How to bet on Horse Racing

Now that you know the basics of how to place bets on Betfair's two platforms, it's time to enhance your punting knowledge and learn the specifics about betting on Horse Racing, including reading racecards, assessing form and only betting when the odds are acceptable...

  • Learn how to read a racecard

  • How to assess form in relation to other horses

  • Why you should only bet if the odds are right

We have already explained how to physically place a bet both on the Betfair Sportsbook and the Betfair Exchange in previous articles (click the links to go directly to those respective pages).

So now we're going to tell you everything you need to know about betting on horses racing, not the physical part of actually placing the bet, but how to arrive at a selection.

We will explain such criteria as the importance of selecting the types of horse races that suit you, how to read a racecard, why the race conditions (going and distance) matter, knowing the form of a trainer, assessing form, and perhaps most importantly, whether you should or shouldn't place a bet based on the odds.

Remember, this is only a guide, and hopefully a very helpful one, but knowing some essentials will go a long way to turning you into a profitable horse racing punter.

Learn why type of races to bet on

Every day in Britain and Ireland there are lots of races to bet on. Almost every day will have at least three race meetings taking place, which means around 20 horse races to choose from.

But on some weekdays when evening racing can take place because of more daylight hours it's not uncommon to see at least five race meetings taking place, and that number can grow to six or seven on a Saturday, which means you will have around 40 or more horse races to choose a bet in.

Just think about that for one moment. Three days a week with three race meetings, three with five, and one with seven. That's not far off a typical week, which means over 30 meeting and around 200 races that a punter can place a bet in.

Now would you be surprised if we told you that some experienced gamblers had a bet maybe just two or three times a week? Maybe so, but hopefully that underlines to you the importance of knowing what type of races to bet on.

In both Flat and National Hunt Racing there are many different types of races, all of which are explained here.

It is important that you become familiar with these different types of races because once you do, you will quickly learn which ones you are likely to make a profit on, and which ones you will struggle to get to grips with.

And with a bit of discipline, it won't be long before you're only betting on a handful of horse races per week, and importantly, they'll be the ones that you are most comfortable assessing.

How to read a racecard

Perhaps the most important aspect of studying a horse race prior to assessing the odds is being able to understand and able to read a racecard.

A racecard is effectively your hub of information and will tell you everything you need to know about a horse race in terms of what class it is, the distance to be raced, what the going is, how many runners there are and much more.

And for each individual horse you can see its recent form line, its age and weight, its official rating, who the trainer and jockey are, any equipment to be worn (blinkers, tongue tie etc) and its current odds.

There are many websites you can access to get this information, with perhaps the most popular being the industry newspaper, the online version of the Racing Post. But on betting.betfair we have exactly the same information just displayed in a slightly different format.

Below is an image of how the race details are typically displayed on betting.betfair.


It is all self-explanatory, with the race time and racecourse shown, the name and class of the race, the number of runners in the race, and the prize money on offer among other things.

But undoubtedly the most important information displayed here in terms of reading an individual horse's form, is the going description and the race distance.

As we can see from the race name, this particular contest is a Chase, so the going description is vital here as it tells us that the ground at Haydock is Soft, but on the Chase course it is Heavy in places.

And when you combine the going description with the race distance of just over three and a half miles, then immediately you should be thinking that this is going to be a big stamina test for the eight runners.

So unless you are hugely confident that a horse is going to improve for a big step up in trip, or suddenly become a better horse racing on heavy ground for the first time, then it would be ill-advised to bet on a horse in this race that has never raced at the distance or on a going description that reads Soft or Heavy.

And that leads us nicely on to understanding an individual horses' details and previous form.

Below is an image showing the horse details for number three in the race, Robyndzone.


The details at the top of the image tell us standard information like the name of the trainer (Venetia Williams), jockey (Charlie Deutsch), the weight the horse is set to carry in the race (11st 7lb), its age (10yo) and it's official handicap rating or OR (118).

To the right of the race card you can see the Sportsbook and Exchange odds for the horse in real time.

But by far the most vital information on display here is the horse's previous form. A summary of which can be seen to the right, just below where the odds are displayed (Form: 5P12-1F1P).

The numbers in a form line denote the position a horse finished in a race (5 = 5th, 1 = 1st for example), while the letters in a form line have different meanings. F and P are the two you will see more frequently in jumps racing, and they stand for Fell and Pulled-Up respectively.

Other letters you will see in a form line are B (Brought Down), R (Refused to race), S (Slipped-Up) and U (Unseated Rider).

Below the summary of form and Timeform comments for the horse you will see Robyndzone's previous form in more detail.

From the Date of the horse's previous runs you can assess if there's a pattern as to when the horses is likely to perform better. Does the horses run better with four weeks between its races, or does it run better after a long lay-off for example?

We can also see the racecourses that Robyndzone has raced at previously, the horse's finishing position (the - symbol denotes did not finish), that all his recent races were in a Chase, and then crucially the distance and going description of previous races.

Finally we can see if the horse wore any headgear, the jockey who rode Robyndzone on the day, the Betfair Starting Price (BSP) of the horse, and then there's an opportunity to watch the race so you can see exactly how it performed in more detail.

All the information displayed on a racecard and individual's horse's details is crucial to the process of making a selection, but as we've alluded to already, none more so than the race distance and going description.

We can see from looking at Robydnzone's previous race information that he has won on Soft ground in the past, which is the official going for the race he is due to race in next. But remember, the going description also states that the the Chase course is Heavy in places, so the fact that Robyndzone has previously won on Heavy going is also a positive.

Another positive is that he has won three of his last six races at distances in excess of three miles, including one at the distance he is due to race at next. In fact, you should notice that his last win was indeed at Haydock at just over three and a half miles, so Robyndzone is a recent course and distance winner on very testing ground.

All the above are positives when assessing a race, and for the above reasons Robyndzone has to go on a shortlist of possible race winners.

Assessing Form

Now that you know how to read a racecard correctly, you will quickly be able to make a shortlist of horses in a particular race that will be suited by the race conditions.

But knowing the above is different to assessing the form of a horse in relation to the form of other horses in a race that will also be suited by the race conditions.

People go about assessing form differently, and for some, a starting point will be checking the form of the trainer, and to a lesser extent, the jockey.

You can fancy a horse to be suited by conditions, and you may later assess that its recent form is the best in the race, but if that horse's trainer is on a dreadful run of form (all the stable's other recent runners have been getting beat easily) then to some punters that would be a huge concern.

On the flip side, you may decide that the horse you fancy to revel in the race conditions and whom you later assess to have the best form, is a bigger price than you'd expect because of the trainer/stable's poor form, so you still decide to bet on it.

People work differently, and for some punters, a trainer/stable being in really poor form would be enough to prevent them from even assessing the form a horse that originally made their shortlist. But for others, assessing the form of a horse is the be-all and end-all.

So how is it done?

In a nutshell, there's no exact science to it. But what is vitally important is having the most in-depth data to hand.

As Betfair is a betting site, and not an organisation that provides detailed race information, then the most in-depth data for individual races can be found on the Racing Post website.

Using our Robyndzone example, the below image shows the Racing Post's version of his recent form.


This information isn't too dissimilar to what's on the betting.betfair racecards site, but some key differences are being able to see the distance (how far) a horse won or lost his race by, and, as an example, by hovering over the 'by 8L Fortescue 11-11' for the race on 30Dec23 a description of how Robyndzone ran in the race will instantly appear.

This is perhaps more beneficial to some than actually watching the race itself, especially if you are time sensitive.

And taking it one step further you can actually click on one of the recent races and it will show you the race result in full. Below is an image of the result that will be displayed by clicking on the 'by 8L Fortescue 11-11' race.


Now that you have this information, assessing form becomes a lot easier.

In the race above, which was contested over the same course and distance (and very similar going) to his next race, Robyndzone beat Fortescue by eight lengths, receiving 27lb in weight (Fortescue carried 11st 11lb, Robyndzone carried 9st 12lb).

As an example, let's say that Fortescue is in opposition again, only this time he's set to carry 12st. We know that Robyndzone will carry 11t 7lb, which means he will be in receipt of just 7lb from Fortescue.

Remember, last time Robyndzone was in receipt of 27lb from Fortescue, so this time he'll be 20lb worse off with that rival as he's now in receipt of only 7lb (27lb - 7lb).

What you then have to decide is whether you think that Fortescue being 20lb better off this time is enough to reverse the form.

A huge percentage of punters would say yes, and if these two horses were the only two on their shortlist for the race, and the odds on offer for Fortescue were acceptable to the punter, the there'd be no reason to look for another selection.

But as we've already alluded to, different punters have their own methods. Robyndzone might have won his next race very impressively, or Fortescue could have hugely disappointed in a couple of subsequent runs, casting doubt as to whether the form really can be reversed on these revised terms?

The above is just an example of how to read form, and how you can use it in relation to the form of other horses. What information you choose to use, and what information you decide to ignore, is entirely up the the individual placing the bet.

Should I bet on my selection?

The simple answer to the above question is that it's entirely up to you. But for experienced gamblers the answer will nearly always boil down to the betting odds on offer.

If you have taken the time to study a racecard, made a shortlist of horses that you believe will be suited to the conditions, assessed the form of those horses, considered factors such as trainer form, and eventually arrived at a selection, then you'd be foolish to waste all that time by backing it at a price that you don't consider to be fair.

For a lot of punters the price is everything. Would you go to a supermarket and buy a loaf of bread for £2.50 when you know it's real price should be £1.20? No you wouldn't. So by the same token you shouldn't back a horse at odds of 3/14.00 if you believe it should be 5/16.00.

The key of course, is determining what price you believe a horse should be, which is a skill in itself that you'll learn with time. But you should always have a price in your mind that you'd be happy to take based on all the information you have and the study that you've put in.

If the horse doesn't get to that price then move on.

Discipline is key in betting on any sport, but on horse racing, with so many races available each week, it is imperative.

Putting hours of study in, only to see the horse that you really fancy never get to a price that you would accept backable can be very frustrating, and the temptation could be to make a quicker form study on the next race and back something at a wrong price. Don't do it.

Stick to what works for you. Work out the race types that you're most comfortable assessing, do your study, and only back your selection at a price acceptable to you.

Now read more Betfair Education articles here.

Prices quoted in copy are correct at time of publication but liable to change.