When it comes to racing, there are plenty of bookmakers to choose from. But the quality, value and features that are available at each bookie varies dramatically – meaning that two sites that look very similar on the face of it, can actually be miles apart.
On this site we’ve come up with a simple guide to the best online bookmakers for horse racing. Below you’ll find a list of the sites we recommend for people located in the UK & Ireland, although many will accept customers from outside of these areas as well.
Best Horse Racing Betting Sites - February 2024
Horse Racing Articles
As well as reviews of UK bookmakers and betting sites, we’re also writing a number of guides to horse racing, including:
Most people know the difference between a win and an each way bet, but don’t worry if you don’t – we cover it here. Plus every other kind of bet you can think of, from forecasts all the way to a lucky 63, and everything in between.
Leading on from our bet type guides we also cover some other key topics which will have you knowing your Grades and the difference between Flat and Jumps and racing in no time. We also cover the key rules that the race organisers and bookies must follow.
Racecourses & Races
Everything you need to know about racing venues, races and meetings. Including lists of all racecourses in the UK & Ireland, a guide to the biggest races that take place throughout the year and the difference track surfaces you might come across.
Our final section covers more general topics. So if you’ve ever wondered how much jockeys get paid or how you can go about owning your very own racehorse, then you’ll find the answers below. Plus the most famous names in racing.
For information on individual racecourses in the UK & Ireland, you can find them in our racecourses section:
- Chelmsford City
- Down Royal
- Ffos Las
- Fontwell Park
- Gowran Park
- Great Yarmouth
- Hamilton Park
- Kempton Park
- Lingfield Park
- Market Rasen
- Newton Abbot
- Sandown Park
- Waterford & Tramore
Horse Racing Fixtures For February, 2024
|Jump / Turf
|Jump / Turf
|Flat / AWT
|Jump / Turf
|Jump / Turf
|Flat / AWT
|Jump / Turf
|Jump / Turf
|Flat / AWT
|Flat / AWT
|Jump / Turf
|Jump / Turf
|Flat / AWT
|Flat / AWT
|Jump / Turf
|Jump / Turf
|Jump / Turf
|Flat / AWT
|Flat / AWT
|Jump / Turf
|Flat / AWT
|Jump / Turf
|Jump / Turf
|Flat / AWT
HRBS, as it’s know to those of us that write for it, is part of the BOBS Betting Network (BOBS coming from ‘best online betting sites’ which acts is the big daddy of the group) – a series of guides and directories for those of us who like a bet in the UK.
Any Betting Tips?
A few people have asked us recently if we offer tips or picks – the short answer to this is… no. The sites are set up primarily as a set of resources for racing punters and we prefer to spend our time writing useful guides and informative articles rather than picking naps.
If you’re looking for tips for todays racing we suggest you start here.
Horse Racing in the UK
To this day, horse racing remains the second largest spectator sport and the second most bet on sport in Great Britain and comes with a rich, long history. Racing generates more than £3 billion to the British economy.
Britain has long been, and remains, one of the most important horse racing territories for thoroughbred breeding. The very breed was in fact created in England.
Betting and horse racing are inextricably linked. This is not a modern-day phenomenon either; at the very beginning of the sport owners would match race their best horses and wager on the outcome.
The sport has developed and expanded in the country over centuries, its various intricacies being sometimes difficult for newcomers to racing to understand.
Flat Racing v National Hunt
There is no real market for quarter horse or harness racing in Britain. Aside from a smattering of Arabian racing, Britain basically concentrates on thoroughbred racing of two main types; Flat and National Hunt.
Flat racing essentially speaks for itself. Horses start in the stalls and are tasked with running over a specific distance on a flat surface, with no obstacles to jump.
Give or take a few yards, Flat races in Britain are staged from a minimum of five furlongs up to two miles (16 furlongs). Longer races do exist, such as the two-and-a-half-mile Ascot Gold Cup etc, though these are rare.
Races over 5-6 furlongs tend to be known as ‘sprints’, mile races are obvious, those over 1¼ to 1½ miles are known as ‘middle distance’ events and those over 1¾ miles or longer are known as ‘staying’ races.
Although due to the advent of all-weather tracks Flat horses can run all year round, the traditional Flat turf season runs from the end of March up to the beginning of November.
The focus is more about speed, or at least tactical speed, in Flat racing with the emphasis on stamina and jumping in the National Hunt sphere.
National Hunt racing, sometimes known as ‘jump’ or ‘jumps’ racing, tasks horses with taking on different obstacles as well as seeing out the race distance.
The season is essentially all year round now, but the prime jumps season runs from around October through to April.
National Hunt racing is further divided into two main categories; hurdles and steeplechases. Hurdles are smaller obstacles, while in steeplechases the runners take on higher ‘fences’.
Although some 1¾-mile races exist, the basic minimum distance in jumps racing is two miles, there are many races between that distance and three miles, while some races up to four or 4¼ miles also exist including the Grand National.
For inexperienced National Hunt horses, ‘bumper’ races exist which are known as National Hunt Flat Races. There are no obstacles to jump here, they are just designed to get the horses used to running and seen as a training race of sorts, but in the main the point of National Hunt racing is jumping.
Hurdles, grouped together called ‘flights of hurdles’, are around three-and-a-half feet high. Hurdles are easier to jump and are taken by National Hunt horses before they mature, many then going onto jump fences. Hurdle races tend to be quicker as the obstacles are easier to take.
Fences are more diverse and certainly bigger. These are used in ‘chase’ or ‘steeplechase’ races. Plain fences, ditches and water jumps can all be used on courses.
Because of the obstacles, it goes without saying that many more horses fall or are unable to finish races over jumps than on the Flat.
The reasons vary. Some simply don’t see the right stride at an obstacle and fall, others don’t jump high enough owing to fatigue, while some are ‘brought down’ by another falling horse.
One of the key things that owners, trainers and indeed punters look out for regarding a horse’s potential performance is the ground.
Horses perform very differently on different sorts of ground, usually owing to their stride length and/or their knee action.
In basic terms, there are two surface types in Britain; turf and all-weather. The latter tracks are made up of synthetic materials and they differ, while on the turf there can be better or worse coverings of grass, a camber and varying topography. Also, many types of ‘going’ make a difference because of changeable weather.
With that in mind, there are many different surfaces a horse can run on.
Some horses seem to go well on any ground, but they are rare. Those with a short stride length and/or a ‘choppy’ action will be more comfortable on fast ground. When the ground gets soft and muddy, those taking more strides will be hitting the soft ground more often and therefore will tend to struggle.
Those with a long stride often suit more stamina-sapping race distances, and/or will get through softer ground much easier owing to them being simply more economical in their movement.
The all-weather tracks are generally fairer, as they are less dependent on rain and sun.
All-weather racing was introduced to allow Flat races to carry on right through the winter, while also avoiding abandonments due to waterlogged or frozen courses.
All-weather surfaces are all synthetic, with various types offering different challenges.
- Polytrack – this is used at Kempton Park, Chelmsford and Lingfield. It’s made of silica sand, recycled fibres, recycled rubber and PVC. It can ride fairly quick, so often suits speedier types.
- Tapeta – this is used at Newcastle and Wolverhampton, and since the end of 2021 Southwell too. It is made up of sand, fibre, rubber and wax. It rides slower than Polytrack but is very fair indeed and is producing great results.
Until December 2021, Southwell used a surface called Fibresand but this has been ditched. Other synthetic surface types are used elsewhere around the world.
Some rather looked down on all-weather racing in the past, but now many major races are run on synthetic surfaces including the Northumberland Plate and a number of Group events.
It is surely a question of time before Britain, or another territory nearby, holds a regular Group 1 race on an all-weather track.
Some of the key people, not including administrators, are obvious. Jockeys are the real celebrities and via riding contribute the last few percentage points of effort that sees a horse home. Trainers do the hard work before that, along with their all-important stable staff.
Without owners, the sport would stop immediately as those bills have to be paid, while breeders are often forgotten by casual racing fans but do so much to keep the sport top quality by pairing the right sires with the right broodmares.
A Quick Guide to Betting
There are myriad options when it comes to betting on horse racing in Britain.
That said, the vast majority of bets are win and each-way wagers. You can indulge in various multiple and full-cover bets, but with most people simply wishing for single horses to win or be placed, it’s important to know the basics of those bets.
Win v Each-Way
Win bets are simply single bets placed on a horse to win the race. These are the most common bets in Britain.
You can either choose to take the odds, the ‘price’ offered at the time of the bet, or wait for the SP (see below). Your bet is settled at those odds if successful, with winning returns including the initial stake.
So, if you place a £10 bet on a horse at 7/1, your winning return would be £80.
Each-way means placing two bets in one; a bet on the horse to win, and a bet on the horse to place. This leads to you paying twice the unit stake. So, a £10 each-way bet would cost £20 in total.
If your horse wins, you get the return for both portions of the bet. If your horse doesn’t win but is placed, then you receive the return for the place portion; this is usually 1/4 or 1/5 of the odds so will often just cover your stake and maybe a small amount more (£4 or £7.50 respectively in this case). If the horse is unplaced, the entire bet is lost.
What counts as being ‘placed’ changes from race to race. A race with only 1-4 runners is win only, in 5-7 runner races those finishing in the first two are placed, in 8+ runner races it’s the first three to cross the line. In handicap races only of 16+ runners, the first four home are all placed.
Understanding Starting Prices
The starting price or SP is crucial within horse racing.
The SP is the odds officially given to a specific horse in a fixed-odds betting market at the time the race begins. The SP is calculated by using the odds offered by an appointed group of bookmakers on the race in question.
In the past, the SP was calculated only by on-course bookmakers. During the pandemic when racecourses were closed, this changed to an online model.
After a combination model was trialled, it has now been decided that the official Starting Price for each horse in Britain will only be calculated by taking the average or median odds from specific online bookmakers.
The price is worked out by taking the odds offered by each bookmaker concerned, from longest to shortest. This is then divided into halves, with the SP being the shortest odds available in the half containing the longest odds. This way, the SP or bigger will have been offered by at least half of the bookmakers concerned.
A good alternative to fixed-odds betting is the Tote, or the course-specific versions now available around the country.
You won’t need to be on course to bet with the Tote. Most high street bookmakers carry Tote bets, as well as the majority of online bookmakers too.
The Tote is essentially pool betting – it’s Britain’s parimutuel. In this case, the money all goes into one pot and the winners are paid out accordingly, though returns usually closely mirror the official SP.
With the Tote, your stake is included in dividends. So, while a horse may go off at fixed odds of 3/1, on the Tote it may come up as something like £4.06, which is essentially just over 3/1 considering that a standard £1 stake is included. Among others, the following pools are offered on the Tote:
- Place (not the same as each-way, but place only)
- Exacta (same as a forecast, i.e., the first two horses home in the correct order)
- Trifecta (as above, but involving three horses)
- Placepot (picking a placed horse in each of the first six races at a racecourse)
- Quadpot (as above, but on races 3-6)
- Jackpot (picking the winner only of each of the day’s designated Jackpot races)
Racing Rules to Note
The rules of racing in Britain, as we’re sure you can imagine, are numerous and complex. There are certain rules however that punters should be aware of, at least to a basic level.
When you place a bet in an ante-post market, you take the bigger odds but also a chance on your horse not making it to the big day. When a horse does not run after an ante-post bet, you simply lose the bet unless your bookmaker states otherwise.
After final declarations are made however, which is 48 hours before a race on the Flat and for major jumps races, or 24 hours before racing for minor jumps races, your horse is a confirmed intended runner.
If your horse is withdrawn for any reason from that point and right up to the horses entering the stalls or going ‘under orders’, then it is officially declared a ‘non-runner’.
At that point, you are entitled to your stake money to be returned.
Non-runners can be declared for a host of reasons from traffic problems, to injuries and even to playing up just before the race and not entering the stalls.
Dead-Heats and Photo Finishes
Given the digital technology available at racecourses these days, dead-heats are rare but do still happen occasionally.
When your horse dead-heats with another, your winning return is halved. For example, if you’d backed a horse at 10/1 with £10, a winning bet would return £110. If it dead-heats, your return will be £55.
Any time the judge cannot call the result of a race immediately, they will call a ‘photo finish’ to be sure. This happens when there is only a neck or less between finishers, and/or when they flash past the post very quickly.
At this point, a photo and mirror image are used and looked at very closely to determine which horse’s nose reached the official winning line first, no matter how small the margin may be.
A margin of just a centimetre may now separate a horse from victory. Both horses will be given the same rating as there is nothing at all tangible between them, yet prize money is affected and if you’re on the second-placed horse, your bet is lost.
Meetings around the country may be abandoned before a race is run, or part-way through the card for numerous reasons. Most abandonments are due to adverse weather, with safety of the horses always paramount.
If weather is a problem, most often rain and ice but occasionally wind, then meetings are usually called off without a race being run. In some cases however, a meeting may start before those at the track know there is a real problem.
If there is persistent rain, the ground can go from soft to heavy to un-raceable in a matter of moments. In some cases, horses have been known to slip up on the bend which may lead to jockeys looking at the track and declaring it unsafe. This can also cause a meeting to be abandoned.
When a meeting is abandoned, all bets on horses of races which do not go off are settled as non-runners and all stakes returned in full.
Without even knowing its full complexities, all horse racing punters in Britain are aware of the dreaded ‘Rule 4’.
Rule 4 is a deduction made across the industry on bets when there are non-runners after final declarations have been made. Not only that, but they come in when there is no chance for bookmakers to react when a horse pulls out.
Rule 4(c), to give it its full moniker, was introduced to protect bookmakers in the case of late non-runners.
In normal circumstances, if a horse pulls out of a race then the odds of the remaining horses will change because their chances of winning are now different. Sometimes however, horses pull out so late that there is no chance to re-form the book.
If said non-runner appeared unlikely to win the race, say as a 33/1 shot for instance, then no deductions will come via Rule 4.
On the other hand, if the 7/4 favourite was to be withdrawn late, then their absence will have a major effect on the race and on the true odds of the rest of the field, and so a Rule 4 Deduction then comes into play.
Depending on the perceived strength in the race of the withdrawn horse(s), deductions may be 10p in the pound, 20p, 50p or even right up to 90p, though this is rare.
So, if you place a £10 at 5/1, you’d be expecting a return of £60 if you win. If your horse is successful but you find out that a Rule 4 deduction of 20% has been applied, then you will get £50 (£50 win minus 20% = £40, plus your £10 stake).
Racecourses in Great Britain
Many people think of UK racing as one single entity, but it’s important to remember that the tracks in Northern Ireland come under the auspices of Horse Racing Ireland and not the BHA.
There are currently 59 racecourses operational in Great Britain. There are three in Wales and five in Scotland with the other 51 all situated in England.
19 of Britain’s racecourse are Flat-only venues, 21 are exclusively National Hunt tracks and the other 19 are dual-purpose.
There are six all-weather tracks in Britain; Newcastle, Southwell, Wolverhampton, Lingfield, Kempton and Chelmsford, with the others all hosting turf racing exclusively.
Britain’s racecourses are fairly well spread around, with only a couple of broader parts of the country not serviced by a racing venue. Central and north-western Wales is without a course, for example, as is northern Scotland.
Wales’ three venues, Ffos Las, Chepstow and Bangor all offer jumps racing, the first two named being dual-purpose venues.
In Scotland, Kelso and Perth, Britain’s most northerly track, as well as Musselburgh and Ayr offer jumps racing while the last two also offer Flat racing along with Hamilton. Ayr is Scotland’s most important track, hosting the Ayr Gold Cup meeting as well as the Scottish Grand National.
Cheltenham is considered to be the home of National Hunt racing, hosting the festival every March. A month later, Aintree near Liverpool hosts the Grand National and so also has a special place in jump racing fans’ hearts.
Newmarket is often known as ‘HQ’, being the biggest centre for Flat racing in the UK in terms of training, as well as housing two separate race tracks.
National Hunt racing’s Grade 1 races are pretty well spread geographically, while on the Flat there is a major lean towards the south in this regard. Haydock hosts just one Group 1 race, Doncaster two and York three, with the rest all being hosted by Newmarket, Newbury, Goodwood, Sandown, Epsom and Ascot.
Ascot is easily the biggest and best-known dual-purpose venue. As well as hosting Royal Ascot and Champions Day on the Flat, it is also the venue for several top-notch jumps racing over the winter months.
Major Meetings and Races
Britain is home to some of the biggest races and major festivals on the planet. Barely a week goes by year-round when there is not a race of major importance, and in many cases an entire meeting of top-class racing.
The highlights of Britain’s racing year are:
|28 top-class races over four days including the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and the Gold Cup
|Grand National Festival
|Three days featuring no fewer than 11 Grade 1 races and the Grand National itself
|The first two Classics of the season, the 2000 Guineas and 1000 Guineas are run over Saturday and Sunday
|The first Group 1 of the year for older horses
|Three Group 1’s are run including the third and fourth Classics of the season, the Oaks and the Derby. The Coronation Cup is the other top-class race
|The greatest festival going contains 30+ races over five days. Eight Group 1’s are staged including the Queen Anne, Gold Cup and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes
|A major 1¼-mile Group 1 event, bringing 3yo’s and older horses together
|Includes major juvenile races, as well as Group 1’s the Falmouth and the July Cup
|King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes
|The midsummer highlight, a major Group 1 race over 1½ miles
|Like Royal Ascot, a superb 5-day festival featuring three Group 1’s including the Sussex Stakes
|York’s premier meeting includes the Ebor Handicap and three Group 1’s
|A hugely important Group 1 sprint over six furlongs
|The last Classic of the season, the St Leger over 1¾ miles
|Two meetings covering the Cambridgeshire and Cesarewitch handicaps as well as major Group 1 events
|Features Group 1 events including the Champion Stakes and the QEII
|The last Group 1 of the year giving major Guineas and Derby clues
|A major Grade 1 chase
|A Grade 1 hurdle and the key trial for the Champion Hurdle
|Featuring the Grade 1 Tingle Creek Chase
|The famous Boxing Day fixture is iconic, featuring the King George Chase
|Welsh Grand National
|The famous race is always run on December 27th
A History of Racing
Although sports involving horses are known to have taken place in Roman times, horse racing became a professional sport in Great Britain in the 12th century.
At that time, English knights brought back to the country Arab horses, the best around, who were then bred with the top mares in England to create the thoroughbred breed that we all know and love today.
In fact, because of this practice, all thoroughbreds alive today can trace their origins back to just three stallions; the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian.
Between 1603 and 1625, during James I’s reign, the measured horse race distance was set at four miles. Shorter races were introduced later.
King Charles II later held races on privately laid out courses between 1660 and 1685. He did this at Newmarket, awarding prizes to the winners, making this the first recognised racecourse in Britain and making this time the formal start of horse racing in the country.
At some point between 1702 and 1714, spectators at organised race meetings began to place wagers on the races. Bookmakers can trace the origins of their profession all the way back to here.
New racecourses were constructed and the sport began to grow exponentially in popularity around the country. Queen Anne in fact founded Ascot Racecourse in 1711, essentially beginning the royal meeting.
At Newmarket in 1750, the Jockey Club was founded to formally regulate the sport of horse racing in England. The rules the Jockey Club set out back then still form the backbone of the regulations attached to the sport today.
In 1791, the breeding of thoroughbred racehorses was regulated. The Jockey Club’s accountant was James Weatherby and he oversaw this procedure, which is why even today Weatherby’s is where such information is kept and published via the General Stud Book.
Racing was all Flat up to this point, with early steeplechase races having first began over in Ireland. However, in 1866, the National Hunt Committee was inaugurated in order to regulate point-to-point racing. This was done in conjunction with the Jockey Club.
Over the years, races such as the 2000 Guineas, 1000 Guineas, the Oaks, the Derby and the St Leger grew in prominence and became known as the Classics, something now replicated the world over.
In 1947, Hamilton hosted the first evening meeting in the country with such meetings now a staple in the summer, while in the 90’s all-weather racing began to take hold with floodlit meetings possible and fewer abandonments being noted in the schedule.
In 1993, the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) was formed and currently regulates the sport. The Jockey Club still exists, but mostly in the capacity of a racecourse owner with Newmarket still being under its stewardship.
Britain was at the centre of horse racing from the very start. Now, the territory still boasts some of the most important races on the planet in terms of quality, prize money and importance to the breeding world.
Winners of the 2000 Guineas and the Derby for instance immediately become potentially very valuable stud prospects.
The Change in Betting
1928, betting was revolutionised by the addition of Tote betting. Britain’s first pool betting system was initially called the Horserace Totalisator Board and offered an alternative on racecourses to fixed odds betting.
While this was a hit on the track, on the high streets the biggest names in the business were opening shops once off course betting became legal, with Ladbrokes and William Hill being the two biggest examples.
Internet betting took off in the 90’s, while in 2000 the landscape was changed again, and forever, by the advent of exchange betting.
For the first time, leading exchange Betfair offered punters the opportunity to not only back horses, but to play the bookmaker too by ‘laying’ them. Laying means essentially betting on a horse not to win, which has drawn criticism from some quarters.