Betting on Horses for Beginners: Types of Bets Explained

Betting on horses is admittedly not the most popular form of gambling today. This ancient sport still attracts numerous viewers and punters. If you want to boost the excitement of watching a race and bet on your favourite horse, you should first have a few fundamental principles in mind. 

Horse betting is very different from other forms of sports betting, as it involves specific types of wagers. We’ll cover the essentials, so let’s jump straight into the horse betting for beginners course!

Is horse betting cruel?

Don’t trust those who tell you that horse racing may go extinct because of animal cruelty. The reason is simple: there’s no cruelty involved. Quite the contrary, the animals, are generally well-treated, well-fed and love to run around the circuit by nature. 

Indeed, the horses enact a great degree of competition between them, and it seems they take delight in being treated like royalty. There may be occasional cruelty, but that doesn’t mean the entire sport is vitiated. 

What is pari-mutuel wagering?

At the beginning of the XX century, people thought that a sportsbook might have a significant advantage if fixed-odds rules governed horse racing. Indeed, the fact that a bookie could manipulate the outcome of a race raised security concerns. Thus, the pari-mutuel system was created, in which punters wagers among themselves, not against the house. 

Technically, it’s a form of betting exchange before 

this concept even existed. Interestingly, there’s no house edge here since you don’t wager against a bookie. The odds shift according to all punters’ bets. Instead of house advantage, the racetrack takes a specific commission out of all pooled bets, leaving the rest of the pot for winners to share.   

Questions of legality

The pari-mutuel system is the only legal form of gambling in countries where betting is generally forbidden. In the UK, games of chance are carried out by the UKGC’s guidelines, and horse betting is included under its jurisdiction. The sport has a rich tradition here, stretching back to the time of King James I, so, naturally, the betting part of it is highly regulated. 

As such, illegal wagering in the UK is reduced to street games, of which these examples are most prevalent. While it’s unlikely that a street scammer will lure you into placing bets at an illegal racetrack, we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility. Fraudster game operators are known for their creativity, so it’s always a good idea to check the legal status of your wagers. 

The basic bets at the racetrack

Horse betting is relatively straightforward with straight bets. Still, knowing the basic bets at the racetrack will open up a whole world of possibilities, as you’ll see shortly. 


The win bet is the easiest to get right as it simply means that your selection finishes first. Should your horse cross the finish line in pole position, your wager pays out according to its odds before the race. It’s not much to discuss here; you either win or lose.

Say your horse had odds of 7/3 at the start of the race. You place a £10 wager on it winning, which means your potential payout will be £33.3. 


Suppose you’re not that confident in your selection but still somewhat trust your horse to finish in the top 2 positions. In that case, it might be a good idea to profit off the flexibility provided by the place bet. With this type of wager, you have these scenarios. When your horse finishes first or second, your wager is a winner, but it’s a loser if it finishes third. 

Still, you should keep in mind that place wagers are limited to races with at least 5 participants.

Moreover, odds for place and show should be taken with a grain of salt because they constantly shift according to betting activity up until the start of the race. So, if your horse wins the race, but you don’t get entirely the initially expected payout, that’s why.


Show bets allow punters the greatest flexibility but also provide the poorest odds. Suppose you’re not particularly confident in a horse, but you think 2 of them stand good chances of finishing the top 3. In that case, it’s a good idea to place show bets on each of them. While you shouldn’t expect stellar payouts, this wager may give you some peace of mind as it involves 3 possible winning situations.

Yes, payouts may not be anything out of the ordinary. But combine the show bet with a horse that’s priced at particularly long odds to win the race, and you might have a winning formula. 

Systems and advanced bets 

Advanced wagers bring the actual entertainment value of horse betting. These wagers may seem a bit complicated for newcomers, but if you’ve grasped the basic bets, you’ll have no problem. 

Across the board

Across-the-board wagers imply a win, place, and show bet on the same selection. As such, you need to invest triple your standard stake. This type of wager is most useful for long-priced horses that you believe stand a chance of crossing the line afront. 

Should the horse finish third, you’ll probably earn your investment back without any profits. A better position at the finish line would mean a higher potential payout. Still, should your horse not finish within the top 3, your across-the-board wager will be lost. 

Exotic bets

For a thorough introduction into the world of horse betting, we must consider exotic bets, too. As a beginner, you shouldn’t invest too much money in these difficult wagers because your chances to get them right are very slim. 

Still, most horse racing punters will tell you they’re in the game hoping to one day break the record for the highest-paying horse racing bet slip, currently held by a British punter whose £2 bet earned him more than £1.4 million. If you want to inch closer to such a payout, you need one of the following exotic wagers: 

  • Exacta: Selecting the 2 horses that place first and second, in the exact order
  • Exacta Box: identifying the top 2 horses in any order
  • Quinella: Selecting the 2 horses that finish first and second in no particular order
  • Trifecta: picking the top 3 horses in the exact order 
  • Trifecta Box: selecting the top 3 horses in any order
  • Superfecta: predicting the top 4 horses in the correct order 
  • Superfecta Box: identifying the top 4 in no particular order

This list of exotic wagers is rounded off by other special bets you may find at online bookies. Still, these differ from one betting site to the other, so we let you discover them independently. Make sure you check the site’s FAQ before staking any real money.

Wrap-up. Do your homework!

You’ve gained a better understanding of the various horseracing bets at hand, but it doesn’t end here. Knowing how to bet at the racetrack or online is one thing, but you should develop a method for constructing your bet slips.

In that vein, you should start analyzing the form of the horses you’re betting on. Use data analytics websites to refine your search for value bets, and don’t settle for the obvious picks. 

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