When it comes to betting, horse racing is certainly one of the most popular sports out there. It is fair to say that no other sport is so intrinsically linked with gambling and that, to many people, horse racing would be greatly diminished if they hadn’t had a wager on the outcome. That’s not to say the spectacle of horses racing on the flat or over obstacles isn’t worthy of our attention in its own right, but it’s fair to say that the majority of people who regularly watch the sport also have a punt on it.
Given the vast number of races that take place (with around 10,000 races in Great Britain each year alone), there is almost always a race for punters to bet on. The action takes place almost 365 days a year, with multiple meetings on most days. But what bets are available to place on horse racing? In this article, we’ll run through the numerous betting options available to those seeking to wager their hard-earned cash on the races. To keep things relatively simple, we’ll split the bets into categories, starting with the most popular bets and then moving on to some of the more complex and/or less common options, some of which are only available in bricks and mortar betting shops these days rather than with online betting sites.
Most Popular Horse Racing Bets
Here we’ll look at the most popular horse racing bets, the kind that don’t take too much effort to understand and which your average punter would generally turn to. These are the types of bets most likely to be placed by casual and occasional bettors too, for instance when placing a bet on a big race like the Grand National.
The simplest bet to place on a horse race, the “to win” bet is a single bet placed on a horse to win a specified race. The bet can be placed at fixed odds or it can be placed at the starting price (SP) which might be higher or lower than the odds at the time the bet was placed, though most online bookies have a Best Odds Guarantee in place so you shouldn’t lose out if the odds shorten.
To give a basic example, if you bet £10 on a horse priced at odds of 3/1 and it won, you’d get a return of £40, that is £30 in winnings, plus your original £10 stake. If the horse does not win, even if it is second in a photo finish, you lose your bet and your £10 stake.
An each way bet is also a very common option and is actually two bets: one bet on your chosen horse to win the race, one on it to finish in the places. As such, an each way bet costs twice that of a win single (to win) bet. So a £10 each way bet would cost you £20 in total.
If the horse wins the race, you will win both bets (as winning also counts as having finished in the places). If it only places, you will only win the “to place” part of the bet. If it finishes outside of the places, you will lose both bets.
Note that the “to place” bet pays out at a pre-determined fraction of the quoted odds. This can vary but is usually with a quarter or a fifth of the odds. The number of places that count with each way bets also varies depending on both the number of runners in the race and sometimes the type of race (see below). Some bookies will offer extra places for each way bets on the biggest races such as the Grand National, while other will offer enhanced each way terms from time to time.
|Race type||Runners||Places Paid Out||Fraction of Odds|
|Handicaps||12 to 15||3||1/4|
|All races||5 to 7||2||1/4|
|All races||Less than 5||win only||N/A|
This is a bet on a horse to finish in the places in a given race and is essentially the place half of an each way bet, thus requiring just a single stake, rather than two as with an each way punt. Often the number of places paid out is specified in the bet itself, for example, “To place 1-2” (i.e. first or second) or “To place 1-2-3” (i.e. first, second or third). When the bet is simply “to place” the number of places will be specified somewhere in the bet terms and is usually made obvious. Note that the odds are already adjusted for place bets so a horse that is priced at 33/1 to win might be available at 11/1, for example, to place first or second. As such the bet pays at the full odds, rather than a fraction of them.
Forecast – and related – bets involve selecting two or three horses that you think will finish in the top two or three places in a given race. Such bets can usually be made in one of three ways: either as a fixed odds bet, via the Tote system and using their dividend (of which more shortly), or where payment is calculated by (in the case of a straight forecast) the Computer Straight Forecast, an equation that takes into account various factors about the race, runners and odds to give a return based on a £1 stake.
A straight forecast involves picking two horses that have to finish first and second in a specified order.
Essentially like an each way forecast, the reverse forecast involves picking two horses to finish first and second in either order. The reverse forecast is two forecast bets so a £10 reverse forecast would cost £20.
You are still attempting to pick the first and second finishers here but with a combination forecast you select three or more horses, two of whom must finish first and second for the bet to pay out. The more selections you make, the more bets you have (and hence the more it costs). So picking three horses would be six bets, four horses would be 12 bets and five horses would be 20 bets. So a £10 combination forecast with five selections would cost you £200.
This is the same as the straight forecast, but here you are trying to select the first three finishers in the correct order.
Like the combination forecast, you pick three or more selections with the aim of three of them finishing first, second and third. When picking three horses it is the equivalent of the reverse forecast (but is six bets). Four selections could be 24 bets, five would be 60, and up from there, so this can become a very pricey bet if you don’t want to narrow down your choices.
Betting on a horse to win or betting on a horse each way are classed as single bets, but when you combine two or more singles, you create a multiple bet. With multiples, the winnings and stake from the first winning bet are used as the stake for the next bet. With basic multiple bets, all selections must win for the overall wager to win.
Multiple bets must be placed on independent events for instance on two horses to win two different races. In other words, the result of one of the bets does not affect the result of another. In technical parlance, such independent events would not be related contingencies. So a forecast bet, for instance, would not be classified as a multiple bet.
The double is the most basic multiple bet and in relation to horse racing the most common double would be to pick the winners of two different races. They don’t have to be at the same meeting or on the same day or even in the same country.
An example would be backing Jumping Jim to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup at odds of 5/1 and, in the same double, backing Hardy Harry at 10/1 to win the Grand National. If you placed a £10 bet and both horses won, you would get a total return of £660. This is because your first bet wins at 5/1 paying out £60 (£50 winnings plus your stake), which is placed on the second horse at 10/1, paying out £600 in winnings, plus your £60 stake. As you can see, even with just two selections, the return can be very large, but of course the difficulty also increases correspondingly.
You can also place an each way double (which costs twice the stake) that would pay out as long as both horses finished in the places, with payouts based on the corresponding each way terms of each race. If both horses won, you’d win the win double and the each way double.
Trebles work in exactly the same way as doubles but there are three selections, for example picking the winner of three different races. If you picked three winners in a £10 treble and they were each priced at odds of 3/1, your return would be £640 (£630 winnings, plus your £10 stake).
Again, you can opt to place an each way treble which would cost twice your stake. So a £10 each way treble of the aforementioned trio of 3/1 horses would cost £20.
Accumulators – also called accas – are the same as doubles and trebles but include four or more selections. You can also opt for each way accumulators which would be twice the stake of a normal acca, irrespective of how many selections you have. The more selections you pick, the greater the potential winnings, though the risk of at least one of your selections failing to win (or place in the case of an each way acca) also obviously increases.
To illustrate the potential of accumulator bets, if you place a £10 accumulator with 10 selections (known as a 10-fold acca) with each of the selections priced at 2/1, you’d stand to win over half a million pounds if they all won their races… though the chances of that happening are ludicrously small.
Full Cover Bets
A full cover bet includes all possible doubles, trebles and accas from a specified number (three or more) of selections (that are not related). With these bets, there is a little room for manoeuvre in that not all your selections need to win for you to receive a payout (though note that your payout might not always better your initial outlay). One full cover wager actually consists of several bets. For example, a Trixie is four bets, hence a £10 Trixie would cost you £40.
Most Popular Full Cover Bets
- Trixie (3 selections, 4 bets): 3x doubles, 1x treble
- Yankee (4 selections, 11 bets): 6x doubles, 4x trebles, 1x four-fold
- Canadian/Super Yankee (5 selections, 26 bets): 10x doubles, 10x trebles, 5x four-folds, 1x five-fold
- Heinz (6 selections, 57 bets): 21x doubles, 35x trebles, 35x four-folds, 21x five-folds, 7x six-folds and 1x seven-fold
- Super Heinz (7 selections, 120 bets): 21x doubles, 35x trebles, 35x four-folds, 21x five-folds, 7x six-folds and 1x seven-fold
- Goliath (8 selections, 247 bets): 28x doubles, 56x trebles, 70x four-folds, 56x five-folds, 28x six-folds, 8x seven-folds and 1x eight-fold
A minimum of two selections must win for any kind of payout, though for the larger bets you would generally need more than that to get anywhere near a profit (given that, for example, a £10 Goliath would set you back £2,470).
Full Cover Bets With Singles
Full cover bets with singles are – as you might have guessed by the less-than-mysterious name – similar to the full cover bets mentioned, but they also include all possible singles. This means that you would only need one of your selections to win to get some kind of return. Though of course if you have one winner from a bet with 31 bets (like the Lucky 31) and hence 31 stakes, you’re very unlikely to make a profit.
Most Popular Full Cover Bets With Singles
- Patent (3 selections, 7 bets): 3x singles, 3x doubles, 1x treble
- Lucky 15 (4 selections, 15 bets): 4x singles, 6x doubles, 4x trebles, 1x four-fold
- Lucky 31 (5 selections, 31 bets): 5x singles, 10x doubles, 10x trebles, 5x four-folds, 1x five-fold
- Lucky 63 (6 selections, 63 bets): 6x singles, 15x doubles, 20x trebles, 15x four-folds, 6x five-folds, 1x six-fold
- Alphabet (6 selections, 26 bets): 2x patents, 1x yankee, 1x five-fold
Note that the Alphabet is slightly different to the others mentioned. Like the Lucky 63, it includes six selections, but it splits the selections so that the first three selections are included in one Patent, and the other three selections (four, five and six) are included in a second patent. As well as the six-fold acca containing all six selections, there is also a Yankee made up of selections two, three, four and five. So two patents with seven bets in each, a Yankee with 11 bets and the single six-fold makes 26 bets in total. Got all that?
Also known as parimutuel betting, tote betting is different to fixed-odds betting because the payout is based on a dividend that is worked out based on the betting pool, that is the amount of money placed on the market in question. As such, when you place a tote bet you will not know what you are going to win if your selection is successful. Sometimes a tote dividend can be greater than the equivalent fixed-odds bet, sometimes it can go the other way although there are various guarantees and bonuses available with the different tote bets on offer.
Single Leg Tote Bets
Tote bets are split into single leg bets and multi leg bets, with a single leg being one specific race and multi leg being more than one race. Here are the single leg tote options.
- Totewin – Similar to a the fixed-odds win single, you just pick the horse you think will win a given race and you’ll be paid out based on the calculated dividend
- Toteplace – Similar to the fixed-odds to place bet, and pays out to various places based on the number of runners as follows: in races with 5, 6 or 7 runners place dividends are paid for first and second place; in handicaps with 8-15 runners and non-handicaps with 8+ runners, place dividends are paid for first, second and third place; in handicap races with 16+ runners, place dividends are paid on the first four places
- Exacta – The same as a fixed-odds straight forecast, with some additional variations often available such as the Combination Exacta (also known as a Quinella, like a reverse forecast) and the Banker Exacta where you pick your “banker” horse and add two or more horses of whom one must finish second to land the bet, with the stake increasing based on the number you opt for
- Trifecta – The same as the straight tricast, picking the first three horses in a race. Again there is the option for a Combination Trifecta or the Banker Trifecta
- Swinger – A less common option available on races of six runners or more, you pick two horses you think will finish in the top three, with various dividends for the following three winning outcomes: first and second, first and third, second and third, all in any order
Multi Leg Tote Bets
Here are the main multi leg tote bets available.
- Placepot – A popular bet that applies to the first six races at any UK meeting, the punter picks a horse (or more than one, for additional stakes) from each race. If the horse, or one of the selected horses, places in every race, the Placepot is a winner and a dividend is paid out
- Quadpot – Similar to the Placepot but this applies to the third to sixth races at a given UK meeting. Again the punter is trying to pick a horse from each race that finishes in the places
- Jackpot – Here the punter tries to pick the winners from the first six races at a nominated meeting. If there are no winners, the jackpot will roll to the next Jackpot meeting and it can grow to very large amounts. This has a minimum stake of 50p per line
- Scoop6 – Similar to the Jackpot but usually on Saturday meetings or bigger events and has a greater minimum stake (£2 per line). As with the Jackpot, if there are no winners, the prize fund will roll to the following Scoop6 event
Any To Come Bets
Also referred to as “if cash” bets (and sometimes other names), this is where things can get a little more complicated than even the full cover bets. We won’t go into a great deal of detail here, partly because these bets are rarely if ever offered at online betting sites. If you are keen to place this type of bet you will generally have to go to a high street betting shop, though even then it might be reliant on someone working there remembering the ins and outs of such wagers.
These bets are conditional, meaning that part of the bet is only placed if the other part wins, or wins sufficiently. We’ll just give four examples of Any To Come bets, though there are various others that exist, even though they will rarely be encountered these days.
- Up-and-down – Consists of two single bets; if one of the two bets wins, the stake is placed on the other bet as an extra bet. If both bets win, the original stakes from each are placed on the other bet. If just one bet wins, you get the winnings for that bet but you lose both stakes
- Round Robin – This includes three selections and has 10 bets in total, made up of three doubles, one treble and three up-and-down bets, as described above. Essentially this is a Trixie bet with three up-and-down bets bolted on for good measure
- Flag – We have four selections here with 23 bets made up of six doubles, four trebles, a four-fold and six up-and-down bets. In other words, it could be viewed as a Yankee with the addition of six up-and-downs
- Super Flag – Five selections and whopping 46 bets here made up of 10 doubles, 10 trebles, five four-folds, one five-fold and 10 up-and-downs
Ante Post Horse Racing Bets
Many of the bets mentioned, though not all, can be placed as “ante post” bets, that is before the final field of a race has been confirmed. The advantage of this is that the odds are often more generous because there is a chance the horse on which you are betting might not feature in the race. The downside is that if you take the ante post price and the horse doesn’t end up running in the race, whether through injury, the trainer decides to race them elsewhere or any other reason, you won’t get a refund on your stake unless there is a specific betting offer available when you place the bet.
You would also not generally qualify for Best Odds Guaranteed on ante post bets, so if you took the early price and the starting price drifted to a larger price, you would still only be paid out at the odds you took.
Additional Horse Racing Bets
As well as the common and well-defined horse racing bets, there are loads of other less popular options available. In addition, there are often a range of weird and wonderful special bets that pop up at various times with some of the bigger bookies. These often appear around the time of big racing festivals such as the Cheltenham Festival or perhaps they relate to just a single big race such as the Grand National. Here are some of the more unusual wagering options and special bets that pop up from time to time at horse racing betting sites.
- Betting Without – This market, or one with a similar name, involves betting on runners after a named favourite (or other runner) has been excluded from the odds. This can be handy when there’s a very short-priced favourite who appears unbeatable
- Winning Margin – This is a bet on the margin of victory in lengths of either a named horse or just of the eventual winner
- Top Trainer – Based on a specific race meeting, this is a bet on which trainer will saddle the most winners
- Top jockeys – As above but based on which jockey will ride the most winners
- Number of Finishers – Occasionally a bet you will find when the Grand National rolls around, simply predicting how many runners will complete the race
- England Versus Ireland – A bet you will often find for the Cheltenham Festival, you are predicting whether Irish or English trainers will saddle more winners at the Festival. At Cheltenham this is known as the Prestbury Cup
Betting At A Racecourse
Generally, the majority of the bets mentioned are not available when placing bets with course-side bookies when you go to the races in person. Having said that, most courses will have betting shops or Tote outlets at the course that could accommodate most of the above, but the old-school bookies next to the track will often only take win and each way singles, though some might offer more options from time to time. We go into more details about betting at a racecourse in our dedicated article on the subject.
In-play betting has grown hugely popular over the last decade or so, with the advent of mobile wagering making it really easy to place a bet whenever and wherever you want. In-play bets are ones that are made once an event, in our case a race, has already started. Whilst live betting is huge business, when it comes to horse racing it is not a major part of wagering on the sport.
Other sports lend themselves better to this type of punting for a range of reasons but if you decide you want to give in-play horse racing betting a go we suggest caution. Unless you are actually at the track, there is a fair chance that any stream or broadcast of a race is anything from a second or two, right up to 10 seconds or more, delayed. That means that other punters may have a better idea about what is happening in a race than you. Indeed, in extreme scenarios you may actually be betting on a horse that has already fallen, for example.
When it comes to in-play bets on the horses it is usually just the standard win market that is available. In addition, not all bookies offer in-play wagering on horse racing, though exchanges usually do.