Horses have been raced since as early as the age of the ancient Roman and Greek Civilisations, when Chariot racing was popular. In history, where there were horses, there was horse sport and nearly always horse racing.
In the United Kingdom, horse racing became more formalised as the racehorse itself became more defined: people began breeding horses selectively for speed in the 17th and 18th centuries, creating what we now know as the Thoroughbred by using the bloodlines of horses from overseas. These horses were the Byerly Turk, the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian. Every racehorse today is descended from these animals; the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the breed. To be eligible to race now, racehorses must have a full, comprehensive thoroughbred pedigree and a passport, issued by Weatherbys.
In this guide, you will be introduced to the different varieties of horse racing, some betting terms and a guide on how to place an informed bet with William Hill.
Types of horse races
There are four different types of horse racing: Flat racing; National Hunt racing; Harness racing and Endurance racing. In the UK, Flat and National Hunt racing are the prominent varieties by a wide margin. Both are regularly televised, in the media and punted on.
This sort (or ‘code’) of horse racing is as described by its name: Flat races take place on flat tracks with no obstacles. These races are focussed on speed rather than agility over jumps, and can be between five furlongs and two miles in distance.
Horses which race over five furlongs are known as sprinters, whereas a horse who races over one-and-a-half miles to two miles is known as a ‘stayer’. ‘Middle-distance’ horses run over seven furlongs to a mile.
Flat racehorses can start racing at two years old, and may be colts (entire males aged under five), fillies (females aged under five), geldings (castrated males), mares (females aged over five) or horses (entire males aged over five).
Flat races take place on both turf and All-Weather surfaces. The turf season runs over the late spring to autumn, and the all-weather season runs over the winter.
National Hunt (or ‘Jump’) racing
This code of racing indicates races in which horses must clear obstacles – these can be hurdles (smaller jumps designed to be jumped quickly) or steeplechase fences (large jumps which require good jumping ability and power).
National Hunt races are longer than Flat races, being between two miles and four miles long, and are run slower than a Flat race.
National Hunt horses may be geldings, fillies or mares. Colts and entire horses are not seen in National Hunt races.
Within this code, there is a variety of race known as a ‘National Hunt Flat race’ – these are races for young, inexperienced horses without obstacles and are designed to provide the runners with education.
Present in the UK, though not hugely popular, harness racing is widely televised and spectated in Europe, Australia and the USA. In these races, harnessed horses trot around a track with a driver rather than a rider. These horses can trot up to twenty miles an hour and, like Flat and National Hunt horses, must have the correct breeding and schooling to compete.
Similarly to Harness racing, Endurance racing does feature in the UK but is not widely publicised by the media or punted on. Endurance races can be between five and 150 miles over challenging terrain and typically run over one to three days.
Reading horse racing odds
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Horse racing betting odds
Horse racing betting terms
Successful betting relies on knowing some of the key terms.
Use our horse racing terms reference guide for the most important ones.
Horse racing betting tips
Check age, weight and form
All of these factors can indicate how well a horse may perform in a race. Usually, a National Hunt horse aged six, for example, will likely have a more successful run than a horse aged nine or ten, because they have the advantage of youth (just like human athletes). Sometimes, however, age and experience provides the best wins.
Weight carried by the horses is an important consideration because, generally, the lesser weight carried, the more easily the horse can run home. If you were considering placing a bet on one of two horses of comparable ability, the one carrying the least weight would be the best choice.
Form must also be looked at. If a horse has good recent form, placing or winning a race, then chances are they will perform well again. On the other hand, continual poor form and finishing near the back does not lend itself to successful betting.
Check the going and the racing distance
‘Going’ refers to the ground, which varies between Heavy, Soft, Good and Firm. Going may also be classified as ‘Good to Firm’, for example. Racehorses often have a preference for certain ground, so it’s useful to compare the ground of the race at which you are looking to their previous form to get the best result. Some horses struggle to thrive in Heavy ground, for example, so in a race like this, look for a horse who has made the placings or won on similar ground over a similar distance.
Occasionally you will come across a racehorse who is versatile on ground and distance, but usually they perform better over a particular distance, so again, when considering backing a horse, it’s important to look at their previous form to see what they have achieved over the distance of the race you are considering.
In Flat racing, the horses begin the race by jumping out of Starter Stalls, also known as ‘Gates’. On a circuit track particularly, a horse’s assigned gate can have a significant impact on the course of their race, as innermost gates can give a horse an advantage, while outermost gates can make their job much more difficult in terms of gaining a good position in the field to win from.
Check the class rating and speed figure
Race classes go from Class 6, for bottom-rated horses, all the way up to Class 1 for the top-rated horses. It’s useful to see if a horse has gone up or down in Class, as this could affect where they manage to finish in the race. They might have a better chance when going down a class, or a slightly worse chance when going up in class.
Who is the horse jockey and trainer
If in doubt, it’s always advisable to back ‘in-form’ jockeys and trainers. A recent string of winners from a trainer in particular shows that the horses from their yard are in good health and are doing the right work on the right feed, so are often a good bet.
Horse racing betting types
The most popular horse-race bet is a simple ‘to win’, whereby you only win money if your horse wins the race. There are, however, numerous other varieties of bets which can add to the fun.
What is Tote Betting?
This is where you make a bet which goes into a pool. In essence, if yours is the winning selection, your winnings are a share of this pool. It can be a fun way to place bets and potentially win a higher prize.
Tote trifecta betting
This is where you select three horses to come first, second and third respectively. As with other tote bets, the winning pay-out is a share of the pool.
What is ante-post betting?
This simply means a bet which is placed ahead of the day of the race. As the market will change the most on the day of the event, ante-post betting can provide more favourable odds.
If you’re looking to place an ante-post bet on the 2023 Cheltenham Festival, check out all the latest NRMB Cheltenham 2023 Odds at William Hill.
What does each-way betting mean?
This is when two bets are placed on a horse at once; the first of these bets is a ‘to win’ bet, and the second is ‘to place’. If the horse places, the bettor wins back a fifth of the ‘to win’ odds, so an each-way bet is good value at longer odds.
What is a placepot bet?
This is another form of tote betting where you choose one horse to place in each of the races on the card, and your bets go into a pool. If you are successful, you take your share of the money in the pool.
Betting on Multiple horses or multiple races
To place a ‘Multiple’ or an ‘Accumulator’, you must put at least two selections on your betting card and, if all your selections win, you would receive highly increased odds as oppose to backing each selection individually. These are very high reward bets, but are rare to win. For example, if you place five horses on your betting card, you could then place a ‘Five-fold’ bet at excitingly long odds and potentially get back thousands more than your original stake. All five horses would have to win for you to win back anything; one loser breaks the whole bet.
What is exacta betting?
This is where you select horses in a race and the places you think they will finish. This is usually done to pick the first and second finishers, but you can choose more horses and places.
NRMB on Cheltenham 2023
Non-Runner Money Back (NRMB) means that if you place an ante-post bet on any of the 28 races at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival, if your horse doesn’t make it to the Festival, we will refund your whole stake.
We are the first bookmaker to go NRMB on all Cheltenham races, meaning there’s no better place to bet on jump racing’s biggest meeting.
Check out all the latest NRMB Cheltenham 2023 Odds at William Hill
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