A Beginner’s Guide To Horse Racing

2 years ago

Just in case you’re wondering, there’s a good reason why horse racing is commonly referred to as ‘the sport of kings’. After all, it’s certainly one of the most ancient sporting pastimes, and has long been associated with the some of the wealthiest people in the land.

Horse Racing is decidedly complex and can be difficult for beginners to get to grips with. So, we’ve created this beginners guide to help you understand the sport and develop a knack for successfully betting on races!

Types of Horse Racing

In the UK and Ireland, horse racing is split into two distinct types.

Flat Racing
The first of these is flat racing, which is more of a sprint event where competitors run in a bid to reach the finish line first. This is arguably the most popular type of horse racing in the UK, particularly from the perspective of gamblers, as there are fewer variables that are likely to impact on the outcome. Flat races can take place across a straight or curved track, while the length of individual meetings can also vary.

National Hunt Racing
Then we have National Hunt racing, which is slightly more complicated as horses (and their riders) must negate a series of physical obstacles as they navigate the course. These races are usually longer than classic sprint meetings, while the increased difficulty introduces a variable factor that makes it hard to accurately predict outcomes.

National Hunt racing is also unique in that this is also split into two categories. These are steeplechases and hurdles, with the main difference being the size of the obstacle in front of the horse.

Steeplechases typically feature higher and more solid fences, for example, while these races occasionally include open ditches and challenging water jumps.

In contrast, hurdles are much shorter and flimsy, meaning that they pose less of an obstacle for runners.

The Classification of Horse Races

Now we come to the classification of horse races, which indicate the prestige, quality and likely purse value of each meeting. The precise classifications vary between flat and National Hunt events, although both follow a similar scale that’s relatively easy to understand.

Flat Racing Classifications

In flat racing, Group 1 represents the top classification. This is afforded to all the five classics and some other prestigious meetings, where only the best horses compete for the sport’s largest purses. Then come Group 2 and Group 3 categories, which are incrementally less prestigious but still likely to offer significant prizes. Finally, we have listed and handicap races, with the latter requiring horses to carry a specific amount of weight in relation to its form, pedigree and ability.

National Hunt

In National Hunt racing, Grade 1 races are the most prestigious, followed closely by Grade 2 and Grade 3. As with flat meetings, these are followed by listed and handicap events, while there’s also an additional bumper category. Bumper races used to be extremely popular, while they are essentially flat meetings that run under the rules of jump racing and take place over a short course. They’re quite rare now, but they are typically entry-level events that enable novice flat runners to gain their first taste of competitive racing.

How to Bet on Horse Racing

With a basic understanding of the sport and its key terminology, you’re now in a position to consider wagering your hard-earned cash. This is the unique element of the sport that makes it so appealing to many, particularly as horse remains the only discipline that compels punters to bet offline and in a more social surrounding.

While any horse racing bet will require you to place an initial stake at fixed odds, there are two main types of wager.

Outright Wager

You can back a specific horse to win a race outright, for example, simply by staking a desirable amount at the advertised, real-time odds.

This is the most simplistic and potentially rewarding type of wager, depending on the odds that you’re able to secure from a bookmaker.

For example, betting successfully on odds of 5/1 will reward you with a return of £5 for every £1 that you stake. Conversely, backing a heavily favoured horse at 1/5 will deliver £1 for every £5 that you stake, reflecting the relative risk undertaken by the bookmaker. Understand this subtle variation in odds is crucial, especially if you’re to determine the best value and make the most of your stake money.

Each Way Bets

There are also each way bets, where you offset your risk of backing a horse to win by also wagering that it will ‘place’. This means that part of your stake is betting that the horse finishes or places’ in the top four (or occasionally the top five depending on the race), which will compel bookmakers to pay out at a proportional rate of around a quarter of the specified odds. A win will be paid out in the usual way with this type of bet, with your winnings determined by the odds and your total stake.

Just note that as your placing two bets, you’ll either have to halve your initial stake or double it to cover the wager. This will depend largely on your outlook as an gambler, and whether you tend or embrace or avoid risk.

If you are a fan of horses and sports betting, then it is likely that you will enjoy horse racing. As always, betting.net advises you to gamble responsibly.

A brief history of horse racing

While we tend to think of horse racing as a modern sport, a form of it has existed for more than 2000 years. Ever since humans have been able to tame these wild beasts (starting with the ancient Greeks back in 700 BC), there’s evidence of competitive racing involving either jockeys or horse-drawn chariots.

The modern iteration of horse racing began in the 17th century, which incidentally is where the sports’ famous moniker first originated. It was King James I who took a fancy to horse racing during his reign as monarch, with his interest and attendance at races encouraging observers to christen it as the ‘sport of kings’.

The following century saw the birth of the sport’s most famous races and many of the contemporary classics first ran during the 1800s. These include the St. Ledger, which was established at Epsom and helped to inspire a trend for the shorter races that we see today.  It was at this time, that younger horses could compete, creating an inclusive, well-regulated and evolving sport that’s instantly recognisable today.


Written by Ciro Di Brita

Ciro Di Brita is a football fan and fanatic of all things Naples – not least Napoli. A published author and novelist based in Ireland, Ciro will happily turn his hand to writing on any topic but will always try to work in a reference to Napoli wherever possible.