Horse Racing Betting Tips & Strategy

Jockey on Racehorse

Outside of the major festivals, Saturdays in the racing world are generally the biggest and best days of the week. The first day of the weekend is where viewing figures and crowds are at their peak and in general this is when the biggest races are run. Saturday is also when racing features on terrestrial television and has long been part of racing fans weekend routine.

Here we take a look at the pick of Saturday’s racing from the UK as well as the big feature races from around the globe, alongside any feature meetings that are taking place.

Jump to: For general racing strategy see this section.

Major Meetings

As well as the weekly tips we also provide coverage of the biggest race meetings. When relevant we’ll show a link to the meeting at the top of our tips section, but you can also see a list below:

Horse Racing Betting Strategy

Knights on a Chess BoardBetting is perhaps more closely linked with horse racing than it is with any other sport. Whilst we’re sure there are lots of people who love horses and marvel at the beauty and athletic ability of the animals, for the majority of racing fans, betting is at the very least 50% of the fun. Take away the gambling aspect of racing and, so many would argue, you simply have lots of small people riding horses in a field.

Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, we assume that if you are reading this, you have at least some interest on betting on the horses. In the previous section of the page you can find racing tips for specific races and major meetings, however in this piece we are looking at betting on horse racing in a more general way with a focus on betting strategy.

We’ll look at how you can go about trying to pick winners, as well as considering some of the different betting markets and how you can try and find winning bets within each one. Within our main betting strategy feature you can find a range of information that is even more general, such as an in-depth look at betting value and money management, and that is relevant to betting on just about anything. Here, on the other hand, we’re keeping the focus much more on the gee-gees, although inevitably there will be some cross over.

How to Choose a Horse to Bet on

Credit: mikle / bigstock

Most people who bet on the horses will probably place most of their bets simply on a horse to win a given race. That may be “on the nose” or each way, or as a single or as part of a wider accumulator but irrespective, the key question will be the same: how do you decide which horse will win?

In truth, one should not simply be assessing whether or not a horse will win but whether its chances of winning are better or worse than the odds indicate. As said, we look more closely at value elsewhere though, so here we will look at what factors you should consider when trying to ascertain a horse’s chances, with this assessment working in conjunction with the odds to decide if your horse is good value or one to avoid.

There are many, many things to consider in truth and a serious pro will look at them all. Quite how seriously you take your horse racing betting will determine how much time and effort you are prepared to put into this process. Of course, for your average recreational punter, simply following a trusted tipster, or even choosing based on the horse’s name are options but for many racing fans trying to study the form and crack the puzzle of a race is all part of the fun.

Here are just some of the elements to think about which we’ll take a look at in more detail in the next section:

  1. The recent form of all horses, jockeys and trainers in the race
  2. The weather and going
  3. The course and track characteristics and draw for the race
  4. How the horse looks and acts in the paddock and stalls
  5. The betting market

1. Horse, Jockey and Trainer Form

We have deliberately left the factors in our list very general and in truth, form alone could cover almost all you need to look at. By form we mean the past performances of the relevant parties and for a real pro that means all the horses running, all the jockeys and, yes, all the relevant trainers.

Sample Racecard With Form

Example Racecard + Form (via Racing Post)

We say that “form” is almost everything because if you’re taking things very seriously, form is not simply the bare results of a race but does, in fact, cover many of the other things on our list. So you must look not just at the recent races of each horse, jockey and trainer, but also consider how those were affected by the going and weather, as well as what course they were at, what distance they were run over and so on.

There are yet more factors beyond what position a horse finished in a races to consider too, the biggest of which is probably the level at which the other races were run? A horse that has won three in a row may seem a great bet at long odds but if those were all very low class contests and the horse is now making a major step up, that could be an obvious explanation for the big price.

Another thing that numbers alone can’t always tell you is how the horse performed. A horse may have finished second but if it was heavily hampered all through the race by a stray animal that second may actually be better than it looks at first glance.

Watching as many races as possible and making a mental or physical note of such things could well give you a real edge. What’s more, it’s now possible to watch many races back, with some sites offering superb archives of past races.

Moving away from the horses, it should be noted that horse racing is very much a team operation and the other key players in that team (aside from the ones with four legs!) are the jockey and the trainer.

Confidence can play a huge part in riding a horse and if a jockey has landed a few winners their chances of success may be a little higher. Just like in other sports and areas of life, on the other hand, when one is short on confidence nothing seems to go right and a jockey may feel they simply can’t buy a win.

When it comes to trainers it may seem that form is less of an issue and one may question whether “form” can really apply to a yard. However, confidence is a strange thing and we certainly feel it is a factor for handlers too. Moreover, if a trainer is going through something of a purple patch it could be indicative that their methods are working. On the other hand, if a particular yard is struggling, it could be there is an underlying issue, such as illness.

2. The Going

Horse Race on Mud

Credit: alexeys / bigstock

The going, by which we mean the state of the ground, can be a huge factor in determining which horse wins a race. As said, in many ways this is all part of form but it is worthy of considering on its own given how much of an influence it can be.

Quite simply, some horses are much better on harder, drier ground, whilst others prefer it to be soft, wet and muddy. Whilst some animals don’t have a huge preference and are ground-versatile, looking at the weather forecast and the prevailing conditions at the track can be vital when it comes to assessing the chances of other horses.

To give a really simple example, a horse with six wins from eight races may look like great value at 10/1. However, if a closer inspection shows all the wins came on soft ground or worse and the two losses were both on good to firm, you may want to think again if the ground is on the dry side.

3. Course and Draw

Once again, elements of this also fall under the study of the form, with extra weighting given to course form as opposed to runs in general. Some tracks are fairly generic, meaning course form is less important but others have characteristics which make them uniquely challenging and this could really favour particular horses.

It’s also worth noting that different courses sometimes benefit or disadvantage certain horses in a similar way. So, whilst a horse may not have a course win, if they have done well at tracks with similar characteristics, they may be worth paying particular attention to, especially if this has been missed by the market.

Goodwood Racecourse

Goodwood Racecourse [Photo © Peter Trimming (cc-by-sa/2.0)]

Factors such as which way the course runs (left- or right-handed), how sharp the turns are, the undulations, the drainage, the nature of the obstacles and even the crowd and closeness of the stands are all factors that may affect a horse’s performance.

The Draw

Factoring in the draw in races is less about a specific horse’s performance and more about trends at the track for horses in the past with similar draws. Obviously this is only relevant to certain types of races but heeding the draw can be crucial in some contests where a strong bias is in evidence.

4. Performance in the Paddock

This will usually only be of relevance if you’re actually in attendance, although you can often gain some pointers on televised races, especially for the bigger ones where there is more coverage of the build-up to the race, including at the start line.

Horses in the Paddock at Exeter Racecourse

Horses in the Paddock at Exeter Racecourse [Photo © Rod Allday (cc-by-sa/2.0)]

Assessing how a horse looks and behaves in the moments before the off might just give you a small edge, although of course many punters place their bets well in advance of this. Unless there is something obviously amiss with a horse, this is very much more an art than a science but sometimes logic can play a role too.

On one occasion some of our shrewdest racing crew here at BestBettingSites happened to notice something unusual in and around the paddock. A famous trainer had two horses running, one a big favourite and one a marked outsider. All the connections seemed to be far more interested in the outsider, which seemed a little strange. Following a closer, albeit rushed, look at the outsider’s chances, our very own canny punter, chanced a £20 each way bet. The rest is history – 33/1 winner history!

Such opportunities and events occur very infrequently but in the battle to beat the bookies, even the most insignificant or innocuous of things may yield a vital clue in the puzzle of a given race.

5. The Market

Cartoon Man Looking at DataOne of the reasons that consistently winning on the horses is so difficult is that your average punter is very much towards the back of the queue when it comes to information on the horses.

Jockeys, trainers, owners, handlers and other connections all have far greater access to information about the horse and this can sometimes give them a real edge. Whilst jockeys are not allowed to bet, owners most certainly are and big bets from them or other connections can see prompt movements in the market.

Following such movements can sometimes pay off, although by definition you’ll be backing the horse at shorter odds than the people in the know. The reduction in the odds also reduces the value and odds can sometimes move as much on rumour and whispers as anything else, but this is still something to be aware of.

Who to Bet With

Now you have decided what to bet on, you need to decide who to bet with. In our main betting strategy feature we talk about the many benefits of having multiple bookies from which to choose. There are now so many great online betting sites that it makes sense to have various options.

However, when it comes to betting on horse racing there are a couple of specific points we would like to make. First of all, for those that like backing outsiders, especially to win, there is a high chance that the Betfair Exchange will offer the longest odds.

As a general rule, the odds at Betfair are better but this is especially the case with outsiders. As an example, the first race we looked at to compare, showed four outsiders one priced at 66/1 and three at 100/1 (taking the odds from Betfairs fixed odds sportsbook). At the exchange this quartet of underdogs was priced at 129/1, 139/1, 239/1 and 399/1.

Exchange v Fixed Odds Comparison on Long Shots at Betfair

Comparison of odd on outsiders between Betfair Exchange (top) and fixed odds (bottom)

Note: Odds shown are decimal to allow for easier comparison with the exchange.

Even allowing for commission this means Betfair (and other exchanges) would yield a significantly larger win. Of course, backing such long odds horses on the nose doesn’t appeal to most punters and our second tip concerns those that prefer to back horses each way.

Whether you are backing each way picks at 8/1 or 100/1, it’s well worth checking how many places the various betting sites are paying out on. For most races you will find that all major bookmakers are following standard each way terms. However, more and more often, especially on the biggest races, some bookies offer enhanced terms, for example paying out down to fourth instead of third, with some having been known to pay out to eight or even 10 places on the Grand National.

Ante Post Racing Strategy

Ante post betting is a major part of horse racing wagering – indeed the term originates from the sport (it literaly means ‘before the post’). For many of racing’s biggest events, from the Derby to the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the St Leger to the Grand National, you can bet on who will win many weeks, months or even a whole year in advance.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Ante Post Betting

Ante post betting can be a brilliant way to get unbeatable value from your bets, value in two senses of the word. Not only might you get huge odds that make the SP look like a bad joke, but you also, potentially, get to enjoy the bet over a long period. If you back a horse months in advance you essentially have an interest in every race that horse runs all season, not to mention races contested by its rivals.

That said, ante post punting can be fraught with danger. Injury, poor form and even sometimes death can beset a horse after you have backed it ante post and before the race runs. No matter how big the odds seem to be and what a great horse it is, all that goes out of the window if your horse doesn’t even make it to the start line.

Should your pick fail to race you simply lose your stake, unless, that is, you have taken advantage of a great offer that many betting sites sometimes have. Non-Runner No Bet (NRNB) is regularly featured by many of the best racing betting sites, usually ahead of the Cheltenham Festival but also certain other big races such as the Grand National.

Back a horse with a bookie offering NRNB and if your horse doesn’t go to post you get your stake back in cash. Non-Runner Free Bet is not quite as good but also worth looking out for and offers your stake back as a free bet, rather than cash.

Ultimately when it comes to ante post betting strategy you will always be at least a little dependent on good luck. Paying attention to all the key trials and races that are good indicators of future success, as well as various trends and trainer stats in crucial races but ante post betting should almost always be viewed more as a fun side bet.

Multiples and Acca Betting

Multiples such as Lucky 15s and Yankees, and accas on any number of races are hugely popular within racing. Yet again, we have more information on general strategy for this type of bet in our main betting guide. However, when it comes to racing, it is well worth being aware of some specific bonuses that relate to these types of bets.

Many of the top racing bookmakers offer two promotions, usually targeting Lucky 15s, Lucky 31s and Lucky 63s, but also some other multiples and accas. The first of these gives you a bonus if you just land one winner, with the common bonus structure as below:

  • Lucky 15 – one winner paid at three times the normal odds
  • Lucky 31 – get four times normal odds
  • Lucky 63 – five times normal odds

This means if your bet is almost a total disaster, you’ll actually get a tidy bonus and, depending on the odds of your winner, you might not do too badly. The exact terms and conditions and bet and bonus limits vary from site to site so always read the full terms and conditions before you place your bets.

The other offer in this area of betting is at the other, more successful end of the spectrum. Again, this is a sliding bonus, but this time it gives your winnings a boost if you land all legs of the multiple or acca. You may get a boost of 25% or more on fully correct Heinz bets and Lucky 63s, with smaller bonuses on slips with fewer selections.

If you regularly place this type of bet then doing so with bookies that offer these promotions is essential. Using the right bookie will limit your losses when things go badly and increase your returns when they go well. Over a long period this will make a substantial difference to your overall returns and it’s incredibly easy to apply this “strategy” so don’t miss out!

The Psychology of Betting on Horses

Psychology of Betting

Psychology can play a major part in betting on any sport and in terms of coming up with a winning strategy, it may be easier to do so from a psychological perspective rather than a purely knowledge-based one.

What we mean by this is that traditionally punters seeking value look to capitalise on a piece of information the bookies have missed, ignored or incorrectly assessed. As we have said, this is an incredibly difficult task due to the huge financial and time resources the oddsmakers have, not to mention their skill, experience and better access to information.

But beating the bookies is not the only way to find value and beating the market may well be easier. Odds reflect the chances of a horse winning but they also reflect how the wider betting masses are behaving. A bookie can only hold their odds to a degree and at some stage, as the weight of money on one horse or another becomes too great, they are forced to alter their odds, irrespective of the actual chance a horse has.

In all sports and markets, psychology can be used to obtain value and there are certain widely accepted facts, tricks and strategies that can be used. To give a couple of examples from football might best illustrate the types of situations you can use in your favour.

One concerns laying England, or simply backing their opponents. The UK is one of the largest regulated betting markets in the world and partisanship means that a disproportionate amount of money is bet on the England national team. In both outright tournament markets and for individual games, this heart-over-head betting often inflates the odds on England’s rivals.

Another time that odds are generally artificially high is when you are backing against common sentiment as directed by human nature. More punters bet on over 2.5 goals than under, whilst more bet on both teams to score than “BTTS – no”. The psychology of the punter dictates that they would rather bet in the hope of goals than fearing them.

Moving back to racing, one widely accepted strategy is to lay the favourite in the last race. This may have been more relevant when most punting was done at the track and, in truth, in these days of global, 24/7 racing action, where only a small minority of the betting is done on course, it may no longer be a valid strategy.

The logic was that the favourite’s odds would almost always be bad value because people would seek to chase their losses. As most punters lose, the favourite in the last race was often heavily backed by those taking the most likely route to fiscal redemption.

Magnificent Seven and a Broken Bookie

One of the most famous stories in racing betting history broadly relates to this concept and concerns Frankie Dettori’s “Magnificent Seven” at Ascot. In 1996 the likeable Italian laughed in the face of odds of more than 25,000/1 to win all seven races on the Ascot card.

Frankie Dettori

Frankie Dettori, Credit: Paul Friel (flickr)

When it came to the final race, punters were desperate to back Frankie, who had won the first six, almost no matter what and the seventh horse, Fujiyama Crest, saw its odds plummet from 16/1 to just 2/1. Many bookies had been happy to lay the horse at 16/1 so the chance to lay it at 2/1 or even more was, to many, a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Nothing much had changed and even allowing for the confidence of the jockey, bookies still probably thought it was around an 8/1 chance at best. Punters were rushing to back the horse based on herd mentality and psychological factors, whilst bookies were reducing the odds to try and offset accumulated liabilities that had built up on Dettori throughout the winning run. The odds were dropping but the horse’s chance of victory hadn’t really improved.

One independent bookie ended up losing £1m, so convinced was he that the odds were in his favour. This may not seem to be the best example of a wise strategy because he lost but, in truth, we think he called the situation correctly.

Another, albeit very specific, example from the world of racing, is how an appealing name can impact a horse’s odds in a really big race. In contests such as the Grand National, where much of the money is coming from very occasional punters, a catchy name that captures the public’s imagination can see odds plummet. Shakalakaboomboom was one recent example, whilst horses with common as muck names like “Dave” (everyone knows a Dave!) are also often popular in the market.

Avoiding such horses may prove wise, especially if you’re betting closer to the off after the odds have dropped. If you do intend to back a horse with such a name, based on your analysis of the form and so on, doing so well in advance may be prudent. Get in before all the nans and grandads, housewives and office pools have caused the odds to drop and you may still have a value bet on your hands.

Ultimately a racing strategy based on psychology is one where a horse’s odds are inflated or deflated not because of any real, physical factors that could affect its chances but simply because of the market’s incorrect beliefs. This creates value either on the horse in question, or on others, and learning to look out for such situations can prove very lucrative.