Still occasionally referred to as the “Sport of Kings”, horse racing was undoubtedly something of an elite activity in its early years. That is not so much the case these days, however, with the world’s finest form of equine entertainment now very much belonging to the masses. In the UK, for example, horse racing lies behind only the behemoth that is football in terms of annual spectator attendance.
There are many reasons why the sight of man or woman and beast joining forces to do battle at the track has reached such levels of popularity, from the sheer speed of the flat racing scene to the enduring storylines and drama provided by the National Hunt sphere. Perhaps more than in any other sport though, one of the major contributing factors to racing’s appeal is betting. For if there is one sport designed to go hand in hand with having a punt, it is surely that of horse racing.
Betting may be one of the major aspects which have helped the sport achieve such levels of success over the years, but it is also the area that can often be the most confusing for beginners. Thankfully, despite the range of bet types and terminology bandied around, things really aren’t anything like so complicated as they might at first appear. And that’s where this handy guide comes in, as we run through the range of betting options available to horse racing punters, from the simple to the (only slightly) more complicated.
Betting on a Single Race
The most common type of bet, and the place where horse race betting really began, centres around betting on the result of a single race. There are a few options available to punters here, with the following being the most popular.
The real bread and butter of the horse racing betting world is simply betting on a horse to win a race. Select your horse and place your bet, if it wins, you win; if it doesn’t, you lose. It doesn’t get too much simpler than that.
Also known as a “win single” or a bet “on the nose” – in reference to the fact that you are betting on the nose of your horse crossing the finish line prior to that of its rivals – most punters make their betting debut with this type of punt. Odds to expect can range from as low as 1/12 (place £12 to win £1, plus your £12 stake) to as high as 200/1 (place £1 to win £200 plus your £1 stake).
Each Way Bet
A straight win bet is certainly exciting but it does narrow down the window to profit to just the one finishing position. For those who wish to increase their chances of earning a return, the most popular option is an each way bet. The main thing to remember with an each way bet is that it is in fact not one bet but two. This is a crucial point when staking your bet, for example a bet of £1 each way would cost a total of £2.
So, what are the two elements of an each way bet? The first is simply a bet on the horse to win the race at the full odds listed, with the second being a bet on the horse to finish within the placed positions. This placed portion of the bet will be paid out, not at the full odds, but rather at a fraction of these odds – either ¼ or ⅕.
The fraction used, and the number of places that qualify for a pay-out, vary depending upon the number of runners and the type of race. These terms should always be listed alongside the odds for any given event, but in general, the rules in the table below apply.
|Number of Runners||Race Type||Places Paid||Odds Fraction|
|1 to 4||All types||Win Only||NA|
|5 to 7||All types||1-2||1/4|
|8 to 11||Handicap||1-2-3||1/5|
|12 to 15||Handicap||1-2-3||1/4|
Whilst the above table serves as a useful guide, be sure to check the terms with the individual bookmakers, as many firms pay out on additional places, particularly for the biggest races such as the Grand National or the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
So, how does an each way bet work in practice? Let’s take a look at an example of a £10 each way bet at odds of 10/1, in a race offering 1/5 odds on the first three finishers. As mentioned, this is effectively two separate £10 bets, one at the full odds of 10/1 on the horse to win, and another on the horse to finish in the first three positions at odds of 2/1 (1/5 of 10/1 = 2/1). Should the horse win, both sides of the bet will pay out as winners, whereas should your selection finish second or third the place portion will pay out at 2/1, but the win portion will be a loser. Any other finishing position of course results in both sides of the bet losing.
The straight win and each way bets are comfortably the most popular ways in which to bet on a single race, but there are many others available – including the “win without” bet. The most common version of this type of punt being “win without the favourite”. This option essentially takes the favourite out of the equation, with all bets being settled as if the favourite did not take part. What this means in practice is that a bet on this market will win, either if your selection wins the race outright, or if it finishes second to the favourite. Third or worse, or second to any horse other than the favourite, and the bet is a loser.
Taking the favourite out of the race does of course increase the chances of all of the other runners coming home in front, and as such the odds on offer in the “win without” will be correspondingly shorter than in the standard win market. Exactly how much shorter depends upon the price of the favourite we are betting without – the shorter the price of the market leader, the greater the discrepancy.
Whilst the “win without the favourite” is the most common type of this bet, other forms are available in which it is a specific horse that is taken out of the market, for example, “Win without Shiskin”, rather than an unnamed favourite. Most commonly this named runner will be the horse expected to start favourite, but not always.
Another option for punters looking to support a horse to make the frame is the place bet. Unlike an each way bet, which features both a win and a place component, a place bet sees all of the stake go onto the horse to finish in the places, with the pay-out being the same whether the horse wins the race or only finishes in the placed positions. This differs to an each way bet, which will always return more should the horse win the race.
The odds available for a place only bet also differ from those on the place portion of an each way bet. Whereas in an each way bet the place odds are always either ¼ or ⅕ of the win odds, place bets have their own individual prices, which will, in general, be slightly greater than the odds for the place portion of an each way bet on the same runner.
Place betting also regularly offers more options than an each way bet. A market that corresponds to the each way terms for the race, for example, to finish in the first three in an eight runner race will generally be available, but many bookmakers will also have the choice of betting to finish in the first two or even the first four for the same race.
What Happens If My Horse Doesn’t Run?
Even novice punters know to expect a pay-out should their selection win the race – or finish placed in the case of an each way bet – and in contrast to aim their slip at the nearest bin should their nag of choice fail to run up to expectations. What can be less clear though is what happens when a horse fails to run at all.
Weather, Injury & Ground Conditions
The first – and vastly most common – scenario which sees a horse fail to take part in a race occurs when they are declared a non-runner some time in advance of the race beginning. Reasons for this range from the horse simply being under the weather, the horse suffering an injury prior to the race, or to the ground conditions being deemed unsuitable. Whatever the reason, stakes for all non-runners will be returned to the punter.
There is one exception to the above, and it comes in the shape of ante-post wagers, that is to say, bets placed well in advance of a race taking place. Such markets are generally only available for the major events such as the Derby or the Cheltenham Festival, and whilst having the upside of offering odds that will likely be bigger than those available on the day of the race, they do come with the downside that all non-runners will be settled as losers.
The second non-runner scenario which results in a happy ending of sorts for the punter occurs when a horse is withdrawn immediately prior to the off. In this instance, the runners make it down to the start but, for reasons known only to the horses themselves, refuse to enter the starting stalls.
The stalls handlers will make every effort to cajole a runner into the stalls, but on occasion, it can become clear they are fighting a losing battle, and the only option is to withdraw the horse from the race. All stakes on runners officially listed as having been withdrawn are returned to the punter.
Last Minute Change After Entering the Line Up
Finally, we come to the nightmare scenario for punters. That in which the runner does indeed enter the starting stalls, or line up with their rivals in a National Hunt event, but opts not to raise a gallop when the race begins. Once in the stalls or lined up, a runner is said to be under starters orders and officially deemed to be a participant in the race.
Should they then choose to watch on as their rivals set off for the finish line, that’s bad news for those to have backed them as, under the bookmakers’ terms and conditions, all such bets will be settled as losers. In reality, many bookmakers will return stakes in such instances as a gesture of goodwill, but they are not obliged to do so. This scenario really shouldn’t concern punters too much though, as whilst it does happen, it does so only very rarely.
Forecast & Tricast Bets
Whist for some the task of selecting a horse to win, or even finish placed, represents enough of a challenge, the more adventurous punting soul may seek something a little more demanding. Two of the most popular options for those who enjoy a challenge, and a staple of the horse racing scene, are forecast and tricast bets. Let’s take a look at each in turn.
Forecast bets require the punter to predict not only the winner of the race but also the runner that finishes second. This is no easy task and certainly riskier than a straight win bet. However, with greater risk comes greater reward, and the often attractive pay-outs are no doubt a large part of the popularity of forecast betting. Forecast bets come in three main forms, as follows.
Straight Forecast (SFC)
This is a single bet costing one unit on Horse A to finish 1st and Horse B to finish second.
Reverse Forecast (RFC)
More flexible than a straight forecast, this bet again involves the selection of two horses, but will pay out if Horse A finishes 1st and Horse B finishes 2nd, or if Horse B finished 1st and Horse A finishes 2nd. This bet costs two units, i.e. a £1 reverse forecast will cost a total of £2.
Combination Forecast (CFC)
This involves the selection of three or more horses in the same race and will pay out should any of the selected runners fill the first two positions in any order. The number of units required depends upon the number of horses selected, but can be calculated by multiplying the number of selections by one less than that number.
For example, a combination forecast involving three selections would cost a total of six units (3 x 2 = 6), for four selections it would be 12 units (4 x 3 = 12) and so on.
One step up from the forecast, both in terms of difficulty and the rewards on offer, we have the tricast which, as you may have guessed, requires punters to pick out not only the first and second place runners but the third-placed finisher too. The two main types of tricast bets are:
A single bet of one unit on Horse A to finish first, Horse B to finish second, and Horse C third.
In common with a combination forecast, this bet involves the selection of three or more runners, and will pay out should a combination of the selected runners fill the first three positions in any order. In this instance, the required number of units can be calculated by multiplying the number of selections by the number one less than this, and then by the number one less again.
For example, a combination tricast containing four selections would cost a total of 12 units (4 x 3 x 2 = 24), for five selections the total would be 60 units (5 x 4 x 3 = 60) and so on.
Forecast & Tricast Returns
Unlike with win and each way betting, where we know the potential returns of the bet at the time at which it is placed (provided we take a price that is), with forecast and tricast betting the picture isn’t so clear.
Rather than offering a set price prior to the race, forecast and tricast returns are calculated using a rather complicated mathematical formula relating to – amongst other things – the number of runners in the field, and the starting prices of the placed horses. These returns are then declared post-race in dividend form, i.e. how much you would receive for a £1 stake.
For many horse racing punters, and indeed punters in general, one of the most exciting aspects of placing a bet is the prospect of gaining a big win from only a small outlay. In the world of horse racing, this is where the multiple bet comes in.
There are all manner of weird and wonderful multiple style bets available to the modern punter, and whilst many may appear complicated at first glance, the vast majority are merely a combination of the following bet types.
A double is a bet on two horses to win separate races. Any returns generated from the first horse will roll over onto the second selection, creating the possibility of attractive returns relative to the initial stake.
Let’s take a £10 double containing two horses, both of which are priced at 3/1, as an example. Should the first horse win, the £40 in total returns (£10 at 3/1 returns £40), will all go on to the second runner, resulting in a total pay-out of £160 (£40 at 3/1 returns £160) should that horse also win. Not bad for a £10 outlay. Of course, should only one of the selections win, the return will be a big fat £0.00.
Next up from the double comes the treble which, as you may have deduced, is a bet on three horses to win three separate races, with all returns once again rolling over from one selection to the next.
In order to illustrate how quickly returns can snowball with multiple bets, let’s take a look at the pay-out generated by a successful £10 treble, with each runner again priced at odds of 3/1.
A bet of £10 at 3/1 for the first winner returns £40 (£30 profit plus £10 original stake), which then returns £160 (£120 profit plus the £40 stake from the first winning bet) for the second winner (as in our double example above). The whole £160 then goes on the third horse at 3/1, resulting in a rather handsome pay-out of £640 for only that £10 outlay. Clearly, these bets are wonderful when they are successful. But they can be extremely frustrating when the first two horses win, only for the last leg to beaten by a rapidly diminishing nostril!
Fourfold’s & Above
Doubles and trebles are the most common type of multiple bet, but it is in theory possible to have a multiple containing any number of selections, which will again always follow the process of any returns resulting from the first leg rolling over onto the second and so on.
The naming of multiples above a treble is fairly straightforward to follow. A multiple containing four selections being referred to as a fourfold, five selections being a fivefold, six a sixfold and so on, with the catchall term of an accumulator (acca) often being used to describe a multiple containing any number of selections.
Each Way Multiples
In addition to straight win doubles, trebles, fourfolds and so on, it is also possible to place such bets each way. In common with an each way single, these multiple bets are effectively two separate bets – one on all of the selections to win, and another on all of the selections to finish in the placed positions.
The important thing to remember here is that any returns generated from the win portion of a selection roll over ONLY onto the win portion of the next leg, and any returns generated from the place portion roll over ONLY onto the placed portion of the next selection. For example an each way treble which sees two horses win at odds of 10/1 and the third leg finish second at 20/1 would pay out only on the place portion of the bet, which (assuming 1/5 odds place terms) would be a treble at odds of 2/1, 2/1 and 4/1, with the entire win side of the bet being lost.
Popular Types of Multiple Bet
The multiple bets described thus far all boast the upside of potentially spectacular returns for a small outlay, but do come with the downside that should just one leg of the bet come unstuck then the whole stake will be lost. There is a way around this though, and it comes in the shape of the combination multiple bet.
Just about the most popular type of horse racing punt around, aside from backing a horse to win, these bets have the benefit of providing some sort of return should just one or two of the selections win, whilst still retaining the bumper payday potential should all of your fancies come home in front. Each of these bets is made up of some combination of singles, doubles, trebles and above, with the following being amongst the most popular.
Four selections permed into four singles, six doubles, four trebles and a fourfold for a total of 15 bets. So a £1.00 Lucky 15 bet would cost you £15.
Five selections permed into five singles, 10 doubles, 10 trebles, five fourfolds and a fivefold for a total of 31 bets.
Six selections permed into six singles, 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 fourfolds, six fivefolds and a sixfold for a total of 63 bets.
Three selections permed into three singles, three doubles and a treble for a total of seven bets.
Four selections permed into six doubles, four trebles and a fourfold for a total of 11 bets.
Note that for each of the above combination multiple bets the total number of bets will be doubled should the bet be placed each way. For example, an each way Lucky 15 is a total of 30 bets, an each way Yankee is 22 bets and so on.
All of the bets discussed thus far have related to what is known as “fixed odds betting” where the prices taken are those set by the odds compilers with the various betting companies. There is however another form of betting when it comes to horse racing in the UK, and it goes by the name of the Tote.
The Tote are Britain’s largest provider of what is known as “pool betting”. With pool betting all stakes for a given race or event are “pooled” together, with the total pool then being shared amongst the winners upon the events conclusion – minus a small percentage taken by the provider as profit of course. Tote returns are declared as a dividend following the race, and as such, it is impossible to know the exact odds you will receive for your selection at the time you place the bet.
This unknown element is off-putting to many punters, especially those new to betting, but in the long run, there doesn’t tend to be too much difference between Tote dividends and the prices offered by the traditional fixed odds bookmakers, at least not when it comes to the more fancied contenders. However, when looking at runners at bigger prices a Tote bet is well worth considering, with outsiders regularly providing a greater return on the Tote in comparison with fixed odds firms.
In common with fixed odds betting, it is possible to simply back a horse to win or finish placed on the Tote. However, this is far from the only type of bet which the Tote has to offer, with the following pool betting punts all currently available.
One of the more intriguingly named of the tote bets, this requires the punter to select two horses, both of whom must finish somewhere in the first three positions in order for the bet to win. This type of bet is available on all races with six or more declared runners.
This is the Tote equivalent of the straight forecast, requiring punters to predict the first and second-place finishers in the correct order. Exacta dividends often compare favourably with the straight forecast returns generated by the bookmakers’ mathematical model.
Similar to the reverse forecast, this bet sees punters attempt to predict the first two finishers in either order.
The Tote version of the straight tricast bet, requiring bettors to predict the first, second and third placed finishers in the correct order.
Select the winner of two specified races at the same meeting. The exact races will be declared by the Tote on the day.
Another for the fan of the multiple style bet, this bet sees punters attempt to select the winner of three specified races at the same meeting.
Possibly the most famous Tote bet of them all, the Placepot requires bettors to select a horse to finish in the placed positions in the first six races at a meeting. Placepots are available for all British and Irish meetings throughout the season and offer an excellent way to have an interest throughout a race card – provided you don’t go out in the first leg that is.
However, if you do happen to go out in the first leg of your Placepot, there is always the Quadpot. Exactly the same in principle as the Placepot, Quadpot punters must select a runner to be placed in races 3 through 6 on a race card.
A touch more difficult than the Placepot, this requires punters to select the winner of six nominated races, usually, but not always, at the same meeting. A tough task, but the rewards can be enormous.
The Tote’s headline bet. The Scoop6 sees players picking a runner, or runners, in each of six nominated races, with a dividend being returned for selecting the winner of each race, and another for selecting a runner to be placed in each of the six contests.
In addition to the main pot, the Scoop6 features an additional Bonus Fund. Winners of a Scoop6 win dividend are given a shot at claiming this Bonus Fund by predicting the winner of a nominated race at a later date. The Scoop6 bet is usually available every Saturday, and on major race days throughout the year.
A sort of last man standing bet, the aim here is to predict the winner of six nominated races. If, after any of the six legs, only one player remains, that player will receive the entire pot. Should more than one player make it through all six legs the pot will be shared between the remaining players.
Betting & Laying at Exchanges
An alternative to betting with fixed odds betting sites is to opt to bet (or lay bets) at a betting exchange. The most popular (by far) betting exchange is Betfair and they – and others – effectively allow you to act as the bookie (or the punter). You can place many of the fixed odds bets mentioned above at an exchange, but you can also take such bets from other punters.
If, for example, you think a particular horse priced at 10/1 to win the Grand National has no chance, you could take a bet at a given price (dictated by the market). In this example, presume you took a £10 bet on that horse at odds of 10/1; if the horse failed to win, you would pocket the £10 stake (less a small commission). If it did manage to win, however, you would need to pay out the £100 winnings.
Because betting exchanges rely on market liquidity, the odds on smaller races tend not to be as generous as those at fixed odds bookies. But for the biggest races, they are comparable if not better. And for those looking for the flexibility of laying bets from other punters, exchanges are a great solution.