Horseracing is the second most televised sport (after football) and has been a part of British culture since at least the 17th century. It’s evolved dramatically over the years but one of the biggest innovations occurred when professional on-course bookmakers were permitted. In 1961 betting on the nags away from the racecourse became legal too and the high street bookmaker was born. Since then all manner of different types of bets have been thought up and this can be quite confusing so we have put together a dummies guide to backing a horse:
Types of Races
Flat Racing - As explained by the name this is a race that is contested over a flat course that includes no hurdles or jumps. Purists of the sport consider this to be the main draw in horse racing as without the falls and spill jumping over the obstacles it’s all about the horses, the jockeys and the track.
Flat races in the UK are roughly between 5 furlongs (1,006m) and two miles. The shorter races are classed as sprints, medium length races are classed as middle distance and the longer races classed as stayers.
Hurdles & Steeplechases - Hurdle races involve the horse’s jumping over a constructed fence, hedge or hurdle on the track. These are usually made to a minimum height of 3 feet 6 inches. Steeplechase races involve horses jumping over a fence with either an open ditch or pool of water after the jump. The obstacles are usually built more solidly than hurdles meaning the horses must jump higher to clear them. These races are split into categories based on age and experience.
There are lots of different types of classes in horse racing but to keep it as simple as possible, Grades and Groups of race usually go in order of skill with Grade 1 and Group One races the best and numerically going down the less skilled and less experienced horses take part. There are all different types of race however with novice, maiden, amateur and more happening below these grades and groups.
Form & Rating
Form - A horse’s form is based on his experience and performance over its previous races. This isn’t definitive though as if a horse has been winning races it might be moved up in class and struggle against better opposition, on the flip side if a horse has lost a previous race and been moved down in class and win against the supposed lesser opposition so it’s worth seeing the class of its previous race and how it performed.
Rating - The British Horse Racing Authority is tasked with assessing the ability of each individual racehorse based on their performances at the track. This is done in a numeric rating system with the highest rated flat race horse of all time, Frankel receiving a rating of 140. Ratings in jumps races aren’t quite as well established having only used since the 1970’s. Kauto Star’s massive rating of 190 makes him the best chaser of all time with Istabraq top of the hurdles on 176.
It’s not an exact science but you just know though if you've spent a lot of time studying form, and your girlfriend has picked a horse on the name or the pink silks, brace yourself for the inevitable...
Bookmakers take the form, rating and class into account and assign a set of odds to a horse based on their perceived likelihood of it winning that particular race. Odds can be viewed as either a fraction or a decimal and they both mean the same thing. For example:
5/1 is equal to 6.0 decimal odds
5/1 - The figure on the left (5/1) represents the bookies confidence, and the right hand side (5/1) is your stake. For a 5/1 bet if you’re willing to stake £10, the bookie is willing to stake £50 against it, should it win you would get your stake back and the £50 staked by the bookie against it (£60 total). Should you lose, you lose the £10 and nothing more.
6.0 - The same as above but it can be a simpler way of viewing odds. To work it out just multiply your stake by this number (£10 stake x 6.0 = £60 total back)
Type of Bet
When it comes to betting on horses there are many different types of bets you can do but we’re going to keep it as simple as possible and focus on the two main types of betting for horse racing, Win and Each-Way (E/W) bets.
Win - A win bet is fairly self-explanatory, if you bet on a horse to win and it comes in first place you collect your winnings.
Each Way (E/W) - An E/W bet is selection offered by bookmakers consisting of two separate bets: a win bet and a place bet all in one. For the win part of the bet to give a return it must finish first. For the place part of the bet to give a return, the selection must either win or finish in one of the predetermined places for the event, such as first place or second place (sometimes 3rd and 4th place too depending on the amount of runners).
Placing a Bet
There are two main places to place a bet for horseracing, online or at the bookmaker (or tote if you’re at the track).
Online - Placing a bet is incredibly easy online, you select your horse, state the amount you wish to stake and by default this is a win bet, if you tick the e/w box it then changes to an each way bet. Click confirm and it’s done.
Bookmaker (tote) - Placing a bet at the tote or bookmaker is easy too, you just need to tell them how much you’d like to stake, the type of bet, the horse and then the race. For example:
“£10 win on Thistlecrack in the 2.40 at Ascot”
Once you have all of these simple tips mastered you can continue to learn more about betting, handicapping, form and accumulators which all together will turn you from the perennial loser to the bookies worst nightmare.
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