Horse Racing – A Brief History of Betting and Bookmakers

Playing the ponies isn’t what it once was. For several decades, interest in horse racing has been on the decline, not only in the U.K., but worldwide.

The rise of other gambling opportunities—such as poker rooms, online casinos and mobile sports betting has gradually eroded the popularity of off-track and turf-side wagering.

That’s why “Racing For Change” was created, a project board tasked with modernising the image of British horse racing and widening the sport’s appeal. Established in 2009, the board features representatives from the sport’s key organisations and stakeholders.

In 2010 they announced a raft of initiatives aimed at making horse race wagering easier and more accessible to the general public. These included the use of decimal odds instead of fractions, the creation of more premier events, and clearly defining the racing season.

Horse Racing – The Sport of Kings

Chris McFadden, the chairman of Racing For Change, said at the time:

“British horse racing is the envy of the racing world with our abundance of outstanding horses. Yet the sport needs to work harder to connect with a wider public. This is, no doubt, a result of a significantly more competitive betting and leisure environment – so we have to raise our game.”

Horse racing is much more than the Epsom Derby, the Cheltenham Festival, and the Kentucky Derby. There are 59 different racecourses in the U.K. alone. Every day there are opportunities to bet on trotters and Thoroughbreds at tracks around the globe.

Apart from the thrill of watching beautiful creatures round the turn and speed toward the finish line, there is money to be made in horse racing. And now, thanks to the Internet, it is possible to get in on the action from anywhere a computer can be hooked up online.

All it takes to start winning is a little knowledge of handicapping and a few quid to wager.

Horse Racing Evolves

The animals we know today as horses are the evolutionary descendants of a forest-dwelling beast called Hyracotherium. It lived in North America and Europe around 52 million years ago and was much more similar to a fox than a modern Thoroughbred.

Over countless generations, however, its offspring migrated to grasslands, became larger, and developed bodies more adapted to running, culminating in Equus stenonis, a line of true horses prevalent in Italy during the early Cenozoic Era—the time of the great glaciers.

The relationship between humans and horses is older than history. These noble “beasts of burden” have long been used for transportation, hunting, hauling, plowing, and making war.

By the time the earliest written records were kept, horse racing was already prevalent from Central Asia to the Mediterranean. Equestrian events were included in the first ancient Greek Olympics in 776 B.C.

Chariot racing was especially popular during the days of the old Roman Empire. But the beginning of horse racing as an organised sport upon which bets are wagered is actually relatively recent.

England’s King Henry I (1069~1135) was among the first to attempt to breed horses for greater speed and power in the early 12th century, mainly for cavalry purposes.

He paired imported Arabian stallions with pony-sized Irish horses. The English called such horses palfreys, while the French named them haubini, a word that later became hobbye and eventually “hobbyhorse” in 1557.

The “Irish Hobby” was greatly admired for its natural, ambling gait and comfortable ride. King Henry VIII (1491~1547) took to racing his specially bred Hobbys against horses owned by other nobility.

By 1816, such activity would lead to the word “hobby” taking on a new meaning as “a costly pastime indulged in by the idle rich.”

In the meantime, Elizabeth I (1533~1603) improved her father’s stable during the fifty years of her reign as queen. She moved the best horses to new stables at Tutbury near Staffordshire, added more Arabian stallions and bred them with Irish Hobby and Scottish Galloway mares.

Then, James VI of Scotland and his son, Charles, expanded the palace and royal racing stables at the track of Newmarket in the early 17th century.

In 1647, Oliver Cromwell (1599~1658) captured the royal stables at Tutbury, sold most of the Royal mares, and kept fewer than a hundred to breed stronger, lighter horses. His focus, however, was on military mounts, and he passed several laws prohibiting racing.

Horses were confiscated and many bloodline records were lost under Cromwell’s repressive religious throne. It was only when he died and Charles II became king that horse racing re-established its royal pedigree.

On April 6, 1680, King Charles II and his household traveled by carriage and saddle horse to Newmarket Downs, about 60 miles northeast of London. Their purpose was to attend a race “between Major Astan’s Horse and another Gentleman’s (on a) six-mile course, for £500 each.”

Historian J.P. Hore recorded that “a great number of Gentlemen… have laid very considerable sums of money on both sides; but ‘tis supposed the odds will lie on the Major’s side.” Thus did the “Sport of Kings” (and handicapping) begin—the true precursor to today’s Thoroughbred racing.

Bookmakers to Pari-mutuels 

The rise of horse racing and wagering in England is well documented. It became a professional sport during Queen Anne’s reign (1702~14), when match racing was replaced by races involving several horses with spectators placing wagers.

Soon, racecourses sprang up all over England. The purses being offered grew increasingly large in order to attract the best horses. Large purses also meant breeding and owning horses for racing became more profitable.

As the sport expanded, it required central regulation. In 1750, racing’s top people gathered at Newmarket to form the Jockey Club, which still exercises control over English racing to this day.

The Club was charged with maintaining breeding records, helping to train equestrian personnel, compiling rules, coordinating races, and overseeing the operation of courses.

The trend toward establishing Jockey Clubs as the organising authourities for horse racing quickly spread to the European continent and then to the colonies of America and Australia, where racing had become equally popular. By the 1840s, a Jockey Club was even formed in Hong Kong.

As betting on horse racing became the rage in the mid-19th century, those who operated gambling clubs and betting parlours in the back rooms of inns would write down all of the wagers they took in books.

It was not long before the phrase “betting a book” came into vogue. From there, it was just a short leap of language to “bookmaker,” which eventually led to the term “bookie” in 1885.

Today, horse racing is well established not only in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland but also in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the United States. It is one of only three forms of legal gambling in Japan, the other two being cycling and motorboat racing.

In the Middle East, the Dubai Racing Club and the Emirates Racing Authority preside over one of the world’s richest races, the annual Dubai World Cup. Argentina has bred and raced some of the world’s most successful Thoroughbreds.

Even the island nations of the Caribbean have race tracks of their own in St. Kitts, the Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Puerto Rico.

By far, the most widely adopted form of wagering on horse races the world over is pari-mutuel betting. It was developed in the late 19th century by a Frenchman named Pierre Oller.

Under Oller’s system, a fraction of the total amount wagered, typically 15~25%, is set aside for track operating expenses, purses, and relevant taxes. The remainder is divided by the number of individual wagers to determine the return on each bet, also known as the projected payoff or “odds.”

When the odds are “3-to-1,” for example, the bettor can expect to receive £3 profit for every £1 wagered on the winner.

Under the pari-mutuel system, the odds on any given horse will change as wagers come in, rising or falling with the relative number of bets placed.

During the betting period before each race, all odds are continuously recalculated by the racecourse’s computer and displayed on a “tote board” trackside.

Horse Racing Bets – Win, Place, Show and More

The most common bets made in horse racing are called “Straight Bets”—Win, Place and Show. These are wagers that the selected horse will finish first, second or third, respectively.

A Win bet pays only if the chosen horse is the outright winner of the race, but the Place bet pays if the horse comes in first or second, while the Show bet pays for any first, second or third place finish, also known as “in the money.”

Because these wagers are so straightforward, they are a good way for those new to horse racing to begin. Most professionals advise limiting such wagers to Win bets only. They say higher odds paid on successful Win bets more than make up for the times the Place and Show bets would have paid out.

However, while gaining experience, it can be useful for a novice to wager on Place and Show, if only to limit losses and help gain some confidence.

Other types of pari-mutuel wagers are known as “Exotic Bets.” They are by no means as unusual as the name might imply, but they are considerably more risky that Straight Bets, and for that reason they come with greater rewards when successful.

A wager called the “Exacta” or “Perfecta” is quite common. In this bet it is necessary to pick the first and second horses in order. A slightly less risky version of this wager is the “Quinella,” which allows the first and second place horses to be chosen in either order.

In the pari-mutuel bet called the “Trifecta,” the bettor must accurately predict, in exact order, which horses will finish first, second and third. In France and Hong Kong, this wager is known as a Tiercé.

Even more difficult to predict and win is the “Superfecta,” in which the bettor must choose the first four finishers of a race in the correct sequence. Because the odds against this outcome are so high, wagering minimums are usually much lower than they are for other bets and may start at just 10p.

Another popular exotic wager is the Daily Double. In this case, the bettor must select the winners of two consecutive races, as predetermined by the racecourse. The odds against getting this bet right are quite high, so the payoff can be very large for the person who picks both winners correctly.

One more exotic bet is a “Pick,” in which the bettor attempts to identify all of the winners of a certain number of consecutive races—Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5, or Pick 6—a very difficult task, indeed.

Of these, the Pick 6 is the one with the highest payoff, of course. At some racecourses, a carryover pool exists for Pick 6 so that any un-won funds are added to the next day’s pool.

Horses for Courses

Many forms of horse racing are practised around the world, ranging from steeplechase racing and harness racing to Standardbred and Quarter Horse racing. But by far the most popular form of horse racing is the one involving mounted Thoroughbreds.

Specially bred horses race over flat, elliptical courses that vary in distance from three-quarters of a mile to two miles.

In Thoroughbred racing, some horses are better suited to certain distances than others. One of the most important factors in evaluating a horse’s potential for a race is its pedigree—where the horse comes from. An estimated 35,000 Thoroughbreds are foaled each year, and they are not all created equal.

Pedigree information starts with the horse’s name, sex, color, age and month of birth. It includes the names of the horse’s sire (father) and dam (mother). It may also include more details about the bloodline, such as the grand sire (the sire’s sire) and grand dam (the dam’s sire).

Other information may relate to the horse’s breeder, any stud fee paid, the place where it was foaled, and the amount paid at auction for the horse.

Male horses are generally considered stronger and faster than females. For this reason, the two rarely run against one another. Also, older horses (four years and up) are thought to be more mature, both mentally and physically, than younger ones (three and under).

Following are some of the specific terms used when referring to race horses:

Aged : Any horse of age seven years or more.

Colt : A male horse, four years old or younger, that has not been castrated.

Distaff : The female side of a horse’s family.

Filly : A female horse, four years old or younger.

Foal : Any newborn horse; a pregnant mare is said to be “in foal.”

Freemartin : The filly twin of a colt.

Gelding : A male horse that has been castrated.

Horse : Technically, a male horse that is at least five years old.

Juvenile : A two-year-old horse, sometimes referred to as a “Baby.”

Mare : A female horse that is at least five years old.

Sophomore : A three-year-old horse.

Stallion or Stud : A male horse used for breeding after his racing career ends.

Yearling : A horse that is one year old.

Those who know Thoroughbreds best often talk about a horse’s “class”—its latent racing talent. This characteristic is not always easily identified, but it refers to several factors, a combination of pedigree, willingness to train early and often, intelligence, and heart—the will to compete and win.

It is generally believed that male parts of a pedigree (sire and dam sire) determine the distance and surface that a Thoroughbred will be best suited to, while the female parts of a pedigree (dam and her family) determine the Thoroughbred’s racing class.

Owners and trainers start their young Thoroughbreds out in “maiden races,” looking to gain their first wins. Once a horse “breaks its maiden,” it will begin to move up in class, facing ever faster and stronger competition.

The purses are bigger on higher class events, and the highest class events are the derby and international stakes races that all aspire to, such as the British Grand National or America’s Breeder’s Cup.

Thoroughbreds that fail to live up to their potential and win early may be placed in “claiming races.” The horses that are entered in these are actually for sale, and it is a popular way to purchase horses. The sponsor of a claiming race puts up a purse of, say, £10,000.

The owner of the winner will receive the purse, and the sponsor claims ownership of the winning horse.

Horses that are poised to move up in class are often entered in non-selling races called “allowance races.” These meetings are where the up-and-coming horses either pile up wins, or get downgraded in class.

Once a horse has won three or four allowance races, it is ready for “stakes and handicap races,” where the best of the best compete.

Stakes races may be graded or ungraded, restricted to horses born in a certain locale or considered “overnight” stakes, which are really just high-level, short-notice allowance races with higher purses. The grading of stakes races helps horse racing punters to know which ones are the most important races of the day.

Courses for Horses

Most Thoroughbred racecourses have a one-mile main track that is shaped like an oval. Within this oval is a 7/8-mile turf course with a grass surface.

Many racecourses also have mile-long “chutes,” which are extensions of the main track that allow for longer races. Tracks are typically measured in “furlongs,” each furlong being an eighth of a mile.

The four sections of the oval track can be defined, counterclockwise between the starting gate and the finish line, as the first turn, the back stretch, the far turn, and the home stretch.

The first turn is sometimes called the “clubhouse turn,” because it is commonly in front of the grandstand or clubhouse. A fence-like “inner rail” defines the inside perimeter of the track and an “outer rail” marks the outer edge.

Poles are placed at intervals along the inner rail of the track. These poles help the jockeys gauge their distance as they ride around the oval. Tall furlong poles appear every eighth of a mile.

Halfway between them are shorter 16th poles. The “half-mile pole” marks the point half a mile from the finish line, and the “quarter pole” marks two furlongs to go in the race.

Short horse races are called “sprint races” or “sprints.” They include all Thoroughbred races less than one mile in length, and on longer tracks with chutes they will feature only one turn. Races of a mile or more are called “route races.” Unlike sprints, they always have two turns.

A quick start from the gate is especially important in the sprints, whereas a horse running a route race may be able to win in any of three ways. Speed horses take the lead right away and try to maintain it all the way to the finish.

Pace horses spread their energy out along the course and surge toward the end to win. And “closers” hang back, conserving their energy, until they make a final burst to come from far behind for a victory.

Track conditions play a big role in racing, too. Grass tracks are rated as “firm” when they are at optimum condition, “good” when there has been some rain that doesn’t saturate the surface, and “yielding” when the moist turf flies up under the horses’ pounding hooves.

The latter favors closers, as speed and pace horses tire easily on it. A “soft” turf track is mushy or bog-like, the worst condition for running a race.

On dirt tracks, the surface may be referred to as “fast” when it is at its best or “good” when it retains a little moisture. A “muddy” track favors horses with small feet, sometimes called “mudders,” while a “sloppy” track has puddles of standing water on it.

In winter, some dirt track surfaces become “frozen,” too, which actually favors the speed horses.

Another aspect of the racecourse to become familiar with is the area known as the “paddock.” This is an enclosed area where the horses are saddled. Adjacent to it is the “parade ring” or “walking ring,” where the horses are paraded before spectators before the jockeys mount up.

How a Thoroughbred behaves in the paddock and parade ring can often give an indication of how it will run the race.

Two other areas of a racecourse worth noting are the “backside,” where the stables are located, and the “Winner’s Enclosure” or “Winner’s Circle,” where the victorious horse, owner, trainer and jockey receive their rewards. These areas are typically not open to the general public.

A Day at the Races

British horse racing, much like its cousins in North America and other regions, thrives primarily as a spectator sport. For that reason, a fee is charged for admission, but you can rest assured that enclosures are provided to suit practically every budget.

These are named according to individual racecourses, but in the broadest terms, they fall into three categories: Premier, Grandstand and Course.

The Premier Enclosure, also known as the Club or Members Enclosure, is the top of the line. It affords the best viewing and facilities, and an all-day ticket will cost between £16 and £30. Those sporting a Premier Badge have access to all of the other enclosures on the course as well.

The dress code here is smart casual on most race days, but for bigger meetings, it may be more formal. Food, beverages and betting windows are readily available. The Grandstand Enclosure, or Tattersalls or Paddock Enclosure, is typically the largest enclosure at the track.

It is constantly abuzz with activity throughout the meeting. A good view of the course, as well as the Parade Ring and Winner’s Enclosure, can be had here for £10 to £22. There are plenty of places to eat, drink and bet in this section, too.

The least expensive and least formal enclosure is the Course or Silver Ring Enclosure. Admission is usually priced at around £5. The Parade Ring and Winner’s Enclosure may not be visible from here, but all of the racing action on the course will be within view.

Again, there are places to bet and get food and beverages, although picnicking is the preferred mode of dining along this section of the track.

Once you arrive at the racecourse, be sure to purchase a racecard. I will cost £2 or £3 and contain all the information required to make the most of your day at the races.

The racecard serves as a guide to the runners and riders in each race. It will also contain a map to help you get around the racecourse, plus insightful interviews, stories and statistics.

Horse racing takes place all year round, of course, but many racecourses divide their schedules into seasons, with April~October being for “flat racing” on a track without obstacles, and October~April dominated by “jump racing,” such as the steeplechase. Many racecourses conduct both types of meetings.

On most race days, between six and eight races are conducted. They take place at intervals of about half an hour, which allows plenty of time between races for viewing horses in the Paddock, having a bite to eat or a drink, and placing bets.

In summer months, the earliest post time is around 1.30pm and the last at 5.30~6pm. Evening racing is available at some venues, too, starting at sundown and ending around 8~9pm. In winter, the first race usually begins at midday and the last towards 3.30pm.

To place a bet at the racecourse, you have two choices. You can wager directly with the bookmakers or you can use the Totalisator, a linked system of pari-mutuel machines that accepts bets and prints receipts, also known as the “Tote.”

Bookmakers tend to offer fixed-odds bets. They set a specific price to back a certain horse. When you bet with them, you will always know exactly what amount you stand to win.

By contrast, the Tote offers access to the pari-mutuel pool. Odds fluctuate as bets are entered, and winnings are displayed on the Tote Board at the conclusion of each race.

The Language of Horse Racing

It can take a while to get used to all of the specialised vocabulary of horse racing. Following is a quick glossary of common terms you are likely to encounter, divided into two parts.

This first group of words pertains to horses and racing, while the second group relates to betting:

At the Post : When the horses are positioned at the starting gate.

Bearing In or Out : When a horse fails to run a straight path and veers toward either the inside or outside rail.

Blinkers : Racing equipment consisting of two cups used to restrict a horse’s peripheral vision and force it to look straight ahead.

Calk : Cleats placed on a horse’s feet for better traction on a wet or muddy track.

Colours or Silks : The hat and shirt worn by a jockey to identify the horse’s owner.

Conditioner : Another name for a horse trainer.

Connections : All people associated with a race horse—the owner, trainer, etc.

Cushion : The surface of the track above its base.

Dead Heat : When two or more horses finish at the same time, usually reviewed by a photo finish camera.

Derby : A stakes race for three-year-olds.

Driving : When the jockey urges a horse to the finish line by using his hands or a whip.

Farrier : Another name for a blacksmith or person who shoes horses.

Field : All of the horses that compete in a single race.

Front Runner : A horse that likes to race in the lead.

Gallop : A horse’s natural running gait when not being timed.

Groom : A stable employee who tends to horses.

Halter : The strap or rope by which horses are led.

Hanger : A horse that refuses to pass other horses in the stretch.

Irons : Another name for the stirrups.

Length : The measure of a horse from nose to tail—approximately eight to nine feet.

Marathon : Any race longer than one and a quarter miles.

Middle Distance : Any race longer than seven furlongs but less than nine.

Neck : A measure of a horse, roughly equal to a quarter length.

Nose : A margin of victory of six inches or less.

Off Time : The time a race actually starts, as opposed to its scheduled “Post Time.”

Overweight : Extra weight carried by a horse in excess of what it has been assigned, usually cased by the jockey.

Pace : The speed at which the lead horses are running a race.

Post Position : A horse’s assigned stall within the starting gate.

Post Time : The scheduled time for a race to begin (also see “Off Time”).

Purse : The money that goes to the winning horse’s connections.

Rogue : A constantly misbehaving horse.

School : To teach a horse to behave calmly in the paddock or starting gate.

Scratch : A horse removed from a race prior to its start.

Steward : An official arbitrator of a racecourse.

Tightener : A race run in preparation for a more important race.

Tongue Tie : A strip of cloth that prevents a horse from swallowing its tongue during a race, also called a “Tongue Strap.”

Triple Crown : Three top-graded stakes races for three year olds: The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.

Whip : A stick used by the jockey to encourage a horse to run faster.

Workout : A predetermined distance run by a horse for its morning exercise.

The Language of Horse Racing and Betting

This second group of horse racing terms relates to the specifics of betting on horse races. It includes only vocabulary not previously introduced.

Across the Board : Making three straight bets—win, place, and show—on a single horse.

Also Ran : Any horse that finishes out of the money (fourth place or lower).

Ante Post Betting : Odds offered prior to the day of the race.

Bottle : Odds of 2 to 1.

Carpet : Odds of 3 to 1.

Chalk Horse : Among all horses in a race, the betting favourite; a “Chalk Player” is one who bets only on favourites.

Flash : A change of odds information on the tote board.

Form Player : One who bases bets solely on past performance.

Handicapping : The study of all of the factors in a race and how they will affect the outcome.

Horseplayer : One who wagers on horse races.

Long Shot : A horse racing at high odds.

Morning Line : The odds assigned to horses prior to the start of betting.

Mutuel Clerk: The person who punches out bets from a pari-mutuel machine, also known as a “Mutuel Teller” or (in Las Vegas) a “Ticket Writer.”

Mutuel Pool : Total amount bet to win, place or show in a race, or a Daily Double, etc.

Nap : The best bet of the day (short for “Napoleon”).

OTB : Acronym for “Off Track Betting,” or wagering away from the actual racecourse.

Odds Board : Another name for the Tote Board.

Odds On : A betting term for odds of less than even money, such as 4-to-5 or lower.

Overlay : A horse that is racing at higher odds than its believed chances of winning; the opposite is called an “Underlay.”

Parlay : Taking the winnings from one bet and wagering it all on another horse or race.

Race Book : A place that legally accepts race wagers.

Shoo In : A supposed “can’t lose” wager or a fixed race.

Smart Money : Bets placed by insiders or the insiders themselves.

Syndicate : Pooling money with other bettors to wager on multiple horses or races.

Takeout : The commission deducted from the pari-mutuel fund pool by a racecourse to cover operating expenses.

Tout : To give or sell betting advice, or a person who does so.

There are many other terms related to horses and betting that you will want to become familiar with as you become more experienced as a horseplayer.

Some of these relate to the parts of a horse, its physical condition, habits and mood. Others refer to the jockeys, the way they ride and the positions they get into during a race.

It is not at all necessary to master horse racing terminology in order to enjoy the sport and win some bets. That said, however, the adage “knowledge is power” is no less true at the racecourse than it is at the poker table or the sports book.

Horse Racing Basic Handicapping

The ability to consistently earn profits at the racecourse relies on a betting punters ability to identify which runners are most likely to finish ahead of the field and in the money. The art and science of picking winners is known as handicapping.

In its basic form, handicapping means taking whatever information is available about a race, analysing it, and then using it to decide whether or not to place a wager on a particular horse.

Every horseplayer develops an individualised approach to this process. Many rely heavily on the results of recent races. Others look long and hard at the jockey’s record. And some develop complex equations, taking into account the weather, post positions, and every possible factor they can think of.

But frankly, a lot of information is extraneous. Beginners would do well to concentrate on the most critical element of a race—the odds. A quick look at the odds can tell you that some meetings are simply not worth betting on.

Even if it is possible to predict the winner with a high degree of probability, the potential return on investment is not worth the risk.

For that reason, the first step in basic handicapping is to look for opportune meetings. Expert articles written in racing forms, tip sheets and touts may lead you there. Don’t ignore them.

But you will probably want to begin by reading the official racecourse morning line. Identify which horses are the favourites in each meeting.

Experienced handicappers will tell you there are actually three types of favourites: legitimate, vulnerable and false. The legitimate ones show odds of 2-to-1 or less. Never bet against them. Either place a wager on them to win, or skip the race.

By the same token, false favourites are to be avoided. These are horses upon which heavy betting has influenced the odds beyond reasonable expectation of success. They are the Underlays. Their undeserved popularity might be the result of winning at other distances, in easier classes, or on different surfaces.

Despite low odds, nothing in their history suggests they will win in the current meeting, and they probably won’t.

On the other hand, vulnerable favourites usually display odds of 5-to-2 or higher. On any given race day, you will see such horses featured in several meetings. This is where you will concentrate your handicapping efforts and your wagers.

Most meetings have eight to twelve horses in contention. Of those, a certain number are long shots, with little chance of winning. Disregard them. Concentrate your attention only on the “top contenders,” the ones whose combined total probabilities of winning equals 80% or more.

For example, let’s suppose that a field of eight horses shows the following odds: 5-to-2, 3-to-1, 4-to-1, 8-to-1, 10-to-1, 20-to-1, 25-to-1, and 80-to-1. Believing the favourite may be vulnerable, you are attracted to the horse assigned win odds of 3-to-1. You stand to receive triple your wager on a straight Win bet if it comes in. Should you go for it?

The probability (P) of any horse winning is expressed by the formula P = 1 / (O +1), where O represents the Odds-to-1. In other words, for your 3-to-1 horse, P = 1 / (3 + 1) = 25%.

Similarly, the odds of the 4-to-1 horse translate to a probability of P = 1 / (4 + 1) = 20% and the 5-to-2 odds (equivalent to 2.5-to-1) yield a probability of P = 1 / (2.5 + 1) = 29%. Add in the 8-to-1 horse at P = 1 / (8 + 1) = 11%, and the top four contenders have a combined winning probability of 25% + 20% + 29% + 11% = 85%.

At 3-to-1 odds, you have a 25% chance of winning your wager, which is not much different from betting on the favourite at 29%. If the 5-to-2 horse truly is vulnerable and the 8-to-1 horse is really the long shot it appears to be, your true probability will be even higher that 25%.

You only need to be correct on such a wager once every four meetings to break even, or once every three to gain a profit. You can increase your confidence in this wager by examining other factors, such as performance of the horses in the last three outings. Look for signs that the 3-to-1 horse can win. That’s handicapping.

By the same reasoning, the 4-to-1 horse may not be a terrible bet, either. So why not increase the possibility of success by hedging? Bet £3 on the 4-to-1 horse and £4 on the 3-to-1 horse.

Your combined probability of winning becomes 25% + 20% = 45%. If either horse wins, your net profit will be £11. You only need to be correct on such a wager once every two meetings to assure a profit.

Please note: If you calculate the probabilities for all the horses in a meeting and add them together, it rarely equals 100%. This is because the betting public tends to underbet strong favourites (3-to-5 odds or less) and overbet long shots (4-to-1 odds or higher).

Online Bookmakers – Get up to £50 FREE BET with Ladbrokes

Although Off Track Betting shops, race books and independent bookmakers will always have their place in horse racing, punters are shifting their loyalty and money to the Internet. This is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it could be horse racing’s ultimate salvation.

In the 1990s, the Sport of Kings was fading, losing traction to other forms of gambling and spectator events. But thanks to simulcasting of races in real time at Off Track Betting shops and race books, along with the new ease with which bettors can wager online, there are signs of resurgence.

Betting on horse racing is evolving, not dying, and virtual race books are a big part of that change.

Most online casino with sports books are also licensed to take horse racing wagers. These include the web sites of some of the best well-known UK bookmakers, brands such as Ladbrokes. Straight bets can be placed for just a pound, and certain exotic wagers may have a minimum of as little as 10p.

Thanks to the Internet, the results from any track in the United Kingdom or North America are now available for free within 15 minutes after each race is declared official.

Also just a click away is instant information on Thoroughbred bloodlines, jockeys, schedules, track conditions, odds, and more—every bit of data you might need for accurate handicapping.

Live race feeds from many racecourses can be seen, too. This makes the Internet is an almost indispensable tool for virtually every kind of punter, from casual race-goers to serious handicappers.

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