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Types of Horse Racing Bets – A Beginner’s Guide (May 2024)

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Horse racing is a sport that dates back to ancient times, and was practised in Ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome, Babylon, and Syria. Modern horse racing can trace its roots back to the 19th century when horse racing clubs were being established. These clubs laid down the rules to horse racing and launched some historical races, some of which are still being run today.

Betting has played a large role in the development of horse racing. In Britain, betting on horse racing dates back to the 1600s. Nowadays, it is a multi-billion dollar industry and is hugely popular across the world.

Types of Horse Racing Bets

Betting on horse races is by no means limited to simply picking the winner of a race. There are many types of bets that you can try out, all with their own requirements. At a dedicated horse racing bookmaker, you can find the following options:

  1. Race Winner
  2. Place Bet
  3. Each Way Bet
  4. Quinella
  5. Exacta
  6. Trifecta
  7. Superfecta

Do not expect all bookmakers to offer these markets. Sometimes, you will only find the first three markets, but don't be alarmed as the last four are really specific. The last four markets are known as “exotic bets” and only specialised bookmakers will offer them.

Race Winner

This is a wager on which horse will win a race. It is the most commonly placed bet in horse racing and it offers generous odds. The odds will be affected by the “size of the field”. This means how many contestants there are in the race. Some races will only have 5 contestants, whilst others may have up to 16. The more racers there are, the longer the odds will be for each horse.

Place Bet

You can bet on a horse to place in a race using this bet. What this means is that the horse will finish either in the top three or top five places. The places depend on the size of the field, with larger fields offering more places. This bet comes at shorter odds than the race winner bet as you will have greater insurance.

Each Way Bet

Each way bets are combinations of race winner and place bets. The money you stake will be halved, with one half going towards a race winner bet and the other towards a place bet. This gives you the best of both worlds. If your horse places, you will receive a sum of money that will either cut your losses or bring a small win. If your horse wins, you will pocket a larger return.

The best way to show how each way works is to look at an example using numbers:

  • Horse A to win the race at odds 6.0
  • Horse A to place at odds 1.90

If you put $10 on race winner, place, and each way wagers, these are your potential returns:

  • Race winner: $60 for winning the race, $0 if horse A places
  • Place: $19 for winning the race, $19 if horse A places
  • Each way: $39.50 for winning the race, $9.5 if horse A places

In this scenario, the each way wager brings a substantially higher return than the place bet if horse A wins the race. Of course, if it only places then you will not win, but you will cut your losses substantially. A win would award $39.50 – which comes from 6 x $5 and 1.9 x $5. If the horse places then only half of the bet will win, giving $9.50 – 1.9 x $5.

Side Note

Now, if horse A is the favourite, let's look at the second favourite in the race (horse B):

  • Horse B to win the race at odds 7.0
  • Horse B to place at odds 2.20

If you put $10 on race winner, place, and each way wagers, these are your potential returns:

  • Race winner: $70 for winning the race, $0 if horse B places
  • Place: $22 for winning the race, $22 if horse B places
  • Each way: $61 for winning the race, $11 if horse B places

The odds are definitely longer, and whilst A is more likely to win than B, the latter offers a greater return if it places. Keep this in mind when making your bets as sometimes the second or third favourite may offer a better opportunity to make a win.

Quinella

To make a quinella bet, you will need to pick the two horses that will finish in first and second place. It does not matter which order the horses finish in, as long as your chosen two reach the finish line ahead of the others. The odds on quinella wagers are longer than race winner bets, but the requirements are more difficult to predict.

Exacta

Basically, an exacta is a bet on which horses will finish in first and second place, in the correct order. This is known as a “boxed bet” where you need to pick the order of the horses that win and place. The odds on this bet are longer than quinella bets, but they are far harder to predict. If you pick the right horses but they finish in the wrong order, you may regret not picking a quinella instead.

Trifecta

If the exacta sounds difficult, then prepare yourself for the trifecta bet. You will need to pick the first three horses to reach the finish line – and put them in the right order. This bet is extremely difficult to win, but in return the odds are tremendous. If you do win it then you will certainly pocket a massive return.

Superfecta

Reserved for the crazy or the brave – a superfecta requires you to pick the first four horses and the order in which they finish. It can be compared to hitting a jackpot in a casino game or winning the lottery. The odds for superfecta bets will vary depending on which horses you pick to win. It is possible to win hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. In the 2005 Kentucky Derby, a lucky bettor placed a $1 superfecta bet. All their predictions came true and the bettor walked away with a cool $864,253.

Horse Racing Betting Strategies

Whilst some bettors may choose to pick out single bets and place their stakes, others may employ different strategies. The odds are already quite long, but you can extend them even further using parlays or full-cover bets.

To form a parlay, you can combine numerous selections for far longer odds. The odds of all your single bets will be multiplied giving you tremendous odds. The only downside is that you need to win all your selections to win the parlay bet.

Full-cover bets are similar, in that you need multiple selections. The difference is that you will place multiple parlay bets that use combinations of the selections you made. For example, if you pick three winners, you can place x3 single bets, x3 doubles, and x1 treble bets. This can bring massive returns if you win all three bets but still brings you considerable returns if 1 horse fails to win. You can learn more about full-cover bets in our guide to full cover horse race betting. The guide goes into detail about all types of combination bets that can bring tremendous wins and with a lot of insurance.

Useful Tips About Horse Racing

  • Jockeys/trainers
  • Horse Age
  • Qualification
  • Track surface/distance

It requires luck to win, but you can research your bets to make better-informed wagers. Checking the form of each horse gives some indication of how it may perform, but there is a lot more to research if you want to be thorough.

Jockeys/Trainers

The first thing you can do is check the jockey and the trainer of a contestant. Open the history of the race (if it is a large event then it will be easy to find this information), and check to see which trainers and jockeys have won.

Horse Age

Horses usually only race for a few years. They compete in key events from the age of 2 and most are retired by the age of 5 or 6. Therefore, be sure to also check out the youngest competitors. Some horses accomplish the most in the first or second year of their professional careers.

Qualification

Horses do not simply qualify for the largest events. There will be conditions to receive an invitation that involves winning other races. At Grade I (the top level) stakes, generally there will be Grade II or Grade III stakes that need to be won for a horse to secure a berth. This will be a good indication of how the horse competes in the most competitive stakes.

Track Surface/Distance

This may sound simple but it is highly important. Races are made on dirt tracks or on grass turfs. Horses usually have a preference for either one or the other. Dirt races tend to be faster but grass races are less physically demanding. Trainers know this, but sometimes they race their horses on both types of tracks.

Distance is also key. Races can be anywhere from half a mile long to two and a half miles or more. Again, the trainers and jockeys will recognise their horse's strengths. Horses that are better at sprints may be raced on half-mile up to one-mile-long races. The horses that have less explosive speed but more stamina may be better suited to longer distances. You should check the exact distance of the race and whether the horse is successful at that race length.

Conclusion

There is no hiding the fact that you need luck on your side to win your bets. Sometimes there will be a wire-to-wire victor whilst other races may be more neck and neck. The main thing is that you should try to enjoy the races. You can also choose to make a day program out of horse racing. Nothing beats buying a ticket and going to the races yourself. In the major events, there will be dress codes which you must comply with, and you can watch all the action of the day as it unfolds. There is always a lot of pomp and glamour at the major races, and the atmosphere is always brilliant.

Whether you research every detail of each horse or simply pick the horse with the best name – betting on horse racing is highly exhilarating. Be sure to stay within your budget and have fun.

Lloyd is passionate about online gambling, he lives and breathes blackjack and other table games, and he enjoys sports betting.