excellent, the range of markets falls slightly short of the offering at Tote. And thought there is access to results, in terms of stats, customisable options and form guides, BetVictor are outdone by all four of the bookies above them in our list.
The offers at BetVictor are also slightly less impressive and whilst they offer Best Odds Guaranteed and are among the best bookies for enhanced each way payments – sometimes down to seventh place or more! – they are a bit shy when it comes to racing-dedicated promotions.
In 2014 they did offer free tickets to a variety of meetings at Kempton, where they are a major sponsor, but in terms of bonuses and money back deals it’s very much a case of wait and see at BetVictor, with promotions surfacing for the biggest meetings and races.
Totesport is almost definitely the only bookmaker in the history of betting that came about thanks to an act of government, and certainly the only one for which Sir Winston Churchill is ultimately responsible. Tote’s forerunner, The Racehorse Betting Control Board was established following the Racecourse Betting Act 1928 with Churchill intending to provide a safe, legal betting alternative at tracks that would create tax revenue and keep some of the gambling money within the sport. In the 1960s this became the Horserace Totalisator Board, and so Tote was born.
As you would expect from a bookie that developing solely to deal with horse racing betting, Tote take the sport very seriously. A state-owned entity until 2011, Tote is now owned by Betfred but their commitment to racing remains.
Their site, whilst covering other sports, has dedicated tabs for Totepool betting (of which more later) and racing and so finding your racing markets is easy, despite the vast and excellent coverage of the sport.
The odds are well above average and the site is packed full of useful features, including loads of stats powered by the Racing Post, customisable racecards, trainer and jockey form, horse trends and even breeding information.
Tote also offer loads of racing promotions, including Best Odds Guaranteed on all UK and Irish races, enhancements on Lucky 15s/31s/63s if you get just one winner and great each way terms on some of the biggest races.
Perhaps their biggest racing “offer” is the aforementioned Totepool betting though, a form of pool betting that regularly offers huge lottery-style jackpots, with record wins well into the millions on the fabled Scoop6 and Jackpot games. Whilst these bets can be placed at other bookies, the home of Totepool betting can provide supporting information, stats and live updates that are second to none, making Tote a must-have account for anyone serious about their horse racing.
How To Bet On Horse Racing
Betting on racing really is very simple, with the huge range of markets and bet types found on football absent from the world of the horses. That said, for a beginner the options can still be a little confusing – just witness the panic and pandemonium of a high street betting shop on Grand National day! Thankfully we’ve got details of the most common bets right here so you’ll be an expert before you can say Red Rum!
Horse Racing Bets
Most horse racing punters stick to just a few main bets, with win singles and each way bets accounting for a huge percentage of wagers placed on the horses. However, beyond the specific markets, horse racing also tends to lend itself to different types of multiple bets and we’ll take a look at those too.
- To Win – The most simple and most common type of racing bet is simply a wager on which horse will win a given race.
- Each Way – Each way betting can be done on virtually any sport but because of the nature of racing and the high odds of horses in large fields, it is particularly popular on the gee-gees. An each way bet is effectively two bets, one on the horse to win and one on it to place, the latter meaning to finish in the top two, three or four (or more when there are enhanced terms or huge fields) and paying out at a fraction, often a quarter, of the main odds. If the horse wins, both bets win, if it places, one wins, one loses and a finish outside the places makes both bets losers.
- Forecast – A forecast is a bet on which horses will finish first and second in the correct order, with huge odds often available. A reverse forecast is similar, but the top two can finish in any order and this is effectively two bets. Tricasts are also possible, where the top three horses in order must be named (with combination tricasts covering the top three in any order).
- Accumulators – Accumulators, or accas, are hugely popular in racing and can range from a double (picking two races and trying to get the winner in each) up to sixfolds (six different races) or more.
- Multiples – An acca involves several selections with all needing to win for a return but due to the difficulty of predicting several races where the winners may be at 4/1, 10/1 or even 66/1, combination bets are popular in racing. Here you may pick a number of selections and make several bets on the various available combinations. For example, with four selections, for example the winners of the 3.10 at Ripon, 3.20 at Ascot, 3.50 at Ripon and 4.10 at Kelso, you could place a Yankee. This covers all six possible doubles, four available trebles and one fourfold accumulator. If one horse wins you get nothing, whilst two, three or perhaps even four wins are needed to make a profit depending on the odds of each horse. A Yankee is effectively 11 bets in one, so a £1 stake would cost £11. Popular multiples include a Lucky 15 (like a Yankee but 15 bets as including singles too) and a Lucky 31 (31 bets in total, over five selections).
As with most sports, betting on horse racing is largely simple and straightforward, however, there are one or two rules which beginners should know so they can avoid any unpleasant shocks further down the line.
- Rule 4 – One of the most important rules to be aware of is Rule 4. This is where a deduction is applied to your winnings when a horse withdraws from a race after your bet has been placed. The deductions are on a percentage scale depending on the odds of the withdrawn horse (with a short odds favourite having more of an impact than a long odds outsider). We go into this in more detail in the next section.
- Dead Heats – Dead Heat rules can be applied to many sports and in racing they are used when horses cannot be separated, even by a photo. If two horses tie for first place, dead heat rules mean that half your stake is treated as a win, whilst half as a loss. Dead heats are exceptionally uncommon but it is not unknown for a TRIPLE dead heat to occur, meaning just a third of your stake is a winner.
- Ante Post Betting – An ante post bet is one that is placed before the full field is declared, so for example immediately after the Grand National, bookies may publish odds for the following year. Bets placed ante post are not subject to Rule 4 deductions but on the flipside, if your horse fails to make the start you won’t get a refund (unless the bookie is offering non-runner no bet) and will lose your stake.
- Abandoned and Postponed Races – Rules for these rare eventualities vary from bookmaker to bookmaker and more importantly on the exact scenario. Check with your bookie for details.
Rule 4 Deductions
All bookies apply Rule 4 deductions to bets where an early price is taken but then a horse or horses subsequently withdraw. To the layperson this may seem unfair, especially if they go to collect their winnings only to discover they receive far less than they were expecting. However, it is entirely fair and logical.
Assume a three-horse race with a huge favourite at odds of 1/10. If you back the second favourite at 3/1 and then the favourite withdraws, your horse has suddenly gone from being a 3/1 shot to the odds on favourite.
Whilst you may think that’s the bookie’s bad luck, imagine you had bet £500 on the favourite. When it withdraws, you get your stake back – the bookie doesn’t say “that’s your bad luck”. Only by making a Rule 4 deduction on the winning payouts can the bookie refund stakes in this manner and Rule 4 is an adjustment to the market to compensate for the withdrawal of a horse and make the odds a fairer reflection of the new field.
Rule 4 works on a percentage basis, with a big favourite withdrawing leading to a greater reduction than a real outsider, as would seem logical – ie: the favourite withdrawing is more likely to affect the outcome of the race than a 100/1 punt. Below you can see a table of these deductions, as stated in the Tattersalls Committee Rules on Betting.
So, for example, a withdrawal at odds of 3/10 or less means your winnings will be reduced by 75p in the pound. After which there is a sliding scale down such that a withdrawal at odds of between 10/1 and 14/1 means a 5p reduction and withdrawals at odds of higher than 14/1 have no impact on your winnings.
Note that Rule 4 deductions are standardised across the industry (although as mentioned in our reviews above, some waive the 5p deduction as a “promotion”.)
Major Horse Racing Festivals & Meetings
Throughout the racing calendar there are some meetings and races that stand out more than others. These big money events draw out the best horses from the most successful stables for a chance to witness the pinnacle of horse racing. These are also the races where you’ll find the biggest and best offers.
Cheltenham Racecourse, March
The Cheltenham Festival is widely regarded as the biggest National hunt meeting in the world. It’s predominantly made up of horse from Britain and Ireland, and includes more Group 1 races than any other event. The prize money on offer is only matched by that of the Grand National and the meeting always takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse across March. Organisers tend to try and coincide the meeting with that of St Patrick’s Day, which in turn brings flocks of Irish over to come and enjoy themselves.
Across the 4 days are 14 Group 1 races with some of the highlights including the Champion Hurdle, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, RSA Chase, Champion Bumper, World Hurdle and Spa Novices Hurdle before on the Friday the Cheltenham Gold Cup takes place. The Gold Cup on its own carries a massive purse of £575,000 making one of the richest races in the world. The race is best known for horses such as Golden Miller (7 time winner), Arkle, Kauto Star and Denman.
The jockey who rode Arkle to all three of his triumphs was that of Pat Taafe and it’s he who has the mist wins in he Gold Cup with 4 in total (other winner being that of Fort Lenny in 1968). Ruby Walsh is the most decorated jockey to ride in the festival, winning Champion jockey on 9 separate occasions.
Aintree Racecourse, April
The Grand National is one of the most famous horse races in the world. It’s also one of the oldest with the first race being run way back in 1839. The race is designed to test the horses ability to the max and often find that that the majority of the field wont even finish, let alone have a chance of winning. It’s ran every year at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool and the course measures a gruelling 4 miles and 517 yards, which is just shy of 7km.
The purse for this race alone is a massive £1 million. Given that the Gold Cup is almost just half of this amount, really puts the scale of the race into perspective. The winner of the race will be looking to take home a cheque in excess of £500,000. The race will include 30 fences that the horse need to navigate over, many of which have become synonymous within the racing industry such as Becher’s Brook, The Chair and Canal Turn.
The most successful horse to have won the race, and arguably one of best-known horses of all time is that of Red Rum winning on 3 separate occasions in 1973, 1974 and 1977. Red Rum, trainer by Ginger McCain, is also the only horse to win the race back to back. The jockey who has won the race more time than anyone else is that of George Stevens, winning 5 times on Freetrader, Emblem, Emblematic and The Colonel x2. The most horses to ever finish the race was that of 23 in 1984, highlighting just how demanding the course is, with the lowest number being that of just 2 in 1928.
Newmarket Racecourse, May
Both the 1000 and 2000 Guineas are now two of the most popular horse races in the industry. They are run at the Newmarket Racecourse in Suffolk, England and attract some of the best three-year-old fillies and colts in the business. Interestingly, the names of each race are named after the prize fund that was originally up for grabs in each race. The 2000 Guineas actually came before the 1000 in 1809 and the 1000 followed suit 1814.
The 2000 Guineas is always run before the 1000 and this race is open to thoroughbred colts and fillies. The race is over 1mile and is essentially as much as a sprint as you’re going to find in horse racing terms. The 1000 Guineas is only open to fillies, but both races carry exactly the same prize money with a purse of £450,000, with roughly £280,000 of that going to the winner.
The most prestigious jockey in the 2000 Guineas is that of Jem Robinson who has rode 9 winners in total from 1825 to 1848. The 1000 Guineas pays homage to George Fordham who won the race 7 times from 1859 to 1883.
Epsom Downs, June
The Derby is Britain richest and one of their oldest horse races. The race has been taking place at the Epsom Downs racecourse and is run over 1m 4f. Whilst the term ‘Derby’ has now been attached to many horse races all around the world, The Epson Derby was the first and is definitely the most recognisable out of the lot. The prize fund on offer for the race is a staggering £1,325,000, making it more than £300,000 more lucrative than winning the Grand National.
The race itself takes place on the first Saturday in June and has been running on that day since 1995 to increase popularity and viewing figures in what is one of Britain’s most premier horse races. The race itself includes three year old horses and has a weight allowance of 9st 0lb.
Lester Piggott is the most decorated rider in Derby history winning no fewer than 9 titles from 1954 to 1983. There are three trainers that have 7 wins (record), which are Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling. The leading owners are that of Sue Magnier and Michael Tudor, both winning 6 races as a partnership from 2001 to 2014. Some of the most famous horses to have won the race are Sea the Stars, Authorized, Workforce and Golden Fleece.
Ascot Racecourse, June
Royal Ascot is widely renowned as the most prestigious horse racing meeting in the world. The main reason behind is because every year there is always a member of the Royal Family in attendance of every day of the meeting. These will vary from the Queen, Princes and Princesses each day, but it’s Queen Elizabeth II who is apparently the biggest racing fan out of them all. In fact, the Royal Family have their own stables and often have several runners at the festival. The Queen’s arrival at each event is highly anticipated, and the bookmakers even run markets as to what colour hat she will be wearing on each day.
The event has been running since 1711 when it was founded by Queen Anne. It takes place in June each year and will last for 5 days, making it one of the longest meetings in the industry as well. The racing pedigree across the 5 days is second to none, with the highlight being that of the Ascot Gold Cup, run on the Thursday. Other notable Group 1 races include Queen Anne Stakes, Prince of Wales’s Stakes, Coronation Stakes and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. All races in the meeting are named after something to do with the Royal Family, whether that be a member or simply a place of residence.
Goodwood Racecourse, July
Glorious Goodwood is one of the most beautiful settings for any race meeting. It’s set in the grounds of Goodwood Racecourse and is always absolutely immaculate, making it a picture perfect setting for race goers. But, the emphasis is definitely on the calibre of racing throughout the meeting, which takes place over two courses that are laid out in the grounds. The first course is a six-furlong sprinter, whilst the second measures just over 1m 2f and is a lot more challenging for the horses.
The meeting is set out over 5 days and with each day comes at least one Group 1 race, making tickets very desirable. The first day includes race such as the Qatar Lennox Stakes, offering up a purse of over £300,000. Day 2 arguably holds the biggest race of the week in the first of the Sussex Stakes, which carries a huge prize fund of £1 million, which also makes it one of the richest flat races of its kind. On top of that you will also see The Goodwood Cup, King George Stakes, Queen Plate Stakes and Thoroughbred Stakes, all of which are Group 1 races.
Cheltenham Racecourse, November
The November Meeting, formally known as the Cheltenham Open, separate to the Cheltenham Festival, is one of the more popular jump season events in the calendar. It runs for only three days in mid November through Friday to Sunday, which is pretty uncommon, but much more accessible for the majority of race goers these days. The event takes place at Cheltenham Festival, but since the it’s introduction back in the 1960’s has seen it jump around from a number of different race courses, before finding it’s home at Cheltenham.
The racing is spread pretty thick over the three days although it could be argued that it doesn’t have the pedigree that some of the higher profile events do, as named above. Some of the racing highlights include the Handicap Chase, Cross Country Chas e the Jockey’s Handicap hurdle. The Saturday includes the Paddy Power Gold Cup, and thanks to sponsorship from Paddy Power it gets a lot of media coverage and in turn a load of the best horses for its class.
Kempton Racecourse, December
The Winter Festival is held at Kempton Racecourse, in Surrey, England. The festival was first ran in 1878 and actually only lasts for 2 days, starting on Boxing Day and is almost designed as a sign off to the years racing. But, they have gone all out to make sure they go out with a bang by offering a large number of high quality races bringing in the best horse from across Britain and Ireland.
The first day – Boxing Day – holds three Group 1 races on its own and with this see’s a plethora of pedigree amongst it. The King George IV Chase is probably the highest profile and that has been running since 1937, named in honour of the new British Monarch of the day. The race last for over 3 miles and there are 18 hurdles in which the horses need to navigate over. Some of the best horses of all time have won it though, including Silvianco Conti, Kauto Star and Desert Orchid, to name but a few.
The other two Group 1 races on Boxing day are that of the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase and the Christmas Hurdle, but ran over the shorter 2 mile course, but both with prize pools exceeding £100,000. Interestingly, the Kauto Star Novices’ Hurdle was named after the great Kauto Star, who won that race on 5 separate occasions, a feat that has yet to be matched.