Although there are many reasons to go to the races - atmosphere, displays of sporting excellence, great hats - betting is inarguably a big part of most people's race days. As a newcomer to the track you probably won't join in with the high-rollers and professional punters straight away, but if you feel like having a little flutter it will help you to understand some betting basics.
Types of Bets
For information on the types of bets you can place, right this way to our Types of Bets page.
Reading A Racecard or Form Guide
However, before you get to the stage of putting one of the bets into action, you have to pick your horse. Thanks to the convenience of 'racecards' and 'form guides', the process of choosing a horse should be simple; thanks to the convenience of racecards and form guides, it is in fact rather confusing for the newcomer.
Here is how you decode your racecard:
Individual Horse Sections
The top left corner of this section will have a series of numbers and/or letters, which indicate the horse's racing history.
In the centre of the card you find the horse's name, i.e. Sid Delicious; the name of the trainer, usually first and in bolder print, i.e. P Nicholls; and the name of the owner, second and in smaller print, i.e. William Windsor.
Here you will learn the name of the jockey, i.e. John Farnham; and right above it the age of the horse, i.e. 7. Next to the age you find the weight the horse has to carry in stones and pounds. Mostly, but not always, the very right of the card will show the colours of the jockey's silks, making sure you can identify your horse on the track.
When placing your hard-earned cash on a horse, it is imperative to know how much of a pay-off to expect. In order to do the maths, you need to understand how to read the odds.
Example: Legendary Demon 7/1
The number behind the dash stands for the stakes, meaning the amount of money you bet; the number before the dash determines the pay-off. In our example above this means that for every one pound you bet, you get seven pounds in return should Legendary Demon win.
However, this only applies for certain types of bets, like the win bet. For other bets, like a place and show bet, the odds are indicated at the bottom of the racecard. They are mostly 4/3 or 5/4 or thereabouts. The safer the bet, the lower the pay-off seems to be a fair rule of the thumb.
Also keep in mind that a horse with the odds 100/1 is less likely to emerge victorious than a horse with odds 3/1. The odds are in fact a great indicator of the horse's likelihood to come first, although there can always be random surprises.
No one is trying to spoil your fun here, we are simply trying to ensure that your day at the races does not end in tears. Which it will if you lose your rent money, your bus fair and your children's university funds. That would not be fun.
What would be more fun is going home exhilarated from a great day out no matter whether you lost or won. And to make that happen there is one simple rule:
Set Yourself A Limit!
It doesn't matter what exactly your limit is, as long as it is a sum that it won't hurt you to lose. For some this may be £5 for others it may be £50, but it is absolutely necessary to respect the limit you have set. Should you be on a winning streak feel free to gamble away the rewards of it; but when it has come to an end and you are broke, do not walk to the cash machine, do not borrow a tenner of your mate; you are done.
Although it sounds ridiculously simplified, the limit is a great way for a novice punter to keep out of trouble. It will not be of any help to people afflicted with gambling addictions, but it is suited for a beginner. Also, a limit will make you think twice before taking a great risk in a bet, which in turn will heighten your chances of walking off the course with a serve of fish 'n'chips worth of winnings.