Your ultimate guide to betting on the races

a horse being led in from a race through crowds

The sport of kings has been a part of the cultural landscape in the UK and Ireland for centuries. From the days when Queen Anne would have her coach drawn up on Newmarket Heath to the modern world of sectional timing, online betting and global coverage, betting on horse racing has captured the imagination of generations of sports fans and those who simply love the thrill of the race.

To those who are new to horse racing betting, however, it can be daunting to get involved. Horse racing in the UK comes with plenty of jargon that you may struggle to get to grips with. The basics of horse racing betting, however, are straightforward.

Horse racing betting basics

Horse racing in the UK and Ireland comes in two forms known as Flat and National Hunt. The most significant difference between the two is that National Hunt racing usually involves the jumping of obstacles, either hurdles or fences, and the best National Hunt racing is staged between October and April, while there are no obstacles in flat racing, which is at its peak between May and September.

You can bet on a wide range of horse racing markets either in-person at the racecourse, online or in a betting shop. The most common form of betting on horse racing is a single bet on the winner of a race, but you can also bet on a horse to finish in the top three or four, wager on the outcome of multiple races combined or try to predict the finishing order of the first three.


To help you make your choice, there are numerous racing publications available in the UK and Ireland, both in legacy media and online. Bookmakers will also usually provide a wealth of information on the horses, jockeys and trainers, whether online or in retail betting shops.

Choosing a bookmaker

There are hundreds of horse racing betting sites available to the modern racing fan, which means that you can afford to be discerning when deciding which to bet with. Here are some of the key factors you may wish to bear in mind when choosing a bookmaker to bet on horse racing.

  • How comprehensive is its race coverage?
  • Competitiveness of odds compared to other bookmakers.
  • Attractiveness of any bonus offers.
  • Does it offer live streaming, stats or other information to help you make your bet?
  • How easy is the site to use?

It is always a good idea to check several bookmakers to find the brand that best suits your needs, and you should always be prepared to shop around for the best odds and betting service. The good news for newcomers is that the basics of betting are easy to pick up and the bookmaking industry is focused on making it easy for newcomers to make their bets.

Betting on horses for fun

Betting on horse racing is, technically, not about random chance. As with other forms of sports betting, it differs from casino gambling, which is governed entirely by randomness. Technically, it is possible to make a long-term profit from betting on any sport. In practice, however, this is so difficult that it is beyond the reach of most horse racing bettors.

A tiny minority of horse racing bettors may roughly break even, but the number who can come close to making a long-term profit is smaller still, and those are usually people who have significant time, money and expertise to invest. For most of us, betting on the horses is a leisure pastime, a chance to pit our wits against the bookmakers, and a way of adding extra interest to a sports event. This is the healthiest and most enjoyable way to go about your betting.  

Watch and learn

Although there is plenty of information about horse racing out there, and many horse racing bettors spend a lot of their time buried in the racing form, it is important to remember that horses and jockeys are not simply names and numbers on a page.

Horse racing is a living, breathing sport, and horses are remarkable creatures. You will learn more about it through watching as much as you can, as you will through studying the form.

Watching as much racing as possible will give you a deeper understanding of the sport, will help you to appreciate the competitors and will boost your horse racing betting, while enhancing your enjoyment of the horse racing spectacle.

Tips to boost your horse racing betting

There are many ways to improve your horse racing betting, and while you are unlikely to become a long-term profitable bettor, this advice may help you to reduce your losses and boost your chances of landing the occasional significant win:

  • Always check the odds at multiple bookmakers to find the best price.
  • Focus on one area of racing to improve your knowledge.
  • Never chase your losses.
  • Try to predict how the race will be run.
  • Don’t overlook the importance of the jockey in helping a horse to win.
  • Bet to your strengths, whether that is stats analysis, race watching or horse knowledge.
  • Keep a record of your bets and analyse it periodically.
  • Consider the track conditions and how they will affect the way that the race is run.
  • Focus on young, improving horses.
  • Study the record of the trainer.

Betting on horse racing responsibly

Horse racing betting should be fun, but like any form of gambling, it can become addictive for some people under certain circumstances. Often people who have a gambling problem don’t realise the extent of their addiction.

To help you stay safe and bet on horses responsibly, make sure that you only bet with licensed, reputable bookmakers, and that you never bet with money that you cannot afford to lose. Set strict limits in terms of time and money that you spend betting. If you are worried about your betting, seek help or advice from one of the many gambling support resources operating in the UK and Ireland.

Feature image by Josh Chiodo on Unsplash

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