Horse racing is without doubt one of the most popular sports to bet on around the world. In fact, it could be argued that the popularity of the sports relies on gambling, often with most people associating the two together.

Whilst there are many countries that enjoy horse racing, it’s probably fair to say that it’s biggest following comes from the UK and Ireland, as opposed to other countries across Europe. What’ been great to see is that whilst horse racing figures probably don’t pull in the numbers in terms of crowds to smaller events than it used to, the accessibility of the sport is now at all time high, with every race in the UK and Ireland viewable on Sky TV.

Throughout this article we will be looking at different aspects of the gambling side to horse racing, including form, handicapping, different bet types and betting rules.

Race Types and Grades

Flat racing

Flat racing is a type of race that is run over a flat track, without any hurdles of jumps involved. The distance for each race can vary between 2 furlongs and 3 miles, with the main test being on the horses stamina and ability. Whilst the horse wont have to jump over any hurdles, the skill for this type of racing is often down to timing, in terms of knowing when to sprint for the finish in an attempt to win the race.

The types of horses on offer for these races will vary, but generally you will find that thoroughbreds are the most successful. Types of surfaces will also vary for flat races, ranging from turf to dirt surfaces, depending on where they are in the world. For example, most flat races in the UK will be on turf, whereas in Dubai and the US, the majority will be on dirt.

The official racing season for the flat starts in early April and will run through to November. But, flat racing actually takes part all year round and they do include a winter flat racing season that starts from November and runs through until the end of March, although the calibre of races in this period is much lower than that of the summer months.

Some of the most iconic flat races included the 2,000 Guineas, 1,000 Guineas, Epsom Oaks, Epsom Derby and the St Leger Stakes.

Jump racing

Jump racing, or National Hunt Racing as it’s officially known, is horse racing that includes hurdles or obstacles that horses must navigate themselves over. These hurdles can range from fences to water jumps and are generally designed to be a tough test for the horses. The key to a successful jump horse is the ability to clear fences confidently and then have the stamina to stay in races, compared to the flat which is much more about speed and timing.

Jump racing actually takes place throughout the year in the UK and Ireland, but the season’s official start is at the Sandown Park Gold Cup Meeting, which is usually held at the back end of April. The national hunt meetings are also some of the biggest in the world, with the likes of the Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot and Grand National Meeting being some of the most prestigious horse racing events anywhere.

Some of the standout jump races include the Grand National, Cheltenham Gold Cup, King George VI Chase, Hennessey Gold Cup and the Royal Ascot Gold Cup.


Each race that is run across any racecourse will be graded and this will signify the standard of that race and the calibre of horse that is involved. Classes are broken down between both jump and flat races. The jump classes are based on grades ranging from 1-3 and then a listed class below that. Flat racing will include 3 groups of classes, including Classics, Class 1 and Classes 2-7.

The umbers represent the standard in each category, with 1 being the best of the best and then working its way down accordingly. As you work your way down in class the horses on offer will be much more affected by any handicapping rules that have been put in place from previous races. The higher the class the more the races are based on the horses age and weight, and then basically just left to battle it out to become the best.

Reading form

The form guide and how to read it is probably one of the most misinterpreted aspects of horse racing. We ware going to run through a quick example of what all the numbers mean so you can quickly breakdown all the information that is on offer. A typical outline might look like this:

7-03P21 Big Storm Coming 3 8-12

This is typically what an overview of a form guide will look like for each horse; they may contain more information or they may contain less, but on average, it will be along these lines.

The first part of this section [7-03P21] is how the horse has finished in it’s last 6 races. All number left of the hyphen represent finishes from last season and all numbers to the right represent finishes from the current season. The numbers represent the place in which the horse finished and the letters, such as ‘P’ in this case represent that the horse pulled up in that particular race. The numbers work from left to right, the furthest right being that of its most recent race. Other letters that you might see in this section are 0 – finished outside of top 9, F – Fell, S – Slipped Up, R – Refusal, B – Brought down rider and U – Unseated rider.

The next par is the number, which in this case is ‘3’. This represents the age of the horse and the ‘8-12’ section represents the weight the horse is due to carry in the race. Finally, the name ‘Big Storm Coming’ is simply the name of the horse.

The form is an essential part to making a success horse racing selection. Once you understand this form you need to work out if you then think the horse has a chance. The form must be used to determine how the horse has ran on certain ground, how it sits up to the weight it’s carrying, if conditions suit that horse, if the track suits the course, if the jockey is successful with that horse/if he is successful on track, how good has the horse been against other horses in the same field, how well suited to the distance of the race, how it’s performed in these classes of races and so many more variables.


Handicapping is a vital part of horse racing and is an area brought in to even out the majority of races. The handicap that a horse will incur will essentially be a weight added to horse in order to slow it down somewhat. This has been decided by the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) to be the fairest way to conduct handicapping and has been in place for decades.

Every time a horse runs in a race, the BHA will analyse it’s performance in that race, taking into account the finishing position, the field it was racing against, the ground, draw, weight in relation to it’s opponents, pace, finishing position in relation to opponents and incidents in that race that could have affected the outcome. Once all this data has been gathered, horses will then see their handicap rating reflect how this race has gone and if necessary, adjusted accordingly.

The rating is the most important factor in a handicapped race and the higher the number, the better the horse. The number actually reflects the weight the horse needs to carry in order to race against an opponent. So, if one horse was rated at 100 and another at 90, then the 100 rated horse would need to carry 10 pounds (difference of two numbers) to make it a fair race. For each race, the lowest rated horse will determine the weight that the other horses will need to carry before the start of that race.

It’s reported that around 60% of all races are handicapped, ranging from a mixture of jump and flat races. But, it’s more common for the higher profile races in jump racing to be handicapped than in flat racing, mainly because of the length of the race, meaning that difference between each horse can be much larger than flat. A lot of Group 1 flat races are not handicapped, showing off the horse’s pure ability against the best of the best.

Horse racing bets

As with all sports, there are an absolute plethora of the bets that you can place with horse racing. Here we have listed some of the more popular ones, and also given a quick explanation of how each one works.


A simple win bet is as straightforward as you are going to find. All your eggs lie in one basket with this bet and if your horse wins, then you win. If it doesn’t win, then your bet loses.

Each way and place betting

The first thing to understand with these two bet types is that they are very different, although include similar features of each bet. An each way bet is essentially a bet that is broken in two halves, with one half of your bet going on the win market and the second part of your bet going on the place bet.

The win section of the bet is pretty straightforward and the same as we have mentioned about, if your horse wins, then you win the bet. The place bet will be reduced odds, usually ¼ of the price that you took, and these will apply if the horse finishes within the paid places, ranging from 2nd to 6th, usually, depending on how many horses are in that race. Let’s run through a quick example of an each way bet.

You place an each way £10 bet on a horse at odds of 10.0 (decimal odds are usually easier to understand initially compared to fractional). The bet is then split into two parts, with £5 going on the horse to win at odds of 10.0 and the other £5 going on the horse to finish in the top 3 places at ¼ the original odds, resulting in 2.5. Your horse finishes first, so you win both parts of that bet returning your £5 win bet at odds of 10.0 and your £5 place bet at odds of 2.50, resulting in a return of £75 total.

Let’s say that the horse finishes 3rd. You would lose your win bet, but you would win your place bet, returning just £25 this time. If your horse finished 4th, then you would lose both parts to this bet and would have no returns.

Forecasts and tricasts

The forecast and tricast bets in horse racing are very popular because it allows you to win a large sum of money from a relatively small outlay. A forecast bet is essentially where you select 2 horses from that race to finish 1st and to finish 2nd. With these types of bets you will need to select them in right order to be successful. You can of course place a reverse forecast bet, which is essentially where you select 2 horses to finish in either first or second, without any order being stipulated.

The tricast bet works in much the same way as the forecast bet, but with this you need to select who will finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd to be successful. Again, you can do a reverse tricast bet with these where you need to choose three horses to finish in the top 3 places in any order.

Full cover betting

Full cover bets are those where you will include multiple selections and also multiple bet types such as singles, doubles, trebles and accumulators. These types of bets cover a wide range of bets and finishing scenarios, and can land big returns for a small outlay.

The Yankee is probably the most popular of these bet types and this is where you need to choose 4 horses from the one race. The bet types include 6 doubles, 4 trebles and a fourfold accumulator bet. To cover this bet, your stake is broken down into equal amounts for each bet type, so if you staked £1 on all 11 bet types, the total stake would be £11. For each horse and result, the combination of odds and the result will state how much return from each you may get.

The Lucky 15 is the next one up for the Yankee bet, but instead this includes 15 bets. The only difference is that of an additional 4 stakes on single wins for your horses. Often bookmakers will offer up double the odds of the winning single bets if only 1 single is won, hence the name of ‘Lucky’ 15.

The Lucky 31 bet then adds another horse to the rota, with a total of 5 horses being added to this bet. It includes 5 singles, 10 doubles, 10 trebles, 5 fourfolds and a fivefold accumulator bet. Again you actually bet on each individual bet, making a £1 stake on each total £31 for the bet.

The Lucky 63 is, as you guessed it, the next step up with an additional horse selected totalling that of 6. The bet includes 6 singes, 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 fourfolds, 6 fivefolds and a sixfold accumulator bet.

Totepool betting

Totepool betting or simply ‘The Tote’ as it’s more commonly known, is one of the oldest forms of betting. The process behind it is that instead of betting against a set number of odds processed by a bookmaker, you actually bet into a pool and then dividends are awarded to each bettor providing that you have the winning selection.

One of main aspects to this type of betting is that you never know for sure what odds you will be getting on a winning return until the race has been completed and all bets have been counted. This works in two ways; one is that the return can often be higher than a bookmaker, but on the flipside, it can also be lower depending on how many people have bet on the same selection. Let’s run through a quick example of how the Tote works for horse racing.

Each horse will be numbered rather than betting on the name of the horse, but it is highlighted as to which number each horse will be. Let’s say there are 6 horses running in a race and the amount that has been wagered on each horse is highlighted below.

  1. £250
  2. £300
  3. £700
  4. £400
  5. £400
  6. £120

From these numbers we can see that the favourite for the race is horse number 3, as they have the most money wagered on that horse. This is a great example of how in the Tote the favourite is the horse with the most money wagered on it, rather than taking in form or other factors which could affect the bet.

We need to work out the total amount wagered, which in this case is £2170. The Tote make money by simply taking a percentage of overall pot. Let’s say that this amount is 10%, but it can vary. So, the final pot is £1953.

Let’s say that horse number 4 won the rave and each bettor who backed it is entitled to a dividend. We work this out by dividing the amount staked on that horse (£400) by the total dividend amount (£1953), giving us £4.88. So, for every £1 that was wagered on horse 4, the punter would take home £4.88. This amount includes their stake as well, so the odds would simply be 4.88 if you were using the decimal betting format.

There a quite a few different types of Tote bets, of which we have highlighted below.

Tote win

The most common form of Tote betting is the Tote Win, where you simply pace your bet on which horse you think will win the race. It works in exactly the same way as the example we have just gone through above

Tote place

The places market is where you bet on a horse to finish within a certain number of positions in the race. The number of places that this bet pays out will be based on the number of runners from the race. With these types of bets you need to the horse to finish in any position and you don’t get a bonus if that horse wins the race.

Tote exacta

The Tote exacta is actually a carbon copy of betting on the forecast and reverse forecast betting markets. So, the single exacta is where you need to select two horses that will finish in 1st and 2d, stating which horse will finish where (forecast). The combination exacta is where you choose two horses to finish in either 1st or 2nd place, the order you do not need to state (reverse forecast).

Tote trifecta

The trifecta bet is similar to the exacta, but you will need to choose the finishing positions for the first 3 horses in a race. Again, you can place a combination trifecta if you like which is choosing 3 horses to finish in any position of the top 3 places. This market is the same as the traditional tricast bet.

Tote placepot

The palcepot is where you will need to choose a horse to finish within the place positions of all 6 races from the same meeting. The place positions will likely change for each race, depending on how many runners there are. For this bet to be successful, you will need to get all 6 right for a chance of winning.

Tote jackpot

The Toe jackpot is the most lucrative bet in this sector, with hundreds of thousands, if not millions on offer t bring one of these home. A winning bet will include all 6 winners from a single race meeting.


The Scoop6 works in a very similar way to the jackpot, but instead of picking 6 winners from one race meeting, you will be able to choose 6 winners from 6 races that are shown on terrestrial TV for that days racing. These bets are often popular with the higher profile racing days, such as Boxing Day and over major festivals.

Horse betting rules

Horse betting rules can be quite a complex topic, so we have compile da list of the more common rules surrounding the sport for you to peruse. What we will say is that some bookmakers may differ slightly from what we have written below, so it’s always worth checking with them to see where they stand on each issue you may have.

Starting price (SP)

The starting price is the price that horse is at with the bookmaker at the second the race starts. As prices for horses can fluctuate massively in the minutes before each race starts, the ability to take a starting price would mean that you essentially take the final price that the bookmaker is offering right from the off.

This can sometime work in the punters favour with the price drifting before the start and sometimes be a negative with the price shortening. The difference between taking a starting price bet and taking a price, is that you know exactly what the price will be, but the starting price likely wont be released until after the race has completed.

Rule 4 deductions

Rule 4 is in place to protect bookmakers from horses, mainly favourites, becoming non-runners and in turn, totally skew the odds on offer for that race.

For example, if you were to back the second favourite at odds of 8/1 and then favourite who was priced at 2/1 to win was declared a non-runner, all of a sudden the 8/1 price on your horse is now looking extremely generous. The bookmaker at this point can trigger Rule 4, which means that a percentage of your winnings from that price will be dedicated after the race, due to the fact that the 8/1 price wasn’t priced taking in regarded to original favourite not running.

The whole concept was brought in to stop people simply withdrawing a horse and then having a long priced second favourite all of sudden be the favourite for that race. The percentage that will be taken from any winnings can range from 90% for non-runners that were 1/9 or shorter to just 5% for favourites that were between 9/1 and 14/1. 14/1 non-runners and over will not count towards any deductions from that race.

Dead heats

If a dead heat occurs in a horse race, then you will have a certain amount of your original stake removed from the bet to allows a successful payout. The number that will be divided by your stake in order to reach your new dad heat stake will be the number of horses involved in the dead heat. It’s worth noting that the odds that you took remain the same, only the stake is altered.

So, if you placed a £10 bet on a horse at 10/1 and it finished in a dead heat with 1 other horse (2 total), then your stake would be divided by 2, to make £5. This £5 bet would then pay out at your original odds of 10/1, returning £50 profit in total.

Day of race market

The day of race market will change from that of placing bets prior to that days racing. For example, any bets placed up to 24 hours before a race starts is usually classed an ante post betting market. The ante post market will mean that rules such as Rule 4 and non-runners will not be included in these bets, essentially saying that the bet you make is the one you stick with and if your horse doesn’t run then you don’t receive a refund on your bet.

Conversely, if you place a bet on a day of race market, it protects you from things such as Rule 4 and also non-runners in that, if your horse doesn’t run for whatever reason, you will have your stake refunded.