Horses have been raced since as early as the age of the ancient Roman and Greek Civilizations, when Chariot racing was popular. In history, where there were horses, there was equestrian sport and almost always horse racing.
In the United Kingdom, horse racing became more formalized as the racehorse itself became more defined: people began breeding horses selectively for speed in the 17th and 18th centuries, creating what we now know as the Thoroughbred by using the bloodlines of horses from overseas. These horses were the Byerley Turk, the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian. Every racehorse today is descended from these animals; the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the breed. To be eligible to race now, racehorses must have a full, comprehensive thoroughbred pedigree and a passport, issued by Weatherbys.
In this guide, you will be introduced to the different varieties of horse racing, some betting terms and a guide on how to place an informed bet with William Hill.
Types of horse races
There are four different types of horse racing: Flat racing; National Hunt racing; Harness racing and Endurance racing. In the UK, Flat and National Hunt or Jump racing are the prominent varieties by a wide margin. Both are regularly televised, in the media and punted on.
This sort (or ‘code’) of horse racing is as described by its name: Flat races take place on flat tracks with no obstacles. These races are focused on speed rather than agility over jumps, and can be between five furlongs and two miles in distance.
Horses that race over five furlongs are known as sprinters, whereas a horse that races over one-and-a-half miles to two miles is known as a ‘stayer’. ‘Middle-distance’ horses run over seven furlongs to a mile.
Flat racehorses can start racing at two years old, and may be colts (entire males aged under five), fillies (females aged under five), geldings (castrated males), mares (females aged over five) or horses (entire males aged over five).
Flat races take place on both turf and all-weather surfaces. The turf season runs over the late spring to autumn, and the all-weather season runs over the winter.
National Hunt (or ‘Jump’) racing
This code of racing indicates races in which horses must clear obstacles – these can be hurdles (smaller jumps designed to be jumped quickly) or steeplechase fences (large jumps which require good jumping ability and power).
National Hunt races are longer than Flat races, being between two miles and four miles long, and are run slower than a Flat race.
National Hunt horses may be geldings, fillies or mares. Colts and entire horses are not seen in National Hunt races.
Within this code, there is a variety of races known as a ‘National Hunt Flat race’ – these are races for young, inexperienced horses without obstacles and are designed to provide the runners with education.
Present in the UK, although not hugely popular, harness racing is widely televised and watched in Europe, Australia and the USA. In these races, harnessed horses trot around a track with a driver rather than a rider. These horses can trot up to twenty miles an hour and, like Flat and National Hunt horses, must have the correct breeding and schooling to compete.
Similar to Harness racing, Endurance racing does feature in the UK but is not widely publicized by the media or punted on. Endurance races can be between five and 150 miles over challenging terrain and typically run over one to three days.
Reading horse racing odds
Read more about betting odds in out odds guide.
Horse racing betting odds
Horse racing betting terms
Successful betting relies on knowing some of the key terms. Check here for a quick guide on the most important ones.
Horse racing betting tips
Check age, weight and form
All of these factors can indicate how well a horse may perform in a race. Usually, a National Hunt horse aged six, for example, will likely have a more successful run than a horse aged nine or ten, because they have the advantage of youth (just like human athletes). Sometimes, however, age and experience are more advantageous.
Weight carried by the horses is an important consideration because, generally, the lesser weight carried, the more easily the horse can run. If you were considering placing a bet on one of two horses of comparable ability, the one carrying the least weight would have the best choice.
Form must also be looked at. If a horse has good recent form, placing or winning a race, then chances are they will perform well again. On the other hand, continuous poor form and finishing near the back does not lend itself to successful betting.
Check the going and the racing distance
‘Going’ refers to the ground, which varies between Heavy, Soft, Good and Firm. Going may also be classified as ‘Good to Firm’, for example. Racehorses often have a preference for certain ground, so it’s useful to compare the ground of the race at which you are looking to their previous form to get the best result. Some horses struggle to thrive in Heavy ground, for example, so in a race like this, look for a horse who has made the placings or won on similar ground over a similar distance.
Occasionally you will come across a racehorse who is versatile on ground and distance, but usually they perform better over a particular distance, so again, when considering backing a horse, it’s important to look at their previous form to see what they have achieved over the distance of the race you are considering.
In Flat racing, the horses begin the race by jumping out of starter stalls, also known as ‘gates’. On a circuit track particularly, a horse’s assigned gate can have a significant impact on the course of their race, as innermost gates can give a horse an advantage, while outermost gates can make their job much more difficult in terms of gaining a good position in the field to win from.
Check the class rating and speed figure
Race classes go from Class 6, for bottom-rated horses, all the way up to Class 1 for the top-rated horses. It’s useful to see if a horse has gone up or down in class, as this could affect where they manage to finish in the race. They might have a better chance when going down a class, or a slightly worse chance when going up in class.
Who is the horse jockey and trainer
If in doubt, it’s always advisable to back ‘in-form’ jockeys and trainers. A recent string of winners from a trainer in particular shows that the horses from their yard are in good health and are doing the right work on the right feed, so they are often a good bet.
Horse racing betting types
The most popular horse-race bet is a simple one ‘to win’whereby you only win money back if the horse wins the race.
‘Each-way’ bets are also prevalent. This is when two bets are placed on a horse at once; the first of these bets is a ‘to win’ bet, and the second is ‘to place’. If the horse places, the bettor wins back a fifth of the ‘to win’ odds, so an each-way bet is good value at longer odds.
‘Without’ bets are common as well. The bettor can choose to exclude the best horse in the field from their betting result. For example, in a ten-horse race, Horse A is by far the best horse and as very short odds of 15/8. The bettor wants to back Horse B at 6/1, but knows that it cannot beat Horse A. He can choose to ‘bet without’ Horse A, excluding it from the result, so that if Horse B comes in second place, it has essentially won in the ‘without’ bet. The odds of Horse B would be reduced accordingly in a bet of this variety.
To place a ‘multiple’ or an ‘Accumulator’, you must put at least two selections on your betting card and, if all your selections win, you would go on to receive highly increased odds to the unlikelihood of every selection winning. These are very high reward bets, but are rare to win. For example, if you place five horses on your betting card, you could then place a ‘Five-fold’ bet at excitingly long odds and potentially get back thousands more than your original stake. All five horses would have to win for you to win back anything; one loser breaks the whole bet.
Bet on horse racing with William Hill