The home of intelligent horse racing discussion
The home of intelligent horse racing discussion

Basics of Betting on Horse Racing: All You Need to Know

So you want to have a horse racing bet? And why not? it’s not known as the sport of kings without good reason. This is a seriously fun sport that has, from generation after generation, been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding pastimes for anyone with even a passing interest in the great game.

The adrenalin of backing a winner can almost be indescribable. But even if things don’t quite go to plan, the beauty of horse racing is that there is always another day.

But where to begin? The issue that horse racing has always faced throughout the ages is the assumption that it is too complicated. On face value, that could be seen as an accurate belief.

In truth, though, it is the complete opposite. This handy guide on how to bet on horse racing – on and off the course – attempts to demystify the sport by proving just how easy it is to understand the sport. And how you might be able to enjoy a winner or two along the way!

How to Bet on Horses

Having a flutter is all part of the magic of a day at the races.

And though placing a bet might seem a bit daunting at first, it’s actually a piece of cake!

There are two ways to place a WIN bet at the races. You can either go to the bookmakers, who are easily spotted in front of the grandstands and will all be set up in a row close to one another. Or you can place a horse racing bet online.

But before all that, it’s down to you to find a winner.

First, choose the horse you’d like to back by using a raceday programme. The raceday programme provides handy tips and advice to help you reach your decision. Racing experts often get it wrong, though, so it might be more of a giggle choosing a horse because you like its name or the jockey’s silks.

It’s lovely watching the horses before they head out onto the track, so a visit to the parade ring can also be a fun thing to do at this point.

Once you’ve made your choice, take note of the horse’s number, which can be found in the racecard, online or in the industry newspaper. Give this number to an on-course bookmaker – along with how much you’d like to wager – and ask for a WIN bet on your selection.

You can put on a horse as little as £2, so there’s never any danger of feeling intimidated or under pressure when you do have a flutter.

In exchange for your “stake” (how much you want to bet) you’ll be given a betting ticket in return. And now your bet has been placed, go find a nice spot to cheer on your horse – as loudly as possible.

What Happens Next?

And if you are a lucky winner, it’s time to pick up your winnings. It’s now a case of returning your winning ticket – the price of your horse should be printed out on the winning betting slip – to the bookmaker with whom you placed the bet and let the good times roll.

And that’s it. It’s as simple as that. Told you it was a doddle!

Simple Ways to Make an Informed Horse Racing Bet 

So now you know how to bet on horses – both on the track and offline – now it’s time to find a winner!

This is, of course, not easy. No matter how much hard graft you put into trying to place a winning horse racing bet, live sport never tends to read the script. And that’s certainly the case when it comes to betting on animals – in this case thoroughbred horses often galloping at over 40mph.

There are, however, ways in which you have a chance to stay ahead of the field. Here, we offer some well-known strategies that could increase your chances of making a profit when it comes to betting on horse racing.


This can be complicated. The more you delve into the welter of statistics and data that are these days available at a click or two of a button, the more overwhelming it can become. In reality, though, assessing the form of a racehorse could not be any easier.

When you look at a horse in a racecard, you will see prominent numbers alongside its name. So, for example,  if you see a horse whose form reads, 11150, this means that horse has won three races, then finished fifth and then finished down the field.

Bookmakers offer prices for horses depending upon recent form. In the case of the above horse, it was clearly on a hot streak but has seemingly lost its form. However, could there have been extenuating circumstances? Was the horse stepped up too far in class, for instance? Were conditions against the horse on its last two starts?

 Such imponderables can be great fun to examine and are a big part of the mystique of horse racing. But the best advice for newcomers to the sport is to keep things simple. The better the horse’s form, the shorter the odds – and vice versa. Knowing how to read and understand horse racing terminology, is also a great way to hone your betting skills.


If we dig a little deeper into betting on horses, even a passing knowledge of trainers could prove invaluable.

Of course there are big-name trainers that even most once-a-year-punters are aware of. Willie Mullins is the king of horses running over jumps (hurdles and fences), while Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden are masters of their trade.

But even the greats have quiet spells, so it is often best to give their recent form a quick scan – either online or in an industry newspaper.

Little-known trainers should not be discounted, either. Perhaps they are firmly on the way to the top, or maybe they have their horses in flying form? Or perhaps they excel with horses of a certain age bracket or over a certain distance?

These sort of questions are easily answered, and could give you a head start before placing a horse racing bet.


Studying the form of jockeys mirrors that of assessing trainers’ records. Household names like Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore require little introduction. But even the greats of the sport have lean spells, so it is always worth checking if they are in a happy place before placing a bet.

This is the same for other jockeys – all of whom suffer have suffered crises of confidence or spurts of electric form throughout their careers. This is a significant factor before placing a bet as a horse, more often than not, is only as good as its jockey.


Before placing a horse racing bet, it is often a good idea to check whether or not your selection has raced before at the track at which they are running.

This is important as some horses react differently to their environment. Perhaps they like running up a hill or around a bend? Perhaps they come alive competing around tight tracks with twisting turns, or maybe they are in their element along a big, long straight? ‘Horses for courses’ has become a cliché over the years. But clichés are often truisms when it comes to horse racing and this one is consistently bang on the money when it comes to having a bet on the sport.


The Great British weather often throws a spanner in the works and this is also true with horse racing. It is therefore a wise idea to keep close tabs on how conditions are – or might become – at racecourses at which your selection is due to run.

Perhaps a horse runs well on really fast ground and dislikes any loosening of the turf? Perhaps a horse is in its element when the ground gets heavy due to incessant showers.

Ground conditions, and horses’ ability to handle variants of going, are easily available online or in an industry newspaper – and could give you the edge before placing a horse racing bet.


Keep an eye on the odds of horses before placing a bet. If a horse gets bigger in the market (often known as a ‘drifter’) this can be a bad sign as it means it is not fancied to go well. On the other hand, if a horse gets shorter in the betting, this can often mean a horse is expected to run with honour.

Timing, in this instance, is everything and makes the allure of betting on horses that much more compelling.

So now you have learned about the basic principles of having a bet on the horses, why not put theory into practice by giving it a go yourself?

 Good luck!

18+. Please gamble responsibly.




For support, contact the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133 or visit For more information please visit our Safer Gambling Page.