Mastering the Art of Betting on the Race Course

Updated: 4026 Learning

Discover the thrill of race course betting. From beginner tips to advice to ensure you get the most out of your day at the races.

Mastering the Art of Betting on the Race Course
James Banting Tipster Competition Assistant

James has worked for the jockey club and has 20 years sports betting experience he utilises his skills in our tipster competitions and writes sports betting content.

Horse Racing History

Racecourses came into being in the 16th century, with Chester (The Roodee) opening in 1539, followed by Salisbury (1584) and Doncaster (1595). By the time Elizabeth 1st came to the throne in 1558, horse racing was growing in popularity. She was followed by James 1st in 1603, and he saw horse racing becoming an established pastime. Horse race betting was illegal until the Racecourse Betting Act of 1928 regulated betting on horse races, with the government taking its share via tax. In 2022 betting turnover on the racecourse totalled £119 million. Since those early days, many racecourses have opened and closed, and at the time of writing, we have 59 racecourses in Britain.

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Types of race course bets

   Once you have decided which horse you like then you need to choose whether to back it win or each way. 

  1. Win Bet

A win bet is where you place your money on a horse winning the race. Any other position the horse finishes apart from 1st, you will lose your bet. It is also worth noting that some on-course bookies will be betting win only, whatever the type of race. They will likely offer better odds on the bigger-priced runners than other bookies as they don’t have to worry about paying out on the place. If you are planning a win-only bet, sometimes it is better to seek these bookies out.

  1. Each Way Bet 

An each-way bet consists of two bets, one for the win and one for the place. Half the money is placed on the win part, and half is placed on the place part. The on-course bookmakers pay placed horses in the following way. 

Runners Race Name Odds Places
5-7 Non Handicap 1/4 1st or 2nd
8 or more Non Handicap 1/5 1st or 2nd or 3rd
5-7 Handicap 1/4 1st or 2nd
8-11 Handicap 1/5 1st or 2nd or 3rd
12-15 Handicaps Handicap 1/4 1st or 2nd or 3rd
16 or more Handicaps Handicap 1/4 1st or 2nd or 3rd or 4th
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It is not always just about price with on course bookmakers though. Whereas online bookies are generally forced to offer standard each way terms based on the type of race and number of runners, on course bookies are not and will often offer worse each way terms than you are used to online. 

For example in a 16 runners handicap you might find that many on course bookies pay the 4 places but only at a 1/5 of the odds rather than a 1/4. 

You may want to take slightly shorter odds in some cases if it means getting better each way terms.

It is also worth noting that some bookies will be betting win only, whatever the type of race. 

They are likely to be offering better odds on the bigger priced runners than other bookies as they don’t have to worry about paying out on the place. If you are planning a win only bet sometimes it is better to seek these bookies out.

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Placing The Bet

Choose the bookmaker with the biggest odds or best each way terms on offer. Sometimes one bookie will be a standout price and that is where you should place your bet.  

Tell the bookmaker the horse number and how much you wish to bet. 

" i want £ 6 win bet on horse number 2"  or i would like £5 each way on horse number 7.

The bookie will give you a slip with your bet printed out  on the ticket. 

Tote Bets

When at the course you will note that there is an alternative to the on course bookmakers in the shape of the Tote

Tote betting is pool betting with winnings generated from individuals placing money with the Tote. 

Many of their bets are similar to what you can bet on with the bookmakers (although payouts differ from race to race) although there are several bets that are unique to the Tote. 

You may get better returns with the tote especially on outsiders, less people will have bet on outsiders and therefore there will be fewer winning tickets. 

The Tote has a strong presence at racecourses throughout the UK.

Time of Arrival

It would help if you aimed to arrive at the track in plenty of time; the racecourse gates typically open a couple of hours before the first race. Having some time will enable you to familiarise yourself with the facilities and organise your betting strategy for the day.

Tote Win

Tote win bets are pretty much exactly the same as standard win bets except your bet is settled by the Tote win dividend rather than the fixed odds you’d get at a bookmaker. You may see guide prices from the Tote but remember these are only a guide and the dividends can differ significantly.

In the tote image below the win and place figures will fluctuate and are just a guide to the pool, at the completion of the race a win and place figure will be announced. 


Place

The Tote allows you to bet place only unlike most on course bookmakers. Place bets are also settled by a place dividend and this kind of bet can be favourable when a horse consistently runs well without winning or if there is a hot favourite in the race that you think won’t be beaten but you fancy your selection to run well behind it. The number of places paid reflect standard each way betting terms.

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Weighed In

Do not lose or tear up your betting ticket until the “weighed in “ announcement has been made. This signals that the race result has been confirmed.

Preparing to Bet

Setting a budget

When you go racing it can be an expensive day out that is why it is always wise to set yourself a betting budget. You could divide the amount of money you have by the number of races or select races that you like the look of and just bet on those. The makeup of the races and place terms may also have a bearing on whether you bet on win or each way or place. Remember you may also want to keep funds for any multiple or pool bets such as the Jackpot or Placepot. 

Choosing the right race and horse

Most races are divided between handicaps and non handicaps. Handicaps tend to be harder to solve but normally offer bigger odds. You can visit the pre parade ring to see how your selection looks but deciding which horse looks the best can be a skill that takes a long time to learn. There will be an award before the race for the “best turned out” which can indicate a horse that has been well prepared by the trainer and their groom. 

Glossary of racing terms

It can help the racegoer if he or she is up to speed with the jargon and terms related to the sport, the following article gives you some of the most common phrases that you may hear at the track. 

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Online vs Racecourse Betting

Online Betting

OLBG offers a list of the best horse racing betting sites, here you can read comprehensive reviews of their service. In addition to this there can be incentives to join a specific online bookmaker in the shape of free bets and promotions. 

Once you have joined a bookmaker they will offer a range of boosts and offers that will be unavailable to the on course bettor. You may also receive better place terms when betting online.  

Pros

  • A wider choice of who to bet with including spread betting and betting exchange firms
  • Access to online tipsters
  • Multiple and Acca bets available. 
  • Privacy
  • The ability to take advantage of betting boosts, free bets and promotions
  • The ability to undertake more form and price study

Cons

  • Delayed or no racing coverage
  • Lack of atmosphere
  • Less understanding of the going
  • No cash betting
  • Unable to view the demeanour of the horses


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Racecourse Betting




If you decide to place your bet on the race with the on-course bookies, you will still have a wide choice regarding who you place your bet with. Depending on the quality of the meeting you have attended, you could have anywhere between 10 and 100 on-course bookies, all offering similar odds.

Generally, you'll want to have a quick look at the odds available on your selection with all or most of the bookies before placing your bet with the bookie offering the best odds. Sometimes, one bookie will offer a standout price, and sometimes, they'll all or mostly be the same price. 

The minimum bet with the on-course bookmakers is usually £2, so you can get started without risking too much of your hard-earned. 

Pros

  • Being at the racecourse can be an exciting social activity, allowing you to interact with other racing enthusiasts as well as share tips and strategies.
  • Betting at the racecourse can be a valuable learning opportunity.
  • The ability to use cash.
  • The ability to view the horses in the flesh prior to the race
  • There will be no delay of betting pictures.
  • You may be able to take advantage of any racecourse whispers.
  • You will be able to test the going conditions and any changes in ground yourself.
  • You may get a better feel for the live betting market.

Cons

  • A crowded betting ring may mean you miss the best odds or placing the bet.
  • No multiple betting with the on course bookmakers. 
  • No lay betting.
  • The inability to get the best odds from a range of the biggest bookmakers.
  • No price boosts. 

Race Day Experience

Once you have arrived at the race course you will need to understand what is where and how you can access particular areas. 

You will often have a choice of enclosures, they may well be named one of the following

Club/Members/Premier

The Club/Members/Premier enclosure is the most prestigious, will cost you the highest admission fee  and will normally be in prime position. There is often  a dress code in this area.

Grandstand/Paddock/Tattersalls

This enclosure is less formal and could be argued gives you the full horse racing experience. The best choice of bookmakers will be here including some of the bigger names such as Ladbrokes or William Hill. 

Silver Ring/Picnic/ Family Area

Most suited to newer racegoers, larger gatherings and those looking for a fun day out.

In this enclosure you can bring your own food and drink. 

Not all courses on all days have separate enclosures, on quieter midweek meetings one ticket price may get you access to all enclosures. 

Atmosphere

The atmosphere on the course can be exhilarating, with everyone hoping their choice of horse will win the race. At the bigger race meetings and festivals, such as Royal Ascot or the Cheltenham Festival, huge crowds are in attendance, the bars are packed, and the races rattle through at a breakneck speed. At smaller meetings, you find a more laid-back atmosphere where you have the ability and space to study the form.

Attendance Figures

In 2023 a total of just under five million people visited UK racecourses.

Racecourse Etiquette

Many racecourses and individual meetings will have a dress code; you should check the specific meeting you plan to attend to check this dress code. 

Be respectful of other racegoers; horse racing attracts a wide range of different age groups, so keep your language and behaviour appropriate, especially around families with children. 

Backing a winner is cause for celebration; however, remember that many will have backed a loser and may not be in such a joyous mood. 

Racecourse staff are there to make your day enjoyable and safe; please show them the respect they deserve. 

Going To The Races - Resources

To get a fuller understanding of the laws of horse racing, please visit the website of the British Horse Racing Authority.

The trade paper, the Racing Post, will be on sale at the course; the cost of this has increased appreciably, and you will have to decide if the wealth of information in the Racing Post will assist you when making betting decisions. 

The race card will be available as an alternative to the RP; sometimes, this is charged, and at some meetings (York Ebor Meeting), it is given away for free in selected enclosures. 

The race card will give you the times of the races, silks, racecard numbers, and draw. It will also give a potted history of the horse's recent form, which will be helpful for the casual racegoer in making betting decisions. 

Of course, most of us now have mobile devices, and many will have a betting app on their phones. In previous years, the reception and signal at racecourses were blocked or just unavailable; that has mainly changed, but do not be overly reliant on your phone to place your bet, plus it can be a lot of fun seeing the on course bookies squirm when you go and collect a decent win. 

And finally make sure you check the OLBG horse racing tipsters before heading out to the course. 

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Full List of UK Racecourses

National Hunt Course Flat Racing Course Mix of Flat & National Hunt
Aintree Bath Ascot
Bangor Beverley Ayr
Cartmel Brighton Carlisle
Cheltenham Chelmsford Catterick
Exeter Chester Chepstow
Fakenham Epsom Doncaster
Fontwell Goodwood Ffos Las
Hereford Great Yarmouth Haydock
Hexham Hamilton Kempton
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Racecourse Closures

Folkestone in Kent (2012) and Towcester in Northamptonshire (2018) are the last racecourses to close their doors.



How to stay responsible while betting

In nearly all our betting guide articles we highlight the need to gamble responsibly. You will enjoy your betting more if you have it under control and only ever place bets with money that you are willing to lose.

To help you stay in control you can set a daily, weekly, monthly deposit limit with many of the leading bookmakers.

If wishing to take a break from betting ask your bookmaker for a "time out". 

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FAQ

  • Do I need to bring cash to the racecourse?

    We now see more bookmakers accepting debit  although paying by cash is still welcomed as an acceptable form of payment with the on course bookmakers. 

    You can pay by cash or debit card at the Tote. 

    Many of the bars and restaurants now only accept debit and credit cards.  

    The Jockey Club who run fourteen racecourses in the UK state on their website " our racecourses continue to operate on a cashless basis" (that means no cash is accepted). 

  • Do I need to dress up?

    The dress code will vary, generally, smart casual attire is acceptable, but some areas may require more formal dress, such as suits or dresses.you should check the racecourses website or contact them directly. 

  • Can I buy entry tickets to the racecourse on the day

    At most midweek meetings you should be fine to just walk up.  Again some racecourses will not accept cash on the gate. 

    At Festivals and major race days you should book in advance to secure entry. 

  • If I place a winning bet will i be paid out straight away?

    Yes you will, as soon as the Starting Price result has been announced you can go and collect your winnings. 

    With Tote bets you have to wait until the win and place dividend has been announced, although they come thru quickly as well. 

  • Are there cashpoint machines at racecourses

    At many of the courses members have visited cash points have been available. However with most of us using less cash in our everyday lives they may not be around for much longer. We suggest that you withdraw any cash you may need before arriving at the course. 

Author

OLBG Betting Expert Nigel Skinner, a regular racegoer at various courses around the country added the information in this article. He has been battling with bookmakers for the last twenty years and hopefully you find the above helpful when next visiting a racecourse. 

Nigel Skinner

Nigel Skinner

Blog content manager

Nigel is one of OLBG's senior editors with 19 years of industry experience. Today he specialises in researching and writing about the betting angles to political and mainstream news stories and being the OLBG in-house expert on 'next football manager' betting markets.

Specialist Subjects🔬📚

⚽️👨‍💼 Nigel is an Arsenal fan first and foremost but has an unrivalled knowledge of English football managers at every level. Meticulously putting together our Next Manager articles, Nigel can quite possibly name you every manager of every club in the land, not to mention a pretty good eye for predicting replacements when changes happen. 

📈📊📉 A long-time exchange trader and spread betting fan, Nigel is our go-to for advice on the subjects and uses them daily in his own betting activity. 

🗳️💼 Finally, Nigel loves his politics and [some would say] has an unhealthy interest in the day-to-day events in the UK's political landscape, contributing to all our Political betting content and new pieces.

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