To the uninitiated, betting on the horses may seem to be a complex cross between rocket science and brain surgery, with the added peril that it can make you penniless. However, armed with a few very basic bits of information – to be found here, handily – you can navigate your way through this seeming minefield to safety and, hopefully, profit on the other side. Check out the basics below, open a betting account or two and have a few small practice bets: before you know it you’ll be an expert.

Where To Bet

In order to place a bet, you're going to need a bookie willing to accept it. For those of us in the UK, betting (both online and via a high street bookmaker) is completely legal and so there are plenty of places to choose from. For specific recommendations of reputable companies, see our betting sites page

However, if you're just looking for somewhere to place a bet, here are our top picks:

  • BetVictor - Offering a massive SIX places on the Grand National, that's more than any other bookie and literally means the difference between your bet potentially winning and losing. More details on the BetVictor website. 
  • Coral - Or if you're looking for a quick sign up, you can register with Coral using PayPal in a couple of clicks. Plus faller insurance should your horse fail to make it to the end of the race. Click here for more details.

How Do Betting Odds Work?

Before you do anything you’ll need to know how odds work and luckily this is quite straightforward. Traditionally in the UK odds are specified as fractions, although in Europe and at betting exchanges like Betfair they are usually expressed in decimal form.

Using the UK system, if a horse’s odds are 2/1 this means that if you bet £1, you make £2 profit (you get £3 back as you also get your stake, or bet, back). Decimal odds are the fractional value plus one: so 2/1 is 3.00. The decimal odds specify how much you will get back from the bookmaker (based on a £1 bet) including your stake, whilst the fractional odds say what profit you will make.

We will stick to fractions here, as that is the prevalent method in the UK, especially with regards the Sport of Kings. Not all odds are described as “something to one” though. For example, you may see a horse at 5/2. This means that if you bet £2, you make a profit of £5 (you also get your stake back remember). This could be expressed as 2.5/1 but you will always see it as 5/2. These are just the odds, however, you don’t need to bet £2 in this instance, with a £1 bet returning a profit of £2.50 and a £4 bet a profit of a tenner.

If a horse is a strong favourite to win a race it will sometimes be “odds-on”. As you look at the odds, this means that the number on the bottom/right (the amount you bet – called the denominator) is bigger than the number on the top/left (your profit – called the numerator). For example, the great horse Frankel started some races at 1/10, meaning that if you bet £10 you would have got £11 back, a profit of just £1. As 1/10 is odds-on it will sometimes also be written, and particularly spoken, as "10/1 on" (ten-to-one on).

Different Types of Bet

Now you know how the odds work, let’s look at some different types of bet…

Win Bet

There are a number of different types of bets you can place and the simplest and probably most common is the win bet. This is one bet, on one outcome and you are backing the horse to win the race. Told you it was neither rocket science nor brain surgery!

Each Way

Another hugely popular bet is to back a horse each way. This is effectively two bets, with one going on the horse to win and the other going on it to “place”. The place terms vary according to the type of race and number of horses in it, although it’s normally for your horse to finish in the top three. The place portion of your bet pays out at a fraction of the main odds and again this varies but is usually 1/4.

So, if you have a £10 each way bet on a horse at 4/1 that will cost you £20, with £10 on the win and £10 on the place part of the bet. If it wins both bets win, so you get £10 x 4 = £40, plus your £10 stake back for the win portion. You also get your each way bet too, so ¼ of 4/1 is 1/1, or evens, so you get £10 plus your stake of £10 so £20 in total. Overall you get £70 for a profit of £50. If the horse finished second, third or fourth you would lose your £10 win bet but make £10 profit from the each way win to leave you level overall.

Each way bets are usually only used on horses at relatively long odds as otherwise you can still end up losing overall if your pick doesn’t win but only places. They can be a great way to back an outsider and still profit if makes the places with a huge bonus should it really cause an upset and win.

Single Bet

This is where you are backing just one, single event. So if you back Big Banana in the 12.30 at Bangor that is a single bet. This could either be, as above, to win (a win single) or each way.

Mutliple Bets

There are numerous different types of multiple bet. Starting from the most simple, a double, up to the complex, almost ridiculous Goliath, which actually includes 247 separate bets in one single wager.

A double involves backing two separate events, for example Big Banana to win the aforementioned 12.30 at Bangor (hypothetically at 2/1) and Synaptic Explosion to win the 15.00 at Wetherby (at evens). Both bets must win for you to succeed. A £1 double would cost you £1 and if both horses deliver you would get £6 back. After the first horse wins you effectively have £3 (£1 stake plus £2 profit) on the second horse at evens, resulting in a payout of £6 and profit of £5.

A treble is the same concept but with three selections. As well as being called multiple bets these are also known as accumulators, or accas for short. You may hear the terms fourfold, fivefold and so on, referring to accumulators with that number of selections.

In addition to these simple multiples you also have various combination bets such as the previously mentioned Goliath. With these you have multiple selections (for example a Yankee has four) and you cover the various doubles, trebles and, in this case, a fourfold. A Yankee is 11 bets in total: six doubles, four trebles and one fourfold. You need at least two picks to win to get anything back and as it is 11 bets, a £1 Yankee would cost £11.

Straight Forecast

This requires you to pick the top two horses in a race, in the correct finishing order. The odds will be set for that particular outcome, so the forecast of Lucky Jim (first) and Bad Luck Bob (second) might be 12/1 and to win you need that exact outcome. For this reason the bet is known in the US as an Exacta.

Reverse Forecast

Similar to the above but the horses can finish in any order. This is effectively two bets, so a £10 reverse forecast would cost £20.

Tricast

One for the brave – pick the top three horses in the correct order. Big rewards await the successful here.

Rule Four Deductions

We would have included this with the explanation of the odds but didn’t want to confuse things. One thing to look out for when betting on the horses is that if there are late withdrawals your odds can sometimes change slightly. The odds are set based on the horses running at that time but if one or more withdraw, for example due to a late injury or the ground being deemed unsuitable, then your odds may be subject to a rule four deduction.

If there is a non-runner announced after the final declaration for the race your odds are reduced in accordance with the odds of the horse that was withdrawn. This allows for the fact that stakes are refunded on non-runners and the odds on all the other runners winning become shorter if there are fewer horses in the race.

The amount of the deduction varies according to the odds of the withdrawn competitor. If a strong favourite at a very low price, say 1/5 or 5/1 on (same thing) is withdrawn the deduction will be high as all the other horses now have a significantly better chance of winning, whereas the non-running of a 100/1 shot will have much less impact on the likely winner and so the deduction is far less.

Rule 4 Deduction Table

Below you'll find a table of the relevant Rule 4 deduction based on the odds of the horse that has pulled out of the race. Each deduction is provided as pence in the pound and is based on any payouts you may have.

  • 1/9 or Shorter - 90p
  • 2/11 to 2/17 - 85p
  • 1/4 to 1/5 - 80p
  • 3/10 to 2/7 - 75p
  • 2/5 to 1/3 - 70p
  • 8/15 to 4/9 - 65p
  • 8/13 to 4/7 - 60p
  • 4/5 to 4/6 - 55p
  • 20/21 to 5/6 - 50p
  • Evens to 6/5 - 45p
  • 5/4 to 6/4 - 40p
  • 13/8 to 7/4 - 35p
  • 15/8 to 9/4 - 30p
  • 5/2 to 3/1 - 25p
  • 10/3 to 4/1 - 20p
  • 9/2 to 11/2 - 15p
  • 6/1 to 9/1 - 10p
  • 10/1 to 14/1 - 5p
  • Over 14/1 - No Deduction

Rule 4 Examples

So if you bet on a race where the favourite was withdrawn at odds of Evens (2.0), you would lose 45p for every pound won. Therefore if your horse had come in at 10/1 and you had placed £10 to win, you would have £45 of your £100 profit removed resulting in an adjusted payout of £55 (plus your £10 stake).

If, on the otherhand, the horse that was withdraw also had odds of 10/1, you would only have £5 removed from your winnings - leaving a profit of £95.

Some bookmakers, particularly those with a strong online presence, have chosen to scrap the 5p Rule 4 deduction. This means that, for those bookies at least, no deductions are made if the horse that has been withdrawn had odds of 10/1 or higher.