How to Place a Bet at a Racecourse

Placing a bet is by no means an essential part of enjoying a day at the races. The social element, fashion, bars, and catering options are more than enough to deliver a cracking day out on their own. Nevertheless, for many racegoers, backing a horse and cheering it on as it approached the winning post is all part of the race day experience.

For those new to the activity, entering the betting ring and placing a bet with a bookmaker may seem like a daunting task. Don’t let inexperience put you off though, as the whole process is designed to be as quick and straightforward as possible. One thing to remember is that – at most race meetings – the majority of the crowd will not be made up not of experienced betting experts, but rather simply groups of people out to have a good time. Nevertheless, a little information in terms of what to expect is always useful, which is where this handy guide comes in.

What Is the Betting Ring?

Simply put, the betting ring is the area of the racecourse in which bookmakers take bets from punters – generally being located in front of the main grandstand and along the rails dividing the enclosures.

This area is immediately identifiable by the bookmakers themselves, complete with display boards showing the names and numbers of the runners, and their odds for the next race. Often accompanied by a rather large and rather bright umbrella, and surrounded by punters, the bookmakers in the betting ring are pretty hard to miss. An iconic feature of the racecourse, the betting ring adds greatly to the atmosphere, theatre, and excitement of a day at the races.

All bookmakers located in the betting ring are independent of one another and are competing for your business. As such, the odds available will often differ between individual bookmakers. It is good practice to scan the various odds available to ensure you are getting the best deal, rather than approach the first bookie who flashes a smile.

Why Do Odds Matter?

In betting, the odds represent the bookmaker’s opinion of how likely a horse is to win the race. The bigger the odds, the less chance the bookmaker believes the horse has; the smaller the odds, the more likely it is to win – at least in the opinion of the bookmaker.

As a simple example, odds of 10/1 suggest that the horse has one chance of winning the race, and 10 chances of not winning the race. 2/1 in contrast implies that the runner has one chance of winning and two chances of not winning. At the other end of the spectrum, odds of 1/5 indicate that the horse has five chances of winning and just one chance of failing to come home in front.

The most important aspect from the punter’s point of view is that the odds you are given will be used to calculate your winnings should your selection emerge victorious. The way in which this works is again rather simple. Betting odds are traditionally displayed as a fraction, with the second number representing the amount you must stake in order to win the first number. For example:

  • 2/1 – Stake £1 to win £2; With all winning bets, you will also receive your stake back, so the total return will be £3 (£2 in winnings plus your original £1 Stake)
  • 10/1 – Stake £1 to win £10; Total returns £11
  • 6/4 – Stake £4 to win £6; Total Returns £10
  • 1/4 – Stake £4 to win £1; Total Returns £5

When deciding which bookmaker to bet with, always favour the one with the bigger odds. If one bookmaker is offering 8/1 for your selection, and another 10/1, bet with the bookmaker offering 10/1.

Placing Your Bet

Race book

Placing a bet with a bookmaker in the betting is as easy as following four easy steps.

1. Pick Out Which Horse You Want to Bet On

Whether you have studied the form, you have been impressed by the horse in the parade ring, or you simply like the name, there is no wrong way to pick a horse. Having made your selection, make a note of what number the horse is on the race card. This will be detailed in your race programme and on the boards of the bookmakers.

2. Decide How Much You Want to Bet

The best advice here is to set a budget for the day, say £5 or £10 per race, and stick to that. Never bet more than you can easily afford to lose (because a lot of people will lose… that’s why bookies stay in business!).

3. Decide Whether to Bet Win or Each Way

With a win bet, the horse must win to receive any winnings. With an each-way bet you will again win should the horse come home in front, but also have the insurance of at least getting something back if the horse finishes in the places. This usually means in the first three or four positions.

The exact number of places paid for an individual race will be displayed on the bookmaker’s board (e.g. each way 1-3 or each way 1-4). The important thing to remember here is that an each-way bet is actually two bets – one bet on the horse to win, and another on the horse to be placed. As such, a £5 each way bet would cost a total of £10.

4. Place Your Bet with the Bookmaker

Having shopped around for the best odds, approach your bookmaker of choice and state your stake, the type of bet, and the number of the horse you wish to back, e.g. £5 win on number seven, or £10 each way on number seven. Then hand the bookmaker the money to pay for the bet. Bookmakers will display a sign stating whether they are cash only, or also take card payments, but these days the overwhelming majority accept both cash and card. A bookmakers display board will also indicate the minimum stake they accept, which is most often in the £2 to £5 range.

Having paid for your bet, the bookmaker will then hand you a printed paper receipt including all the details of your bet, i.e. the name of the bookmaker, the horse’s name and number, the odds, the type of bet, and the potential returns. Keep hold of this slip, as you will need it in order to claim any winnings if your chosen horse does the business.

One thing to note is that most bookmakers in the betting ring will only display odds for the upcoming race. When one race finishes, they will then begin displaying odds for the next race of the day.

Racecourse Betting Shop

Betting shop at Cheltenham Racecourse

One alternative to the betting ring is to place your bet at the racecourse betting shop. Usually located in the main grandstand, these shops replicate the high street betting experience.

To place a bet here, simply fill in one of the readily available betting slips, detailing the time of the race, the name or number of your selection, the type of bet, and your stake. Next hand this slip to a cashier together with your payment, who will then run the slip through the till and hand you your receipt. Again, keep hold of this ticket in order to claim payment should your luck be in. If in any doubt as to how it all works on the day, just ask the friendly cashier who will be happy to help.

Claiming Your Winnings

Holding £10 notes

Should your shrewd selection prove to be correct, and your horse comes in front, you are then ready to undertake one of the most enjoyable tasks of a day at the races, that is, collecting your winnings. And this process is even easier than placing a bet.

The first thing to listen out for is the public address announcement of “weighed in, weighed in”. Following a race, all riders must head to the weighing room, complete with their saddle and racing equipment, to ensure they have carried the correct weight during the race. The “weighed in, weighed in” announcement indicates that this process has been completed successfully and the result of the race is official.

Following the weighed-in announcement, simply head to the bookmaker with whom you placed your bet – the name of the bookmaker will be on your betting slip should you forget in all the excitement. Next, gleefully pass the slip to the bookmaker who will then hand you your winnings in return. Hoorah!

Tote Betting

The Tote at Cheltenham Racecourse

In addition to the traditional type of betting available in the betting ring and the on-course betting shop, all racetracks also offer an alternative Tote betting option. With a Tote bet, all of the stakes for an individual race are placed into one pool. Following the race, this pool is then divided amongst all winning tickets.

As a very simple example, consider a race in which 10 people each placed a £10 bet, creating a £100 pool. If at the end of the race only two people had correctly predicted the winner, they would each receive half of the prize pool, i.e. £50. In reality, it would be slightly less than this as the Tote does take a small percentage.

Whereas with a traditional bet, the odds you take are the odds you get, with a pool bet you only find out your winnings after the race – which can sometimes lead to a nice surprise, particularly should you back a winning outsider who not many other people have backed.

Popular Tote Bets

The minimum bet for all Tote bets is £2, with the following types of bets being amongst the most popular.

  • Win – Simply a bet on the horse to win the race.
  • Place – A bet on the horse to finish in the place positions. For the equivalent of an each-way bet select both win and place on the tote betting slip.
  • Placepot – A very popular option for a day at the races. Select a horse in each of the first six races on the card, if all six finish in the places, you win.
  • Jackpot – Again select a horse in the first six races on the card. If all six win, you win. This is a very tough bet to call correctly but – as the name suggests – you may well hit the Jackpot with some potentially massive wins available if Lady Luck is smiling on you.