Betting on Horse Racing in the UK – a Beginner’s Guide

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UK Horse Racing and Flag

Visit any UK gambling site which offers action on sports, and you’ll likely find an entire section of the site dedicated to horse racing.

Betting on the horses is an ingrained part of UK culture, and ever since Victorian times, aristocrats and working men and women alike have been wagering on their favourite horses at a host of annual events.

In this complete guide to UK horse racing betting, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about betting on the horses. From the hottest annual races, to the different types of bets you can make, to some tips and tricks to help you win more often, this is the GamblingSites.org guide to betting on horses in the UK.

A Short History of Horse Racing in the UK

  • Horse racing in the UK has its roots in medieval times. When knights returned from the Crusades with Arab horses, they bred them with English horses to create the first Thoroughbreds. They raced these for the pleasure of the Monarch and both honour and coin.
  • King Charles II organized some of the first official horse races in the historical record. These two-horse races were run at Newmarket between 1660 and 1685. Newmarket is one of the epicentres of UK horse racing to this day.
  • During the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) horse racing became a professional sport. She arranged the first multi-horse races, and it’s a well-known fact the wagers were placed openly between spectators and the public. Queen Anne founded Ascot Racecourse in 1711, and lots of other racecourses opened and flourished across the UK.
  • In 1750, some of the top jockeys of the day came together and established the Jockey Club along with a formal set of rules, further legitimizing UK horse racing.
  • In 1839, the first ever Grand National took place at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool. As you’ll learn in one of the following sections, this is the main event as far as UK horse racing betting goes today.
  • Today, horse racing is the second biggest spectator sport in the UK. It’s a mega-industry worth £3.7 billion to the UK economy annually. Betting on horses helps the industry survive, and the Horserace Betting Levy Board collects a levy from bookmakers to help fund and improve horse racing in the UK.

Different Types of Bets You Can Make on Horse Racing

One of the most confusing elements of betting on horse racing is all of the different bets you can make. Horse racing has its own language, to some extent. As a new punter, you have to wrap your head around these terms.

Don’t worry, your mates at GamblingSites.org have done the hard work for you. These are the main types of horse racing bets you need to know about.

Single

This is the simplest and easiest bet to make. You try to pick the winner of a race. I recommend making this type of best if it’s your first time betting on horse racing. Much like any other type of bet, the bookmakers will give you odds on each horse. For example, if you wager £5 on a 100/1 longshot and it wins, you’ll take home £500.

Each Way

With an each way bet, you’re wagering on a horse to either win outright or be placed. The term “placed” is fluid, and it depends on how many runners there are in a race.

For example, in a race with between five to seven runners, only the first two places pay. However, if there are 16 or more runners, the first four places can pay.

If your horse places, you’ll be paid 1/4 of the betting odds at most bookies. Since this is technically two bets, a £1 each way wager would cost you £2. If your horse wins, you win both bets, whereas if it places, you only win the place portion of the bet.

Accumulators

Accumulators are also known as ACCAs. They’re simple enough to understand. ACCAs consist of one bet with multiple selections, and they all need to win for the ACCA to pay out. You can win some serious money on horse racing ACCAs.

Two-pick accumulators are called doubles, three picks are called trebles, and any larger number of picks are known as four-fold, five-fold, etc.

Exotic Bets

As you become more knowledgeable about betting on horses, you might delve into the so-called “exotic bets.” I don’t recommend these for beginners, but if you’re starting to feel comfortable and often win with singles and ACCAs, it might be time to look closer at some of these.

  • Trixies – Trixie bets consist of four bets on three different events. Specifically, you’ll make three doubles and one treble. In order to get a return on a Trixie, you’ll need to win at least two of your bets.
  • Patents – To place a patent bet, you’ll need to make seven bets involving three selections across different events. This involves single bets on each selection plus three doubles and a treble. One win guarantees a return, but the more picks you get right, the greater your returns will be.
  • Yankee – This consists of 11 bets involving four selections in different events. You have to place six doubles, four trebles, and an accumulator. At least two of your picks must be correct to get a payout. Again, the more picks you get right, the greater your returns will be.
  • Lucky 15 – As the name suggests, this bet involves 15 bets made across four selections in different events. All in all, a Lucky 15 Bet consists of four singles, six doubles, four trebles, and a four-fold bet. If they all win, you’ll get an additional 20% bonus. Even if only one of your picks wins, you’ll receive treble the odds.
  • Canadian – This bet is sometimes called a Super Yankee. You’ll have to make 26 bets, five selections in different events. The bet consists of 10 doubles, 10 trebles, five four-folds, and an ACCA. Two must be successful to get a return.
  • Lucky 31 – If you’re feeling super lucky, you can place this bet involving 31 bets, five selections across different events. You’ll place five singles, 10 doubles, 10 trebles, five four-folds, and a five-fold ACCA. If one selection wins, you’ll get four times the odds. If four selections win, you’ll get a 15% bonus. If all of your picks win, you’ll get a 25% bonus.
  • Heinz – There are 57 varieties of Heinz baked beans, and this wager involves 57 bets in six selections across different events. Specifically, it involves 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 four-folds, six five-folds, and a six-fold ACCA. You’ll need to win at least two picks to get a return.
  • Lucky 63 – Are you ready to make 63 bets involving six selections in different events? Specifically, are you ready to place six singles, 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 four-folds, six five-folds, and a six-fold ACCA? You’ll get five times the odds if only one of your selections wins, you’ll get a 25% bonus if five selections win, and a 33% bonus if all six selections win.
  • Super Heinz – This one involves 120 bets placed on seven selections in different events. That’s 21 doubles, 35 trebles, 35 four-folds, 21 five-folds, seven six-folds, and a seven-fold ACCA. Two have to come good for any return.
  • Goliath – The Goliath involves 247 bets on eight selections in different events. It consists of 28 doubles, 56 trebles, 70 four-folds, 56 five-folds, 28 six-folds, eight seven-folds, and an eight-fold ACCA. You have to get at least two selections right to get a return.

As you can see, some of the more advanced exotic horse racing wagers aren’t for the faint of heart. Winning them will take an incredible stroke of luck, but as most horse racing punters will tell you, Lady Luck operates in mysterious ways, and stranger things have happened. I don’t recommend them for beginners, though. You really need to know your horse racing inside-out before you have a chance of winning these by anything other than dumb luck.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of all the different horse racing bets which UK punters can make. However, I thought I’d stop here since this is a beginner’s guide. Some of the others would make your head explode.

The Anatomy of a Horse Racing Bet

Betting on the horses works a lot like betting on any other sport, but I’m not going to assume you know a thing about any of that. Since this is a beginners guide, I’ll explain how betting on horse racing works including the odds, the bet slip, etc.

How to Bet on Horse Racing

What you see above is called a bet slip. At all horse racing betting sites, this is where you’ll confirm your wagers and make your selections.

As you can see, there are several elements to the bet slip:
Horse Race Betting Slip

  • The name of the horse, Miss Miami.
  • The type of bets, in this case, win and each way.
  • The odds of the outcome, 10/3.
  • My stake and potential return, £10 and £43.33.
  • The yellow “Place Bet” button which would confirm my bet.
  • An optional box to place additional each way bets.


I’m not going to take the optional each way bets for now. Until you know more about betting on horse racing, I suggest you ignore them. Instead, follow this process to place your first horse racing bet.

  1. Make the pick you want for the race you’re interested in.
  2. On the bet slip, enter the amount you want to wager.
  3. Once you’ve assessed the potential returns, confirm the bet.

That’s all there is to it. Placing bets on the horses couldn’t be easier. In fact, since there are so many options at the top UK horse racing sites, the hardest part might be deciding what horse or race to bet on.

This is a simple example of a single bet with a small £10 wager. At most modern online bookies, you can add multiple selections to one bet slip and build ACCAs for potentially greater returns.

UK Horse Racing Calendar – Five Best Events to Bet On

There are endless horse races taking place around the world every day, but some of the biggest and best annual horse racing events take place right here in the UK. Tens of millions (sometimes more) change hands when these races occur, with lucky punters taking home their fair share of that loot.
Horse Racing UK

The best UK horse races to bet on include the following:

The Cheltenham Festival

This National Hunt race takes place every year in March at the Cheltenham Racecourse in Gloucestershire. It’s not uncommon for the race to happen on St. Patrick’s Day, which brings the Irish crowd out to this race.

Several races take place over four action-packed days. Betting on Cheltenham is almost obligatory to true horse racing fans, and with so many punters lining up to place wagers on this event, the betting opportunities are plentiful.

The Grand National

This is the grand event in all of UK horse races, The Grand National. It has the biggest prize money, gets the most attention, and even people who don’t have the first clue about horse racing have heard of it. In fact, it’s estimated that up to £300 million is bet on the Grand National each year.

Every UK bookmaker which offers horse racing will offer action on the Grand National. If you only bet on one race this year, let it be this one. It takes place every April at Aintree Racecourse near Liverpool.

The Epsom Derby

If there’s one UK horse race which is associated with style, glamour, and prestige, it’s the Epsom Derby. It’s the best of the five Classics run by elite three-year-old horses.

You can bet on the Epsom Derby each June. It’s the middle leg of what is known as the “Triple Crown”, coming after the 2000 Guineas and before the St. Leger. It is both watched and wagered on by punters all across the globe.

The Royal Ascot

All the pomp and glory of the British monarchy is on display at the Royal Ascot each year. Royals arrive in horse-drawn carriages and preside over the five days of racing which bear their name. This spectacle often overshadows the races themselves, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of opportunities to bet on the Royal Ascot.

Multiple races take place over a five-day period, meaning this is the perfect race to get your feet wet and try betting on horse racing. After all, the one good thing about an event which captures the attention of the British media is that it draws lots of punters in, making for highly liquid betting markets.

British Champions Day

This is one of the newest horse races on the annual calendar. The first race took place in 2011. However, it’s already the richest day on the calendar in terms of prize money. It’s a sort of season finale, which takes place every October at the end of the flat racing season.

This is the final event in a series of 35 races known as the British Champions Series. Most of the top horse racing betting sites offer you the chance to bet on British Champions Day.

Betting on the Horses – Tips and Strategy

There’s no secret formula for winning horse racing bets every time, but there are some common-sense tips and tricks which I’ve learned through experience. These can help you win or at least help you avoid losing as often as I did in the early days.

  • Don’t Bet on the Favourite – In horse racing, the favourite wins roughly a third of the time. It will also have the worst odds since it’s the favourite. Why would you want to give yourself a one in three chance of landing the smallest payout available? You can do better than that.
  • Pay Attention to People – Trainers and jockeys matter more than you know. Just look up the track record of Irish trainer Willie Mullins if you’re in any doubt about that. Do some background research into the team behind the horse. If you find a non-favourite horse with a world-class trainer behind it, that can be a signal for a winning bet.
  • Study the Horse – As well as past performance and current form, you can watch the horses in the paddock pre-race. You can also view stats which tell you if the horse is carrying extra weight compared to previous races, etc. All of this can play into the outcome of the race. Sometimes, just seeing a horse can give you a feeling that it’s a winner.
  • Shop the Odds – This is such a simple thing, but so many overlook it because they have one favourite online bookmaker. Check what odds other bookies are offering on the horse you want to bet on. Particularly with the exotic and accumulator bets, a small difference in odds can mean a big difference in payouts.
  • Manage Your Bankroll – There’s not much you can control about horse racing, but the one thing you can control is your bankroll. Start to think of horse racing wins as a return on investment. Don’t risk too much of your bankroll on one bet. Try to hedge your bets where possible, and if the bookie offers you a large early cashout, you should really consider taking it.

Frequently Asked Questions About Betting on Horses

In this final section, I’ll do my best to answer some of the miscellaneous questions I’ve received about betting on horse racing over the years.

What Age Do I Have to Be to Bet on Horses in the UK?

As with all UK gambling, you should be 18 to bet on horses in the UK. When you register with UKGC licensed bookmakers, they will verify your age, so don’t try it if you’re too young.

What’s the Best Race to Bet on for a First-Timer?

The Grand National. It’s the main event of the year and everyone and their grandma bets on it. If you’re new to betting on horses, make this your first bet. Of course, it only happens once a year. So, if it’s a long way off, you can bet on any race to gain experience.

What Are the Best Horse Racing Betting Sites for UK Players?

We suggest checking out Betway or Bet365. These top UK bookmakers offer action on all of the biggest horse races in the UK and across the world. They also have excellent features like stat centres to help you make more informed betting decisions.

What Does SP Mean in Horse Racing Betting?

It’s an abbreviation of “starting price”. It’s the odds the bookie gives on a horse at the start of a race.

Oliver Hughes

Based out of London, I began freelance writing for the UK section of GamblingSites.org in October of 2019. Having worked in the gambling industry for over 10 years, I now have the pleasure of adding this site to my list of accomplishments as a casino writer. ...

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