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Guide to Horse Racing Betting & Terminology - en-ca
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Guide to Horse Racing Betting & Terminology - en-ca

Horse racing is one of the most exciting, action-packed sports on the planet. Combining the ancient art of horse riding with the thrills of wagering on a winner, there’s a reason why it’s dubbed the ‘Sport of Kings’. But with each passing year, horse racing adds a new layer of complexity and brilliance that makes it that much more endearing to fans.

Although simple on the surface, there’s an awful lot of horse racing terms that can be easily overlooked – especially when the stakes are high. From breeding and genetics, to equipment and horse racing betting terminology, there are multiple factors that can be the difference between winning and losing.

Our comprehensive horse racing guide covers all the essentials, including those vital horse racing abbreviations that’ll put you in good stead come your next trip to the races.

Types of UK Horse Racing

If you’re familiar with the horse racing scene in the UK, then the chances are you’re likely to see two main types of horse racing. They include:

  • Flat races – these take place on a course that doesn’t feature any obstacles
  • Jump races – these involve horses and riders navigating obstacles as they race. The obstacles usually take of the form of hedges

 

Flat racing

Flat races in the UK have been contested for centuries, with them almost always taking place on turf. Flat racing is all about speed and stamina, as well as the jockey’s ability to control the horse.

The most prestigious flat races in the UK are The Classics, five flat races that have been run for centuries, with specialist horses bough and bred for one reason: to win. Every horse that runs in each of the classics is three years old, and the sex of the horse varies from race to race.

The five classics are comprised of the following:

The 2,000 Guineas

The 2,000 Guineas (which gets its name from the original prize available to the winning jockey) takes place on the Rowley Mile are Newmarket over a distance of 1 mile. The race is scheduled each year to take place in late April or early May and is the first classic of the year to be run. The first 2,000 guineas was run in 1809 and is open to both three-year-old colts (male horses) and fillies (female horses).

The 1,000 Guineas

Also run on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket, the 1,000 Guineas came to be five years after the 2,000 Guineas in 1814. The main difference between the two races, however, is that the 1,000 Guineas is only open to three-year-old fillies.

The Epsom Oaks

The Oakes Stakes, which runs at Epsom Downs over a distance of 1 mile, 4 furlongs and 6 yards takes place in late May or early June and is the third classic to run each year. Existing since 1779, the race is open only to three-year-old fillies.

The Epsom Derby

Epsom Downs’ second classic race of the year takes place on the same course on the first Saturday of June each year and is open to both colts and fillies. It is Britain’s richest horse race and the most prestigious of the five classics, earning it the title of ‘Blue Riband’ of the turf.

The St Leger

The St Leger Stakes is the final classic race of the year, taking place in at Doncaster Racecourse. The track is 1 mile, 6 furlongs and 115 years long. Established in 1776, the St Leger is the oldest of the five classics.

Over three of the five classics (2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger), the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing is contested. If a single horse manages to win all three of these races, then they are crowned Triple Crown champion. Winning all three is rare, and the last Triple Crown champion was Nijinksy in 1970. Before that, Bahram was the previous winner – in 1935!

Jump races

Jump races involve physically jumping the horse over a set of obstacles, usually hedges and ditches. Jump races are often referred to as National Hunt races. Jump races originated from hunting on horseback, whereby chasing down an animal such as a fox would involve navigating over hedgerows and over small streams or becks.

The UK’s most famous and prestigious jump race is the Grand National, which takes place annually at Aintree Racecourse. The course measures about 4 miles and 2 and a half furlongs (4 miles 514 yards) and has 16 fences made from either spruce or a more durable imitation plastic on certain fences. Some of the fences are jumped twice on the course, making for a total of 30 jumps over the 2 laps of the race.

There are plenty of other jump races held at courses all over the UK, including steeplechases Some of the most popular National Hunt races include the King George VI Chase at Kempton, the Ascot Chase at Royal Ascot, and the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Horse races in the UK are organised into groups to signify their importance and prestige. The classics are listed as Group 1 races, with only the best horses entered into this group. Groups 2 and 3 are still important and will carry lucrative prize money, but the aim for trainers and owners is to compete in the highest group possible. For punters, groups and prestige doesn’t really matter – you could make the same amount of money betting on a group 1 race as you could on an ungrouped race, as long as the odds are the same!

Horse Racing Terminology

Before you begin betting, it’s worth learning a bit more about the different types of horse racing terminology you’ll likely encounter. While there’s plenty of fun to be had at the races, it’s not quite the same when your horses don’t come in. To help you make the most of your race day – and to keep you clued up on what the commentators are saying – we’ve provided a brief explanation to some common terms you’ll encounter.

Horse Racing Equipment (known as tack)

Racing saddle

This critical piece of kit sits across the horses back and provides a platform for the jockey. More importantly, the saddle features stirrups which greatly increase the rider’s ability to stay in the saddle and control the mount, increasing the bond between horse and jockey.

Strip / colours

Keeping track of each horse is made easier for spectators thanks to the brightly coloured shirts with unique patterns. The colours are registered to the owner of the horse.

Skull cap helmet and protective equipment

Horse racing can be dangerous if the jockey falls from their horse, so a helmet and body protector is there to guard against accidental kicks from other horses if they end up on the track. In rainy conditions or on particularly heavy tracks, jockeys may also opt to use goggles to prevent mud that flies up from the ground from entering the eyes.

Whip

Whips are used in short bursts to encourage the horses to run faster. Whip use is limited using strict controls set out by the British Horseracing Authority, including the number of times it can be used (seven times in a flat race, eight times in a jump race) and where on the horse’s body it can be used (only areas where it will not cause pain, such as the hindquarter rather than the flanks).

Bit and bridle

Controlling a racehorse comes down to several factors. As well as the jockeys body position, a set of reins connected to a bridle that sits on the horse’s head – control the direction of the horse’s head and the rest of its body will follow. One way of steering a horse is to use a bit, a piece of metal that sits in the horse’s mouth, but doesn’t impede breathing. If the bit is moved in a certain direction using the reins, then the horse’s natural reaction will be to move away from the thing tugging on the corner of their mouth – giving the jockey a response to their command.

From the Parade Ring

The parade ring is the section of the racecourse where horses are shown to spectators, bookmakers and horse racing experts. The reason for parading horses before a race is to show that the horse is fit, focused, and ready to race. It’s often that case that bookmakers will inspect horses as they parade, then adjust the odds based on what they see.

What to look for

Although inspecting horses at the parade ring isn’t an exact science, experience comes in handy as you’ll be able to spot a nervous or agitated horse after a few goes. Nervous horses can either have the race of their life as they try and get away from whatever is causing the stress. Watching younger horses, like two-year-olds, is often more important as their temperament can be a good gauge of how they’ll perform when it’s race time.

Other things to look out for include the horses coat (horses that get nervous and sweat too much are known to be ‘washed out’ and may not perform as well) and whether it is moving well (tired, unhealthy or slow horses probably aren’t going to be winners).

Once you’ve had a good look at each horse and decided which one has the ‘look of eagles’ or is best turned out’ (both phrases that mean a particular horse or horses is / are looking especially strong), then you can make a much more informed bet. If you aren’t at the racecourse, then don’t worry – the odds tell an accurate story, so if one of the horses isn’t looking at its best, the odds could end up drifting significantly.

At the Starting Gate

Simply lining up the horses on a starting line, or staggered group as you’ll see at the Grand National, can be challenging, so for flat races with a reduced number of runners a set of mechanical starting gates are used to ensure a fair start.

Jockeys must encourage their horses into a narrow box-like structure, with a set of gates at the front that open up immediately when the race commences. The idea is that the horse will want to leave the gate as quickly as possible, a bit like a sprinter exploding off the blocks.

However, the starting gate can provide a challenge to both jockeys and race officials. It’s natural for inexperienced or agitated horses to refuse to enter the gates, or kick and waste energy when they are inside. Excited and temperamental horses can be both a blessing and burden; they are either going to give the run of their life, or they could simply refuse to leave the gate or pull up as soon as the gates are open. This is where an experienced and skilled jockey can harness the horse’s energy and turn it into a good performance.

At the Racecourse

The racecourse is a key focal point for any horse race, especially before the race has started.

First, there’s the length of the race. Horse races in the UK are measured in miles and yards, but there’s also the word furlong to look out for. A furlong is 1/8th of a mile. Any distance less than a furlong is measure in yards.

The next thing to look out for is the going. As horse races in the UK take place on grass (known as turf), the weather plays a big role on how firm the ground is – important when a 1,000 pound plus thoroughbred is running at full speed.

In the UK, track conditioning is broken down into the following grades:

  • Hard
  • Firm
  • Good to firm
  • Good
  • Good to soft
  • Soft
  • Heavy

In summer meets, if rain has held off for several weeks then firm and good to firm grounds can be expected. In spring and autumn, or on days after heavy rain, the moisture in the ground causes softness, with mud often present to give the ‘heavy’ grading.

The ‘hard’ grading is rarely used, as a racetrack deemed to be hard poses too much of a threat to both horses and riders in the event of a fall.

As well as physical inspection of the course, race officials will also use a penetrometer to give readings on race day. This piece of technology analyses the ground and gives a much more accurate overall reading, improving not just the ability for bookmakers to give odds based on a horse’s performance on certain surfaces, but also to maintain rider and horse safety standards.

All racecourses in the UK feature an oval looped track, often with a longer run off on one side for loose horses and as somewhere to locate the starting gates.

Handicapping

Handicap races involve using a ‘handicapper’ who levels the playing field by adding additional weights to horses that may otherwise have an advantage that would be too great over the opposition. Handicaps often apply at the Grand National.

The handicap is determined by the horse’s level of ability in relation to weight. Horses are rated by their performance based on what they are carrying, so if a horse had a rating of 140, it would carry a total weight of 140 pounds. If a similarly rated horse were to carry a lighter jockey for example, then additional weight may be added to reach 140 pounds and thus put the horses on a level playing field.

At the Finish Line

The finish line, known as the wire, is where the race is decided – the first horse to cross the line is the winner. Although there isn’t a physical line in most cases, camera technology helps to decide a winner in the event of a photo finish. Horse races can often be close, so a review is sometimes needed to check and determine the winner.

You may also hear the commentators say phrases like ‘won by a length’ or ‘won by a nose’. Just like it sounds, this means the horse has won by that distance – it was the length of its nose ahead of the second placed horse!

Horse Racing Breeding Terms

Both male and female horses run in horseraces in the UK, with husbandry playing a huge part when it comes to breeding winners. Horses are sired (bred) at stables, with stables that regularly produce winning horses famed for doing so.

  • Thoroughbreds – are the most sought-after racehorses throughout the world. They can only be considered thoroughbreds if their male lineage can be traced directly back to just three stallions: the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Byerley Turk. These horses were imported into Britain in the 1700s and mated with local mares, producing the thoroughbred family tree that features highly desirable and expensive horses
  • Standardbred – horses descend from thoroughbreds, Morgans, and other extinct breeds. They also make good racehorses, but are apparently more docile than ‘hot-blooded’ thoroughbreds
  • Arabian – horses are a breed of agile horses originating from the Arabian Peninsula. They are known for speed as well as stamina, making them popular for longer races or endurance races.
  • American Quarter – horses are a stockier horse breed that make them perfect for faster acceleration and power over shorter distances.

As well as the breeds, racehorses have different names depending on their age and gender.

Male horses are known as Stallions and female horses are known as Mares. Horses are known as foals when they are born, but when they begin to race, they are known as colts up to four years old if they are male, or fillies if they are female. If a male horse has been castrated and can no longer breed, then it is known as a Gelding. Mares that are selected for breeding are called Broodmares.

Many horse races allow both male and female horses to run, but almost all have limits in place when it comes to age. For example, all flat-racing classics feature three-year-old horses.

Caring for horses and training them is probably more important that the race itself. Although breeding and husbandry will get results, the way in which a horse learns to race and is treated at the stable will yield more firm results, especially at the hands of highly experienced trainers. This is one of the main reasons why racehorses can fetch very high prices if they have both a breeding and training pedigree, along with any other racing victories.

Horse Racing Jockey Terms

Jockeys usually begin their horseracing lives at a young age, usually starting out as a stable hand or apprentice. This means they can get up close to the horses and start learning the most important skills in horse management, horse care, and, of course, horse control for the race itself.

The name Jockey comes from the given name Jock, the Scottish equivalent of John, a placeholder for the term ‘boy’ or ‘fellow’. Jockeys don’t need to be male however and there are plenty of successful female jockeys who compete alongside men, including Bryony Frost, Rachael Blackmore and Haley Turner.

Jockeys tend to be self-employed and can ride as many horses as they like throughout the year, but do often form bonds or find success with particular horses.

Apprentice jockeys are known as ‘bug boys’ thanks to the asterisk that follows their name in racing programmes, before becoming a ‘fully fledged’ jockey after completing around 20 races. All jockeys in the UK must be licensed.

Horse Racing Trainer Terms

Trainers play a huge role in how successful the horse will be. They often decide on the horse’s training schedule, as well as footing the bills for all care, licensing, and race-related costs.

Trainers can be individuals who manage a horse or in their spare time, or can be backed up by significant investment and a team of professionals around them. If a horse is performing and regularly bringing in winnings, then the profession can be lucrative, even after all overheads are deducted. Trainers like John Gosden and Sir Henry Cecil became very famous in the horse racing world for repeatedly producing winning horses, with the latter often regarded as one of the greatest trainers in history.

Horse Racing Betting Terminology

Betting on horse races seems straightforward from the outset; pick a horse that you think will win, wager a set amount of money on that outcome, then collect your winnings when it comes in. In reality, it’s a lot more complex than that. There’s quite a lot of terminology to look out for that could help you determine which bet to place.

Bet

Money wagered on a particular outcome, most often a horse winning a race, or placing (finishing in the to three).

Odds

When you want to place a bet, you’ll be offered odds for each horse. The odds are the bookmaker’s calculation of the outcome of a horse winning, which are presented fractionally in the UK. For example, if a horse is in form and is expected to win the race, the odds of them winning the race will be higher. If a horse has never won a race or hasn’t performed in the season so far, then the odds of it winning will be lower.

If a horse is called the favourite, then this means they have been deemed to have the best chance of winning, which will be reflected in shorter odds. For example, a favourite could offer odds of 2/1 (classed as short odds and known as ‘a bottle’ in the horse racing world), which means that the bookmakers would expect that if the race was run multiple times for infinity under those particular conditions, then that horse would be calculated to win every other race.

If a horse is given more unfavourable odds, based on poor previous performance or a lack of results at all, then they could be given longer odds. So, if a horse was given odds of say, 15/1 (which would be classed as long odds), the bookmaker is calculating that that particular horse would win the race only once if the race was run in those particular conditions 15 times. This method is of course hypothetical but makes it easier to understand the odds system. Evens is a terms you may see too – this means the bookmakers are so confident that the horse will win, they only offer to pay out at 1:1, so if you bet £5, you’d get £5 back plus your original stake if it wins.

Selection

Your selection is the horse that you think is going to win. When making multiple bets, like those highlighted below, you may need to select more than one horse – which is where knowing the industry inside-out is advantageous!

Each Way

Each way bets involves making two separate bets; one bet on the horse winning and another bet on it coming in the top three. For example, if you wanted to bet £5 each way, you’d bet a total of £10 – £5 on the horse winning and £5 on it placing. Each way bets can increase overall winnings if the horse wins, meaning you’ll win both bets, but if the horse finishes 2nd or 3rd, you’ll at least cover some or all of the £5 lost by the horse not coming first. If the horse doesn’t place, then you lose both bets.

Accumulator

Several bets made on more than one race, giving longer odds, but a bigger pay-out if all bets come in.

Combination bet

Combination bets are made by choosing which horse will come first and which will come second, with both horses having to come in for the bet to pay out. Having to pick two successful horses means the odds are longer, making for bigger winnings if called correctly. A Combination Tricast involves picking the horses that come in first, second and third. Horses can be picked in no particular order.

Forecast / Exacta

Like a combination bet, this involved wagering on the horses to finish first and second, but this time in order.

Heinz

A bet that, just like the brand, requires a whopping 57 selections to come in, including 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 four folds, 6 five folds and 1 six-fold. If two or more of the selections win, then you’re guaranteed a return.

Banker

This indicates a horse that has odds that return less than the stake, imitating a bank – in that you have to invest a lot to get a return. If a horse is absolutely nailed on to win, then they may get odds less than evens.

Drift

The odds of any horse winning changes significantly as the start of the race gets closer. Horse racing experts, often employed by bookmakers, spend a lot of time inspecting horses and may change the odds if they feel the horse looks in shape and ready to race. This means the odds could get shorter or longer, even after bets have been placed, meaning you may have got worse or better odds by placing bets closer to the start time of the race.

Tip

The world of horseracing is notoriously clique-y, so rumours and insider information spreads fast. If you’re given a tip, it could just be speculation, or it could be an indicator that a particular someone fancies a horse to do well in a certain race – or the odds could just be really attractive and no one has noticed yet!

Horse Racing Betting Calculators

Picking winners isn’t just about guesswork or educated analysis of each horse. Understanding the odds and making an informed decision can often be more lucrative than simply picking the favourite each time.

Analysing previous races, learning the backstory of the horse and jockey, and then getting the latest insider gossip from the industry are all ways of increasing your chances of picking a winner. However, if you’re just looking for a bit of fun in your spare time, all of this can be nigh on impossible!

A horse racing betting calculator can make life a lot easier and potentially highlight bets that could boost your winnings significantly. Instead of grabbing a pen and piece of paper, just enter your bet types, select the odds and stake, then go through the different choices. Things like doubles and each way bets will then be calculated automatically, showing you the amount you need to stake to get a certain return, or the winnings available if you were to stake a certain bet. As well as allowing you to keep track of spending, this also makes it easier to string together those complicated bets with can make race day even more exciting, or simply boost the winnings of something that you think is already a sure thing.

What is a ‘Lucky 31’ bet calculator?

A Lucky 31 is made up of 5 selections that compete in different events, which are then combined to produce 31 bets made up of a Five-Fold Accumulator, 5 Four-Folds, 10 Trebles, 10 Doubles, and a Single for each selection.

What is a 6-Fold bet calculator?

A 6-fold bet calculator takes the odds of six selections, then creates a single set of odds that will show the returns of making all six bets at once.

Fast Facts – Do You Know Section

If you’re looking for quick answers when it comes to horse racing terminology and common questions, here’s the place to look!

What the Finish Line Is Called in Horse Racing? 

The official title of the finish line in a horse race in the UK is the ‘wire’. It’s believed that the phrase ‘down to the wire’ comes from this name. 

What Happens If A Horse Race Is Abandoned?

If a horse race is abandoned for any reason, the rules vary from bookkeeper to bookkeeper. In most cases, bets will be declared null and void, even if the race is moved to a different time or rescheduled completely. Under Tattersall’s Rule, a refund will be issued to punters who have staked any horse in the race, although the amount you get back may vary depending on the type of bet made. Always check the terms and conditions if a race you have placed a bet on is cancelled or abandoned.

How Many Horse Racing Courses There Are in UK?

As of July 2019, there are 60 racecourses operating in Britain, excluding point-to-point racecourses. Although many racecourses still operate independently, a significant number are owned and / or managed by limited companies, or the Jockey Club, the UK’s largest commercial horse racing organisation.

How Much Does A Jockey Earn?

If you know even the smallest bit about horse racing, then you’ll have heard of high-profile jockeys like Frankie Dettori and Tony McCoy. However, the championship jockeys who arrive by helicopter are actually few and far between, with only the most successful jockeys making it to the big time.

For most jockeys, riding fees make up most of their earnings, with around £120 paid for flat races. On a typical day at the height of the season, jockeys can make multiple races per day (sometimes as many as 10), often at different locations, so these fees add up. However, the jockey doesn’t pocket everything – as well as fuel, jockeys may need to pay an agent up to 10%, as well as fees to the Professional Jockeys Association, valet fees and even fees for the handling of the winnings.

Naturally, the more a jockey rides and wins, the more they will earn, so there isn’t really an average salary or set amount.

How Much Does the Winning Jockey Get Grand National?

The Grand National, Britain’s biggest jump race and Europe’s most valuable jump race, carries an overall prize pot of £1 million. The winner of the race can expect to take away around half of the price pot (for example in 2019, winner Tiger Roll picked up £561,300).

How Tall Is A Jockey?

Although there is no limit to how tall a jockey can be, being on the shorter side helps with keeping the overall weight of horse and rider down, meaning the horse can run faster for longer. Average jockey heights are around the 4-foot 10 mark, but the more important figure is 8 stone – the minimum weight for flat race jockeys in the UK according to the British Horseracing Authority.

How Much Does A Jockey Saddle Weigh?

Saddles tend to be extremely lightweight, in order to keep overall weight down – usually around four to five pounds. Extra weights may be added to the saddle if the race is a Handicap Race.

How Many Times Can A Jockey Whip A Horse?

Whipping is strictly controlled to prevent distress or injury to the horse. Jockeys are limited to a total of seven strokes in each flat race, and eight strokes in a jump race.

How Much Does A Racehorse Trainer Make?

Independent trainers can earn a decent salary if their horse brings in a few wins each year, but trainers with multiple horses / stables and big investment can easily earn millions of pounds from horse racing.

At Which Racecourse Is the Grand National Run?

The Grand National always takes place at Aintree racecourse, in Liverpool.

What Is the Oldest Racecourse in The World?

Chester Racecourse was first used for horseracing in the early 1500s. Known as the Roodee, Chester is 1 mile and 1 furlong long.

What Is the Richest Horse Race in The World Called?

The Pegasus World Cup, which takes place in Gulfstream Park, Florida each year, with a prize purse that reached $16 million in 2018, surpassing the Dubai World Cup.

What Does A Lady Rider Mean in Jockey Terms?

A lady rider is exactly that – a female jockey. Female jockeys can compete alongside men in all races in the UK.

Why Is Horse Racing Called the Sport of Kings?

Before the days of professional horse racing, the ownership of thoroughbred horses and racehorses was limited to the extremely wealthy – usually members of royal families. The Royal Family in the UK are still heavily involved in the horse racing world to this day.


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