Horse racing is a magical thing to experience. Just picture the thumping and thundering of hooves, the crack of whips, the riders shouting, and the roar of the crowd cheering on their favourite runner as it overtakes all others to cross the finish line.

This sport is wildly popular around the world, and many punters love wagering on horse races.

Of course, betting on the ponies can be risky, so you should be well prepared before you begin. In our horse racing betting guide, we’ll show you the ropes to help you get started.

Whether you’re a newbie to horse race betting or a pro with seasoned experience, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know to kick your horse racing betting up a notch.

From the most popular bet types in horse racing to tips and strategies, and even a glossary to help you understand common abbreviations, we’ll cover it all. Let’s begin.

Types of Horse Bets

We’ll begin this ultimate horse racing betting guide by looking at the various types of bets you can make on horse racing. They are typically divided into two categories; straight bets and exotic bets.

Straight Bets

As the name implies, these are some of the simplest bets to make. They’re straightforward and don’t necessarily require that much thinking or skill to place. If you’re looking for a quick and fairly easy win (bearing in mind that there’s no way to guarantee any bet), a straight horse bet is the surest path to take.

For most newbies, these are the first bets they become familiar with.

Below are the three simplest bets in horse racing.


A win bet is exactly what the name suggests; your selection must finish first. If you place such a wager on any horse in a race, then it has to win the race outright for your bet to yield profits. This is the simplest way to place a bet on a horse race, and perhaps the easiest way for you to win if you select wisely.


A place bet requires you to pick a horse that will finish first, second, or third in a race. You don’t have to select the exact placing – any of those three places will do. Bear in mind that if there are seven or fewer runners in the field, your selection might have to finish in the top two rather than the top three, although this rarely happens in the UK.


A show bet is very similar to a win or a place bet. As with the previous bets, you select one horse and predict that your selection will finish in the top three or four depending on the number of runners overall.

Why You Should Consider Straight Bets

Why are straight bets a good option to consider when making bets on horse races? Here’s why you should consider starting out with win, place, and show bets.

– This is the simplest way to bet on horses. There’s no complex mumbo jumbo and no dealing with technicalities; just good old fashioned bets. At the end of the day, your bet all comes down to one horse in a single race.

– It makes it easier to win money on races like handicaps: with win, place, and show bets, you don’t have to rely on multiple results going your way. The more horses you have to gamble on, the more chances there are to lose, thanks to the higher number of variables. With straight bets, however, you have just one horse to worry about, and a better chance of successful results.

– You get a much clearer understanding of the odds of the outcome you’re predicting; straights offer more clarity on odds than any other type of bet. A clear example is with win bets, as each horse has its own odds. On the other hand, exotic bets are much more difficult to figure out in terms of odds.

– There is a much bigger chance of winning your original wager with straight bets; win, place, and show bets give you a much better opportunity to make money off your stake on a race. That’s because the odds are much shorter for one horse to finish in a predicted position than for multiple horses to do so. Of course, that also means you get a smaller return than you would on a long-odds bet.

How to Make Straight Bets

Placing a straight bet is quite easy if you have all the necessary information. Here’s what you need to know before you make a straight bet at a race track or an online betting site:

The track: You should always know the name of the track that your race is going to take place at. That’s because the race track and conditions can affect how the race is run.

The race number: Each race track hosts a number of races every day of competition. To avoid mixing up these races, it’s important that you know the exact number of your selected race.

The bet amount: This might seem like the most obvious thing you need to do, but you need to specify just how much you’re staking on a bet. This is because there are minimum amounts you can place on a race, such as $2 in the United States, and tellers are likely to assume that’s how much you’re staking if you don’t specify.

The bet type: As you know, a straight bet can be a win, place, or show. Whichever one it is, you should be clear and specific.

The number of your selected horse or horses: Perhaps the biggest mistake you could make in physical horse race betting is to walk up to a teller and tell them which horse you’re betting on by their name. Tellers deal with hundreds of races and potentially thousands of horses, so telling them a particular name in the sea of information they deal with is probably futile. Instead, use the horse’s unique number to avoid any misunderstandings.

Of course, if you’re betting on an online sports betting site, it’s all digitised and a little easier. However, you’ll still need all of this information; it’ll be crucial for navigating around the site.

Exotic Horse Bets

Now we’re on to the big guns! We’ve already established that exotic bets are a step up from straight bets, and that’s because they’re more complex. Where straight bets usually involve one horse and straightforward odds, exotic wagers are more difficult to win because they often involve more horses, increased variables, and complex odds.

Here are the most popular exotic bets.


Simply put, an exacta is an exoctic bet where you predict the first- and second-place finishers in a race. An exacta bet is very similar to a quinella bet, which we’ll look at next, except that the order in which the horses finish is important. You predict which horse comes first and which finishes second. Your wager is won so long as the horses finish exactly in that order.


Quinellas are exotic bets that are like exactas, but with a twist. A quinella bet is made on two horses to finish first or second in a race. However, unlike with exactas, it doesn’t matter what order they finish in, so long as both your selections finish in the top two.


In a trifecta bet, you predict which exact horses will finish first, second, and third. A trifecta is just like an exacta bet, but instead of selecting the horses to place first and second; you’re picking the top three horses. Your selections would need to finish in the exact order you picked for your bet to win.


If you’re all for living life on the edge and the trifecta isn’t providing you with enough adrenaline, then the superfecta is just what the doctor ordered. With this bet type, you’ll be picking the first-, second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers. What’s more, they have to finish in the exact order you predict for you to win your bet.

Daily Double

A daily double is a bet where you pick the winners of two different races. These races are usually consecutive and are most likely the first or last two races on the track card, but sometimes you can find rolling daily doubles all through the day.

Pick 3

A pick 3 bet involves picking the winning horses in three consecutive races. It’s the same as a daily double except with three races. A pick 4 bet would involve picking the winners in four consecutive races, a pick 5 bet would require you to pick the winners of five consecutive races, and – no surprises – a pick 6 bet would be for six consecutive races.

Wheel Betting

Wheel betting makes use of the many aforementioned bets, but with the allowance for more horses than the bet would otherwise involve. For instance, if you choose horse #3 as your winning selection, but you aren’t so certain if it’s horse #5 or #1 that will place second, you can place a wheel bet for an exacta. In this case, if either horse #1 or #5 finishes second and horse #3 (your selection) places first, you win the bet.

Each Way

What does ‘each way’ mean in horse racing? Some types of bets in horse racing simply combine two basic bets, and that’s exactly what each way is. It combines win and place bets. If your selection wins, you get the earnings for both types of bets. If your selection finishes second or third, then you only collect the earnings for the place wager.


Here, you need to accurately select two of the three top finishing runners in any order.

Horse Racing Betting Glossary

In your horse racing betting journey, you’ll come across various terms that may mean next to nothing to you at first, but are crucial to your success. Some of these terms include:

– SP: This simply stands for starting price. It refers to the odds available on a horse at the beginning of a race it’s competing in.

– NAP: This stands for Napoleon. It’s a term used by tipsters to indicate the best tip of the day. It shows bettors which horse tipsters believe is the best bet for a payout.

– OR: This is an abbreviation of official rating and represents a horse’s overall rating. A horse earns its OR when it has won a race or places among the top six finishers in three different racing events.

– Pulled up: Mistakes happen everywhere, even in horse racing. When a horse encounters any issues such as an injury, it is “pulled up” by its jockey to avoid any further damage. This is abbreviated as P or PU.

– UR: This is an abbreviation of unseated rider. It’s used when a horse has unseated its jockey, causing the jockey to fall off.

– Handicap: This can either mean handicap rating or handicap race. In the former sense, it’s a representation of a horse’s form, or the estimated value of its abilities. A handicap race is where stronger horses carry extra weight, therefore slowing them down. Handicap races aim to level the playing field for all horses.

– RPR: This means racing post rating and predicts how well a horse will run given the specific conditions of a race.

– BF: This stands for beaten favourite. It is assigned to a horse that was the favourite to win in its last race, and could actually win the next race.

How to Read Horse Racing Form

Racing forms are typically sold at race tracks or online. They are comprehensive publications showing the recent performances of horses in a racing event. They hold all the information you’d need to place  a bet, but they are also very complex documents. The primary elements in a horse racing form guide that you should look out for are:

  • Form figures (representing the recent positions a horse has finished in)
  • Age of the horse
  • Trainer
  • Jockey
  • Track
  • Ground (the condition of the racing surface, known as the “going”) 
  • The class of the race
  • Horse’s weight
  • Draw (where a horse will be positioned in the starting stalls)
  • Headgear

Secondary elements include:

  • Previous form: learning a horse’s capability at its best or worst
  • Track configuration: left-handed or right-handed tracks, the time of year, certain events or races

The Bottom Line

You’ve successfully completed our horse racing betting guide! By now, you should be well on your way to making your first horse racing bet at the tracks. You can always come back to this guide if you’re ever stuck.


Can I bet on different horses to win, place, or show in the same race?

The number of bets you can make on one horse race is unlimited, at least when it comes to choosing horses. If you wanted to, you could actually place a bet on every horse in every race, but that wouldn’t be wise. Instead, you could narrow down the field by picking a couple of horses to win, place, or show.

Is betting the favourite a good strategy?

With horse racing, it does look as though opting for the horse that has the best chance of winning is a great strategy. Of course, it’s not a bad idea, but you should consider some other aspects before blindly betting on the favourite. For one, the odds on such a horse will be the least profitable. Also, the favourite horse is never guaranteed to win. As a matter of fact, favourite horses win 33% of races on average and finish second 53% of the time.

What is a length in horse racing?

A length in horse racing is a measurement that is based on the length of a horse and that horse’s stride pattern. This measurement is used to describe the winning margins between horses in a race. It’s typically 8 to 9 feet long.