How To Bet On Horses & Bet Types Beginners Guide

Lee Jackson by Lee Jackson | Published: July 10, 2019

Betting and horse racing go hand in hand. They have always done so. Long before the advent of online betting, the majority of action taking place at high street bookmakers and across telephone betting was on the horses. It’s a massively popular sport to punt on, because races only last a short amount of time.

So horse racing bets are settled quickly, and the odds are generally a lot more appealing than outcomes in other sports. Plus, there is horse racing to be found pretty much every single day of the year from home and abroad. From the simple, straight forward single bet of picking a winner, to more complicated multiples like Lucky 15’s, there is a lot to enjoy.

Let’s take a look at how to bet on horses with our beginner’s guide.

Horse betting explained – How it works?

At its most simplest, horse racing betting is straightforward. You simply pick the winner of a race. The number of runners in a race will vary, as will the distance and grading of races. But still, the one simple goal at the end of the day is picking which horse will cross the line first.

But that really just scratches the surface of how horse racing betting can be approached really. Horses can be backed to just finish inside the top three, while winners of different races can be combined in an accumulator or more complicated multiples.

As with any betting it works by you putting your money up against the bookmaker. You risk your stake on making a correct prediction. As you look further through this beginner’s guide of how to bet on horses, you will discover a wide range of bets that are commonly used by novice and seasoned horse racing bettors alike.

How to place a horse racing bet

If you are a new customer looking to place a horse racing bet on Bet365, use a bonus code when signing up.

  1. Step 1: Find your race

    The first step of betting on horse racing is to find a race that you want to bet on. Maybe it’s a big feature race like the Grand National or the Cheltenham Gold Cup, or just a regular fixture from a weekday race card. On the homepage of the bet365 racing section, you will see a quick link to the next three races, or you can look ahead at more detailed options of the day’s card from a meet.

    Find Your Race - How to Bet on Horses

  2. Step 2 – Study the card

    Once you know which race you are looking at, it’s time to study the card for that race. We selected the 6.30 pm race from Catterick as our race. Once it was selected all the runners for that race were listed in the card.

    Study the Card - How to Bet on Horses
    Alongside each horse you will see important bits of information like age, who the horse’s trainer and jockey is, weight and you can click for further in-depth form. Bet365 customers can access streams of past races for a closer study of form. For this race, we clicked on Extrasolar to take a look at his form, as seen in the screenshot below. See our ultimate guide to studying Horse Racing form for some in-depth insights.

    Study Form - How to Bet on Horses
    So you can browse through the horses and use the bits of information, along with any from other reputable racing sources (like the Racing Post for example) to piece together a picture of what your best selection is going to be.

  3. Step 3 – Pick Your Horse

    For this example we stick with Extrasolar at 8/1 odds. We can see listed next to him that he had been a shorter price of 7/1 at one point, but had drifted again. So it’s not a bad time to take him on. So we click the odds of 8/1 and that sends the selection to the bet slip.

    A straight bet on him to win would have been “on the nose”. However, because he’s not a favourite, we select him as an Each Way option in the bet slip (E/W). This doubles the stake, but will return 1/5 odds if he finishes either second or third.

    Pick Your Horse - How to Bet on Horses

  4. Step 4 – Strike the bet

    So we have the race and the horse selected. From there you can put in your stake on your betting slip. When you do, you will see how much the bet will return if it is a winner. When you are happy you simply hit the Place Bet button and your bet will be struck. When you bet on a race with Bet365 you will have access to a live stream of it, if available.

    Strike the Bet - How to Bet on Horses

Watching Live Horse Racing Streams

There is easy access at a lot of bookmakers to live racing streams. Bet365 for example just has the requirement of needing to either be a funded account holder or to have placed a bet within the previous 24 hours prior to a stream starting. As for horse racing, customers are able to watch live streams from all over the world.

Replays from all UK and Irish racecourses are unlimited and are at no extra cost once the requirements have been met. Horse racing streams become active about 5 seconds before they are due to start.

All streams at Bet365 (across all sports – click to see the schedule), are available for customers. In terms of actual qualifying bets you must place a bet of at least £0.50 win, or £0.25 each-way (or currency equivalent) on your selection(s), this applies to single and multiple bet types.

What are the best horse racing bookmakers?

There are many bookmakers around who offer great horse racing services and Bet365 are up at the top of the chain, largely because of their trading power which is reflected in strong prices. They also have great racing offers like their Price Promise, Best Odds Guaranteed and their 4/1 Offer which rewards with a free bet if a winner in a featured race is at a price of 4/1 or bigger.

So it’s little touches like that which go along way. Among the other leaders for horse racing betting online are Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, William Hill and Betfair. Whenever you can keep an eye out for promotions (updated list here for each bookmaker) that can help your horse racing betting get a little extra value, take them. Maybe it’s accumulator insurance when you will get a lost stake refunds if just one of your legs let you down, or even something as simple as an extra place for a race.

Horse racing odds explained

You will notice when you start looking around at horse racing betting and comparing to other sports, that you tend to see a lot more generous prices on racing. In the horse racing example above, the favourite was at 7/2 and when you put that up against a favourite to win a football, tennis or rugby match for example, then it is likely to beat it hands down.

So there’s a lot of interesting value in horse racing odds. A price of 7/2 means that for every £2 you staked, you would win £7 back. That’s the same whether it’s 8/1 to 20/1. The bigger the price is, like the 50/1 option of Windforpower in the racing example, the less chance (according to the bookmaker setting the price) that horse has of winning the race.

Horse racing markets, especially just before the start of the race, become very active. That is when a big chunk of wagering action will happen for a race. The more a horse becomes supported (backed) by punters to win, then the more their price is going to be cut to a smaller price. That is the bookmaker reacting to market action, cutting down their risk.

SP instead of Odds

You will also see, especially when looking in a race in advance, SP options instead of actual odds by the name of a horse. An SP in horse racing odds means Starting Price.

SP instead of odds in Horse Racing

An SP is the official price being reported from a racecourse at the time that the race started. If you look early enough at a race, you may see the entire card listed as SP. In the example above, you could back the favourite at the SP. Come the start of the race, the favourite may well be different to which horse it was at the time that you looked. Regardless of which is the favorite, that’s the horse you are backing and are happy to take whatever their starting price is reported as.

In online betting a lot of bookmakers like Bet365 offer Best Odds Guaranteed. That means that if you back a horse at an early price, but their SP is bigger than the price you took, you will get paid out at the bigger starting price. Similarly if your early price was bigger than the SP, you get paid at the bigger early price. So that basically just cuts out any worry that you are going to drop value by backing a selection early.

Rule 4 deductions

It is likely that at some point in your horse racing betting, you are going to come across the term “Rule 4 Deduction”. What is it? Let’s say you have backed a horse called Water Jumper and he is one of eight horses in a race. You have taken a price of 6/1 on him and you have placed a stake of £10.

But come the start of the race, there are actually only seven runners taking place because of a withdrawal. Now the chance of Water Jumper winning has increased because he has one horse less to beat in the race. That, of course, would be the same for any runner you had backed in the race.

So the price of 6/1 that you took on Water Jumper wouldn’t be a fair reflection of the price on him after another horse had withdrawn. Suddenly the customer has something of an advantage. But the Rule 4 Deduction comes into play to deal with that.

Any winnings that you receive back will be subject to a deduction that the bookmaker makes. They are allowed to do this, to try and compensate for the withdrawal and what that has done in terms of chances of the other horses left in the race, winning.

But of course, if there is a 4/5 favourite which withdraws, then that is going to have a bigger effect on the race than if it was a 50/1 outsider for example who pulls out. So the cost of the deduction will be based on the original price of the withdrawn horse.

Deductions are based on a certain amount of pence in the pound. So if there was a 10p Rule 4 Deduction on the race that Water Jumper wins at our £10 stake, only £9 profit would be returned instead of the £10.

Price of Non Runner (Fractional) Price of Non Runner
(Decimal)
R4 Deduction Amount
(Pence in the pound)
 1/9 or shorter  1.11 or shorter  90p
 2/11 to 2/17  1.18 to 1.12  85p
 1/4 to 1/5  1.25 to 1.20  80p
 3/10 to 2/7  1.30 to 1.29  75p
 2/5 to 1/3  1.40 to 1.33  70p
 8/15 to 4/9  1.53 to 1.45  65p
 8/13 to 4/7  1.62 to 1.57  60p
 4/5 to 4/6  1.80 to 1.66  55p
 20/21 to 5/6  1.95 to 1.83  50p
 Evens to 6/5  2.00 to 2.20  45p
 5/4 to 6/4  2.25 to 2.50  40p
 8/5 to 7/4  2.60 to 2.75  35p
 9/5 to 9/4  2.80 to 3.25  30p
 12/5 to 3/1  3.40 to 4.00  25p
 16/5 to 4/1  4.20 to 5.00  20p
 9/2 to 11/2  5.50 to 6.50  15p
 6/1 to 9/1  7.00 to 10.00  10p
 10/1 to 14/1  11.00 to 15.00  5p
 Over 14/1  Over 15.00  No deduction

Does Rule 4 apply to SP?

It can. The Rule 4 generally comes in to apply on an SP (Starting Price) when there is a late withdrawal and there hasn’t been enough time to come up with a new market.

What if more than one horse withdrawals?

Bookmakers can apply multiple Rule 4 Deductions to a race.

Does Bet365 waive the 5p Deduction?

Yes it does. A lot of bookmakers will charge 5p in the pound for a withdrawn horse at odds of 10/1 to 14/1. However, Bet365 does not apply this to the first deduction in a race.

Popular Horse Racing Terms

For beginners looking at horse racing for the first time, there will be some unfamiliar lingo and terminology to pick up. Let’s look at some popular horse racing terms.

Flat Race

Flat racing occupies the summer season of horse racing. These are simple races which involve no jumps or hurdles. Basically no obstacles, just a flat foot race which is more of a test of speed.

National Hunt Racing

Most of the racing in the UK and Ireland is National Hunt Racing and they are longer races than flat ones (for the most part). Because they involve the racers also negotiating their way over fences or hurdles, then it is a test of not only speed, but stamina and jumping ability.

Handicapping

A handicap race is simply a scenario where the horses running carry different weights. A leading contender will carry more weight than and underdog in the race, in order to try and level the playing field a bit to create a competitive race. The bigger the handicap number, the better the horse. The number of the horse’s rating will show how much he is carrying in total (a horse with a rating of 145 will be starting at 145 pounds). So a punter will need to try and use skill to pick a horse that is able to overcome a handicap.

Distances in Racing

Distances are an important thing in horse racing to take into consideration. The length of horse races vary greatly. Why is it so important? If you are looking at backing a horse in a three mile trip where he has only ever ran two mile races before, then that will naturally raise some questions about his ability to go the distance competitively. Similarly, horses with better stamina over the longer races, generally aren’t as quick when they drop down to shorter distances.

You will see race distances listed in miles, furlongs and yards. A furlong is 0.125 of a mile. So four furlongs equals half a mile. Just for a reference here are some distance comparisons:

1 Mile =8 furlongs =1760 yards
1 Furlong =0.125 of a mile =220 yards
1 Yard =36 inches =91.44 centimetres

Horse Racing Classification

There is a lot of classification when it comes to horse races. It’s important to know because it gives an indication of quality. As a simple example, a horse who has only ran Group 3 races before will be facing a higher quality field if he is suddenly put into a Group 1 race. The different classifications help to keep racing competitive and attach relevant prize monies and status.

Class 1
FLAT
Class 1
NATIONAL HUNT
Class 2 - 7
(Based on handicap rating)
Group 1
Major races with international importance
Grade 1
-Top Championship races
-Age & Sex determines weight
Class 2
-handicap rating of
86-100, 91-105 and 96-110.
Group 2
Same as Group 1 just with less importance in terms of prestige/quality/prizes
Grade 2
-Not as important as Grade 1
- Age, Sex & previous race participation determines weight
Class 3
-handicap rating of
76-90 and 81-95.
Group 3
Important races from domestic tracks
Grade 3
-Lowest of Graded races
-Handicapping rating determines weight
Class 4
-handicap rating of
66-80 and 71-85.
Listed Races
Lower status than and Group races
Listed Races
Races not of quality to made Grade status
Class 5
-handicap rating of
56-70 and 61-75.
Class 6
-handicap rating of
46-60 and 51-65.
Class 7
-handicap rating of
46-50.

Horse Racing Conditions

There is a lot of thought that has to go into horse racing considerations. The conditions of the track itself is another big one. Trainers will pull horses from races if the ground conditions are not to their liking. A speedy horse who likes a good firm footing to get up speed, may struggle on heavier wet ground and potentially risk injury for example. Common conditions listed in horse racing include Fast, Firm, Good, Good to Firm, Good to Soft, Hard and Heavy. Try and see how horses have fared in similar conditions to the ones that they will be facing on the day.

Winning Distances

Some more colourful horse racing terminology comes into play when it is results time. Results are listed by winning distance. Those distances can be, for example, 100 yards, or maybe 2 furlongs. There is also a “Length” in horse racing which is about 8 feet, and a “Neck” which is about 2 feet. Those numbers come from the average length and neck length of a horse.

Popular Horse Racing Bets

You may want to reference our guide to the full list of different bet types because they can all be applied to horse racing. But here are some of the common types of bets that are used. This is largely focused on the simpler bets that a beginner will be looking at, but there are plenty more available.

Win

A simple bet. You put a stake down on one selection in a horse race to win. If they don’t then your stake loses.

Each Way

This is backing a selection who you think has a decent chance of winning, but you’re not totally sure. An Each Way bet will pay out in full if the horse wins or will deliver a partial payout if they come home second or third. Different races will, based on determining factors, have a different number of places available, or none at all. An Each Way bet is essentially two bets – one to win and one to place. A £1 Each Way will cost a £2 stake, therefore. You can find out more in our comprehensive each-way betting guide.

Double

A Double is selecting the winner of two different horse races. That is combined in one bet under one stake. Both selections have to win to get a return.

Treble

Like a double really, but with three selections from different races. All three of those selections have to win to see a return.

Forecast/Tricast

A Forecast is predicting the exact order of the first and second finishers in the same race.

Trixie

A Trixie is created from three single selections. Those selections are combined into 3 Doubles and 1 Treble. From that, a minimum of two of the selections are needed to guarantee a return. Singles are not included. Learn more about Trixie betting.

Yankee

A popular staple of horse racing betting. 4 selections are made which are then combined into 6 Doubles, 4 Trebles and 4-Fold accumulators. A minimum of two of the selections are needed to guarantee a return. Learn more about Yankee betting.

Lucky 15

A Lucky 15, like a Yankee, is made from four selections, but it includes the four selections as singles for a total of fifteen bets. Along with the four singles, there are 6 Doubles, 4 Trebles and a 4-Fold accumulators. A minimum of one of the selections are needed to guarantee a return because it would cover a single. Learn more about Lucky 15 bets.

Horse racing betting systems explained

If you start searching around you will get inundated with betting systems. There are a lot of people pushing a lot of systems and they all may seem pretty foolproof. However, for beginners, they are probably worth swerving. A lot of them will rely on the punter having big bankrolls and a lot will also be dependent on the end-user using specific knowledge to pick out certain horses under certain conditions. These systems take small factors into consideration.

No system is perfect at the end of the day. Horse racing betting systems are not a way to quick easy profit and as a beginner, it is simply worth building up your own knowledge base and finding markets and betting opportunities yourself that suit you.

Horse Racing FAQ:

What is a Nap in horse racing?

This is just the best tip that a tipster has to offer. It’s considered as being as close to a sure thing as it can possibly can get. Punters may list several top tips for a day, but one of them will be their nap.

How to pick a winning horse?

There is no proven course to picking a winner every time you bet. But studying form is the key in landing a winning horse with betting. As a beginner, this is something that is going to be picked up on more and more over time. Start with simple factors like weight, distance and form. Then progress to add in more factors. Read our comprehensive guide on the top 10 factors to consider for picking a winning horse.

When is horse racing season?

There are essentially two horse racing seasons. Through the summer is when the Flat racing takes centre stage. Through the autumn, winter and spring it is the National Hunt (also known as jumps) which come into play.

Can you bet on every horse in a race?

You can indeed but that increases risk. If you put £10 on all seven runners in a race, that would be a £70 output. If the favourite, say at a price of 3/1 were to win, then you would get those £30 winnings plus your stake back. But the losses from all of the other lost stakes would leave you in a deficit. In this scenario, you would be hoping an outsider at a big price wins the race to cover all of the other lost stakes.

What is the best way to bet on horses?

There is nothing wrong with the good old win single in horse racing betting. It takes a tremendous amount of skill to pick out a winner from a race. Sometimes it is luck of course as well. But all in all, hop online and try and get your timing right in terms of price. Watch the markets. Take any Best Odds Guaranteed whenever you can.

What is a N/R?

That indicates a non-runner. For some reason, an entry for a race doesn’t end up taking part in the scheduled event.

Want to learn more when betting on horses? Check out our other popular horse racing guides!

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How To Bet On Horses & Bet Types Beginners Guide
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How To Bet On Horses & Bet Types Beginners Guide
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Learn how to bet on horses with our guide for beginners. We discuss popular horse racing terms, bet types, odds (with sp and rule 4 deductions) and more!
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Best Free Bets
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Article by Lee Jackson

Lee has built a vast working knowledge of different bet types, betting systems, probability and all-important experience. His experience within the betting industry extends to over a decade of researching and writing betting guides. Understanding the statistical and mathematical side of betting is something that fascinates Lee. The study of statistics and implied probability in odds are factors that he finds engaging and important to understanding the inner workings of the practice of betting.