How to bet on Horse Racing For Cheltenham and Beyond

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With the World Cup of horse racing around the corner – the Cheltenham festival – now is the time to make sure you have all the knowledge you need to make horse racing betting pay.
This guide to betting on horse racing explains everything you ever wanted to know about horse racing but were afraid to ask!
Horse racing has entered the digital age kicking and screaming, consequently there are still a large number of phrases used in the industry that can easily baffle the uninitiated.
This article focuses on what you need to know for your betting specifically, with tips on avoiding potential pitfalls.


There are three main race categories in horse racing as follows:National Hunt Racing
National Hunt race mainly takes place over the winter months, mostly involving fences as obstacles. The most important meeting of the racing calendar full stop is the Cheltenham festival which takes place in March each year. This is the ‘world cup’ of horse racing where the best horses compete for top titles such as the gold cup. The Grand National is the most popular National Hunt race each year.

Race types:

Chase racing: Generally longer races with higher hurdles.

  • Hurdling: The standard NH race type.
  • National Hunt flat: Generally for newer horses racing without hurdles under NH rules. Also known as ‘bumpers’.
  • Handicap/Non Handicap racing. (see explanation below)


Flat Racing:

Flat races generally take place during the summer months when the ground is harder. Famous flat meetings include Royal Ascot and the Epsom Derby.

Race types:

  • Handicap Racing: Different horses are given certain weights to carry to ostensibly even out the race. The skill is to figure out which horses have been let off lightly to spot which horses will be over burdened by the weight, more than the market expects.
  • Non handicap racing: Races where no weights are used!

All Weather racing:

All weather racing takes place on either fibresand or Polytrack surfaces which are less subject to flooding or freezing over. All weather racing used to have a very poor reputation, but there has been in an increase in the number of higher grade AW races over the years.

The main AW courses are as follows:

  • Lingfield
  • Kempton
  • Southwell
  • Wolverhampton

With conditions playing less of a factor, pure speed and jockeyship can come more into play with All Weather racing. One other significant factor is the existence of a draw bias at the course. This is covered in more detail in the following draw bias section.

Raw bias in horse racing:

In Horse Racing, some race courses offer sharp corners which offer little chance of overtaking throughout the race.When a horse starts the race, they often do so from stalls (Not so for longer national hunt races), numbered 1-10 for example.
If a course has a tight left hand first corner, then you might expect that horses drawn closer to the inside edge will be at an advantage there.This generally turns out to be the case, with some race courses such has Chester having an extreme draw bias which gives certain stalls an unfair advantage.Nowadays race courses either do what they can to correct such a draw bias or the bookmakers generally compensate for draw bias with the prices they put out.However, paying attention to draw biases can be very useful in certain circumstances.For example, races of 16 furlongs or longer at Lingfield have a particular bias to take note of. Betting on horses drawn in the middle range of the stalls produces an excellent level stakes profit.We highly recommend for finding more draw bias angles and for racing systems in general.


Betting on horses: Win only or each way?

There are two main ways to bet on horses as follows:
Win Only: Straight forward bet on a horse to win and win only.

Each Way: The second most popular way to bet on horses. An each way bet is technically two bets; half a win only bet and half a bet on the horse to place. The place odds are based on the type of racing being run as follows:

  • 2 > 4 runners – win only.
  • 5 > 7 runners – 1/4 odds 1-2 places paid out.
  • 8+ runners, non-handicap – 1/5 odds 1-3 places paid out.
  • 8 > 11 runners, handicap – 1/5 odds 1-3 places paid out.
  • 12 > 15 runners, handicap – 1/4 odds 1-3 places paid out.
  • 6+ runners, handicap – 1/4 odds 1-4 places paid out.

Always double check the terms a bookmaker is offering though because they do not always stick to the guidelines.The place odds are either ¼ or 1/5 the win odds depending on the race type. For example in a handicap race with 8 runners the place odds would be 1/5 the win odds and you get paid on the place side if the horse finishes 1, 2 or 3. In that race, if the horse is 5/1 and it wins, you would be paid 5/1 for the win part and 1/1 for the place part of the bet.16 runner handicaps offer the most generous terms. Here, a 20/1 horse would pay out of the place side if it finishes 1,2,3 or 4 with the place odds being 5/1. A £10 Each Way bet would cost £20 (as it is two bets). A 20/1 horses which finishes 2nd would return -£10 on the win side and +£50 on the price side giving you £40 profit on the race.

Horse Racing: When to bet Each Way and when to bet win only.
There are no hard and fast rules on when to bet win only and when to bet each way. It would make sense to bet each way in 16+ handicap races because this is where bookies are most disadvantaged, but 16 runner handicaps are becoming increasingly rare. More importantly, a big 16 handicap Each Way winner is most likely to grab a bookie’s attention and cause your account to be restricted so they should be used advisedly. Keep an eye out for special offers though on big races, where bookmakers often push out each way terms to offer five or even six places on the each way bets.Generally, Each Way betting is about reducing volatility in your betting returns. In many cases you will actually make more money betting win only because you get the full benefit when a horse wins, however you have to be able to stomach a big priced horse getting beaten by a neck.

So a general rule might be as follows:

  • If you bet little and often (10 plus bets per day), bet win only up to 20/1 and consider Each Way betting above this.
  • If you bet big and less often (less than one bet per day), consider each way bets above 5/1.

All those other horse racing bet types and betting terms

Place only betting – This allows you to bet only on the horse’s ability to finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd of 4th depending on the terms. Betfair pioneered this market and this is generally where you’ll find the best odds, but bookmakers are starting to offer attractive terms here as well. As a general rule though, you will get better place terms within an Each Way bet.
Ante post – Ante post bets are often made weeks, if not months in advance of a major race. A typical bet might be on the Cheltenham gold cup based on the horses form in one of the warm up races a few months earlier. Ante post betting can offer some juicy odds such as getting 20/1 on a horse that goes off at 5/1 on race day. There is a catch though, most of the time, these bets are settled on an “all in run or not” basis which means if your horses pulls out of the race weeks in advance of gets injured, you lose your stake without having a run for your money. This is akin to betting on Manchester United to win the FA cup and seeing them knocked out.

Rule 4 deductions – If a horse is withdrawn late on a race day, bookies may deduct a certain amount from your winnings. The punters who backed the withdrawn horse with be refunded, but the bookies will be left with a lopsided book, especially if the favourite withdraws. In this case if you backed the 2ndfavourite at 5/1. You won’t get paid at 5/1 as bookies balance their books and account for the withdrawal. This refers to race day betting not antepost betting for the most part. Best Odds guaranteed – A fantastic innovation available with many bookmakers online, over the phone and in some shops. If the price is higher at the off than the price you took, you will receive the higher price. E.g. you back Red Rum at 5/1 early but it drifts to 10/1 come race time, you would be paid out at 10/1 if it won. Best Odds guaranteed is a valuable way to boost betting returns but should be used wisely. Make sure you nurture and protect accounts with Best Odds Guaranteed facilities by staying under bookies radar, otherwise they may remove this facility from you (as some bookies do) or restrict the max bet you can place. Two methods for this are to never bet each way with BOG bookies and to certainly never bet EW in 16 runner handicaps. Certainly avoid Each Way doubles.

Doubles and multiples – As a general rule we would advise against using multiples with your betting. They are generally pushed by bookmakers as a way of boosting odds, which is why they should be avoided! If you do spot value on two or more selections, then a multiple can be a way to achieve bumper returns. However if you are using multiples to simply boost the odds on short priced selections, you’ll be a loser in the long run.

Laying – It’s easier to pick a loser right?

One of the key innovations that Betfair brought to the market was giving the punters the ability to play both sides of the market. If you thought something would win you could back it and if you thought something would lose, you can act like the book maker and ‘lay’ it.
As a quick comparison, here are the expected returns from backing and laying the same horse.
If you thought Young Prince will win, you’d back it at 1.58 (Decimal odds). This would return £1.10 if it won (after paying commission) or lose £2 if it failed to win.
If you think Young Prince will lose, you might lay at 1.60. This would mean you lose £1.20 if it won, but you win your stake back (less commission) if it failed to win.
When Betfair first burst on the scene, there were a plethora of shady vendors touting systems that sold the benefits of ‘laying’ something you thought was likely to lose.
After all, it’s easier to pick a loser right?
It is indeed easier to pick a loser, but what punters slowly came to realise was that picking losers is only half the battle – picking losers at the right price is the more important part of the equation.
If you are tempted to lay a horse trading at 50, because you think it’s an easy way to make money, think again. Always remember that every horse has a chance of winning. Your job is to spot which horses have their prices out of line in one direction or the other. Simply wanting to lay a 50.0 horse because you think it will lose is the fast route to the poor house. Laying a 50.0 horse that you think should be 100.0 is different, in this case, now you have a value bet.
If ever tempted to lay a high priced horse, remember this table:
This shows what the lay odds are in equivalent backing terms. Laying something at 11.0 has the same risk/ reward as backing something at 1.10. I.e. you’re risking a lot in order to win a relatively small amount.

The following article on exchange betting explains a little more on the pros and cons of laying vs backing.

The key take away with laying is that it is no different to backing – It’s all about getting the right price.