A Beginners Guide to Betting on Horse Racing

Horse racing and the numerous betting markets associated with it make it one of the most lucrative and sought-after sports across the world. From the British monarchy to Middle Eastern Sheikhs, the allure and adulation of being associated with top-level horse racing seemingly have no boundaries.

With such a variety of betting markets for punters to access, deciphering which horse to choose in any given race is a difficult task for even the most seasoned of punters. Stepping into horse racing betting as a beginner, therefore, can often be a tumultuous and thankless task. With horse racing renowned for its thrills
and spills, as well as the unpredictability that comes with racing animals to factor in too, knowing where to start with horse racing punting, is difficult.

With daily races taking place in the UK and Ireland at intervals as little as 10 minutes, there is a wealth of opportunities to punt on horse races. The introduction of online betting, in addition to the more traditional approach of in-shop betting, has allowed for horse racing betting to take place on demand. This combined with live, in-play betting has made horse racing one of the most-watched and gambled upon sports the world.


The growth of horse racing in the UK dates back to the 18th century with aristocrats’ and the upper classes often being associated with the sport – a trend that is still in place today. This has progressed through the centuries with many races and events receiving commercial investment and celebrity profiling. In turn, this has manifested into race meets becoming million-pound industries, yet the heritage of big races such as the Grand National or Cheltenham Gold Cup remains the same as they were in the 1800s. This heritage is still paid homage to by all associated with the sport and the premise of betting on horse racing is as big today as it ever has been.

Betting on Horse Racing
With many things for all levels of punter to consider when betting on horse racing for the first time, there is no foolproof approach.

Betting on any sport can be confusing for beginners so being aware of what one is getting themselves into is essential when looking to bet on horses, meaning familiarity is key with betting odds.

Odds & Bet Types
The fractional odds system used in the UK is often the most popular format in which betting odds are displayed in. For example, if a punter selects a successful horse in a particular race at odds of 7/1 and places a £1 bet, they will receive £8 in winnings from the bookmaker – £7 for winning the bet plus the £1 original stake totaling £8. This is called betting on the straight win market and is the simplest and most effective way to punt for beginners. The higher the odds on each bet, theoretically the less likely it is to win the race.  In the event, a horse is priced as odds on (for example 5/6) a £1 winning bet would yield £1.83 – £0.83 as direct winnings plus the £1 originally staked.

Each-way betting is the next step for bettors with the premise being a safety net is provided on each bet. Backing a horse each way is essentially placing two bets within one stake: one bet on the horse winning the race and another for it to ‘place’. Placing means if the horse finishes in the pre-determined paid place position, dependent on each specific bookmaker’s terms and how many horses have started the race. By placing an each-way bet, should a horse finish in the places the punter will receive their winnings at a significantly lower proportion of the main odds – often a quarter of the straight win quantity.  Betting each way costs twice the price of a straight win (due to it being two bets) but should the horse win, both the win and place bets are paid to the punter. This approach isn’t for everyone but can guarantee bankroll ticking over, regardless of the initial budget.

Horse Racing classifications

There are two main horse race classifications in the UK and being aware of the permutations of both is also important for punters.

Flat Racing
Horses racing on the flat tends to take place during the summer months (April to October) when the ground is drier and the premise is simple: horses race each other, with the victor being the first past the post.

National Hunt/Jump Racing
By contrast, national hunt/jump racing generally takes place in the winter (November to March) with the state of the ground and the weather often being another thing for punters to facilitate into their bets. By and large, the jockeys have a more difficult job during National Hunt races as they have obstacles to negotiate in their race to the finish.

Much like a divisional structure in sports such as football and rugby, both flat and jump racing classify each race that takes place in order to moderate the standard of horses taking part. Classifications are determined by prize money offered meaning the elite level trainers generally tend to target the bigger races for their horses.

Important considerations

The most difficult, yet arguably exciting part of horse racing betting is successfully picking a horse to win a race. Whilst there is no formulaic approach, important considerations include:-

Horse Form
Assessing how the horse is running and how they have performed in the classification is an important consideration.

Owner & Trainer
In elite-level racing, many owners and trainers team up for the biggest races and tend to develop the horses with the strongest pedigree.

Choosing a jockey that has a good record with a specific horse or on a chosen course can be a big differential.

The ‘going’ as it’s known in the UK is always detailed before a meeting with it being broken down into the following 7 categories: hard, firm, good to firm, good, good to soft, soft and heavy. These conditions can help or hinder certain horses depending on their track records.

Much like the ground, factoring in weather is important as certain horses tend to have better records in specific weather conditions.

Handicap Weight
The weight awarded to each horse by the Jockey Club can have an impact on how it runs and needs to be considered by punters.

Picking a winner at horse racing is no easy task and as the old saying goes. ‘you never see a poor bookie’!  However, for beginner punters betting with a full understanding of odds and the classifications as well as factoring the multitude of considerations when placing a horse racing bet, can be fruitful for beginner