Guide to Horse Race Bets: Win, Ante, Cover & More

Guide to Different Horse Race Bets

Betting on horses can be as rewarding as it is frustrating, however it’s a challenge millions take on every single day across the world.

Of those who bet on horses on a regular basis, only 2-3% in fact either break even or make money while 97-98% lose.  With figures like these the punters are clearly up against it but rather than give up and move on, all we need to do is apply logic and be willing to learn how to increase results.

Playing the betting markets is tantamount to assessing probability, it’s as simple as that, and there are various ways we can do this so long as we first understand the different betting markets available to us.

Win Markets

Starting with the basics; a win bet is a bet placed on a single horse to win its individual race.  Running well but not winning will give us nothing here, but likewise even if your horse gets lucky and crosses the line first your investment will yield a return.

At the very entry level of betting on horses, some people forget that your overall return includes your stake amount, i.e. if you place £50 on a horse at 3/1, your winning return would be £200.

Accepting the current price on a horse or leaving to the starting price is a risk that is up to you.  Most online firms these days offer “best odds guaranteed” on most horse races so taking the price is advised.  This way should you accept 3/1 but then your horse goes off at 4/1 and wins, you will be paid out at the bigger price.

Ante Post

This is a term used within the industry to refer to markets built before the final declarations have been announced.  This may mean a few days before the race, or in the cases of the world’s top races months in advance.

Odds in ante post markets are generally a fair bit higher than they are on the day as this will take into account the fact that we don’t know if our chosen horse will even get a run.  The earlier you are prepared to back a horse, the better odds you can expect.

There is naturally an element of risk attached to ante post betting; however, these days we have the advantage of betting exchanges meaning we can play the part of the bookmaker.  This can allow you to back a horse in the ante post market, however if you feel things aren’t going the way you expected near race time you may lay the horse on the exchanges, i.e. you can accept bets from other punters and recoup your money.

Cover Bets

Cover bets, or ‘full cover bets’ as they are sometimes known, are offered to punters who wish to bet in multiples on more than one horse.

A double is simply a bet on two horses, both of which need to win, a treble is the same for three horses.  Your odds will multiply, namely if you backed horses at 2/1 and 3/1 in a double then your winning odds would be 11/1.  This happens because your first horse is 2/1 and should it win you would receive your stake back and the whole amount goes on the next horse:

£1 @ 2/1 (wins) = £3.  £3 @ 3/1 = £12.  A £12 return minus your original stake is 11/1.

Many other cover bets are available for higher multiples, all with different names.  A yankee for example means picking 4 horses and placing 11 different bets = 6 x doubles, 4 x trebles and a 4-horse accumulator.

Should 2 of your horses win and 2 lose, then you will be paid out on one of the successful doubles.  Do remember though that your unit stake is multiplied accordingly, so should you place a £1 yankee then your overall bet amount is £11.

Super Yankee (5 horses, 26 bets), Heinz (6 horses, 57 bets), Super Heinz (7 horses, 120 bets) and Goliath (8 horses, 247 bets) are other popular cover bets used every day by online punters.

Betting Online

Although traditional betting shops still do a fair trade in places like the UK, betting online has been at the forefront of the industry for some time now and this is where you will find the best deals and be able to bet in a more convenient way.
There is little excuse for bettors not finding the best odds available for their chosen horse given that we can use oddchecker and other comparison sites to see what prices are on offer for multiple bookmakers on a given race.

Payouts online are instant, in most cases your returns will be in your account a minute or so after the result is called and ready to be withdrawn or used again for another bet.

Betting Exchanges

The turn of the millennium brought about a revolution in horse racing with the advent of betting exchanges.  These are ‘betting marketplaces’ for players to essentially back and lay among themselves.

Often similar markets on all the regular races are offered on the exchanges however you as the punter have the choice to buy or sell a horse, in other words you may wish to back the horse or ‘lay’ it.

Laying a horse means you are playing the part of the bookmaker and this is something you would do should you feel that a particular horse doesn’t have as much of a chance as what its odds suggest.  So, you can offer the horse at a slightly more attractive price to backers who will back the horse with you.

Should the horse win, you will need to pay out (to an agreed limit) however should it be beaten then all the money gambled with you is yours to keep.

The exchanges generate their revenue by charging a commission, a percentage of customer’s winnings, and are seen as the fairest way to bet these days.

Choosing A Racing Bet

So, many different types of bets are on offer but none of them are much use to us if we are picking the wrong horses!  Just how do pro gamblers choose their horses though?

Well, there is no single answer to that question but one thing you can do as an aspiring player is to use some sort of rigid betting rules to ensure you do nothing silly.

Understanding the language of racing is important first of all and there are many pages online which will help you decipher any terminology you don’t currently understand.

Make sure you remain disciplined and don’t bet beyond your means.  Having a betting bank is a good way of doing this to start off with, the most popular form of such is to have aside the amount of money you would be willing to lose if it all went wrong, then bet with 10% of it at a time.

This makes your staking fluid, so should you have a £50 bank your first bet would be £5.  If it loses, your next bet would only be £4.50 (10% of £45).  The good thing about this is that you allow yourself to also increase stakes to maximise your profits if you are successful.  So when your bank reaches £80, you will be betting £8.

Make Sure You Get Value For Money

Professional horse racing gamblers will always speak about the importance of getting value for your bets.  Too often this is an area ignored by amateurs and frankly it’s their main let-down and the reason bookmakers are rich!

Finding good value is incredibly important as we are looking to get ahead of the bookmakers and stay ahead for the long term, not just on a given day.

The reason for finding value is sound, but calculating value is the hard part for most people.  Understanding what the odds mean on each horse is the first step, as many just have a figure in their head and stick with it even though it could be wrong.

A 2/1 favourite looks like a very solid proposition when you see it and some even call such horses “good things” or “shoe-ins”.  In truth, a bookmaker offering 2/1 on a horse basically means that (including a 5% over-round for the bookie), they have placed a 35% chance on this horse.  So, generally speaking, 65% of such horses will be beaten.

In a typical 10-horse race, you may not have been able to completely discount many of the runners.  You need to be realistic though; even though you may strongly fancy a certain runner there are many others in the line-up that could also win.

So, let’s say you are pretty happy with your selection but place its chances of winning at somewhere around a 1 in 3 chance, then we should be looking to back it a price no shorter than 9/4 to make sure we’re ahead of the game long term.  If you like such a horse but cannot get better than 6/4, leave the race alone.

Staking Plans

Other than having a betting bank and an understanding of what value means, something to keep you on the straight and narrow could be a staking plan.
Many staking plans exist (though some are frankly ridiculous).  The easiest one to use is a points system, confidence behind your horse being ranked 1 – 10 points.  A 10-point bet would rarely, if ever happen as what we’re essentially saying is that you are 100% confident your horse would win which is a situation we’re never really in.

With this system, you simply work out what amount of money you are willing to risk “per point” and then bet accordingly.  So, imagining you have a pretty strong bet and rate your horse as a 50% chance, then you place a 5-point bet.  Had you been gambling at £5 per point, then this bet would be worth £25.

With such a system in place you will immediately be more disciplined, however you should not be scared to increase or decrease your stakes accordingly.  If you’ve had a bad month, you may reduce your stakes to say £3 per point until things get better.  On the other hand, if you are well ahead, an increase should be applied to ensure you are maximising your success.

An Example of A Sound Bet

All of these pointers are great in theory, but if you’re not sure how to pick out your bet in the first place then a points system or a staking plan will be not much use to you.

Unfortunately, teaching you how to how to back horses who will win regularly is not something that can be done here.  It takes years to hone the type of skills and knowledge needed to do this however there are always pointers we can give you.

Rarely will you be backing a horse with absolutely no risks attached.  In terms of your horse being in form, liking the going conditions, the trip, being well drawn, having the right jockey aboard, lacking in quality opposition etc , these are just some of the factors to take into consideration when placing a bet and rarely will your horse tick every box.

That’s not to say you need to take a leap of faith, rather you need to second guess whether or not the horse will accept different racing conditions well enough to run to its potential.

An example of a very sound bet was the success of Stradivarius at Royal Ascot.  The horse was a 7/4 chance, meaning that the bookmakers thought he had around a 35-40% chance of winning the race.

An unknown factor was that he had not ran this distance before – two-and-a-half miles, however a look back at past Gold Cup races have shown that it’s class that wins the race, not an ability to stay the extreme trip.

So, with that factor not too much of a worry, a simple tick-list can be completed:

  • Has the ability at this level (he was already a Group 1 winner)
  • Could improve (he was only a four-year-old and had not peaked)
  • Likes fast ground
  • Stays well (already a two-mile winner at three years old)
  • Trained by a top trainer
  • Ridden by a top jockey

With all of the above and more in his favour, it was easy to say he was a solid favourite and would only be beaten if he didn’t quite put in his best performance.  Taking it then that he was a 50/50 chance, his odds of 7/4 were more than fair making him a solid bet.


To summarize then make sure you take care of the following:

  • Familiarise yourself with all the markets available
  • Ensure you are getting the best price available for your horses(s)
  • Get value for money
  • Stay disciplined – if your horse does not represent value, DO NOT BET
  • Remain patient – even pro’s are happy with a 40% strike-rate so long as their bets are good value, you don’t need too many trips to the pay-out counter to make the sport pay
  • Stick to a staking plan or points plan
  • Stay away from the unknown as much as possible – you want to know your horse has a sound chance

Keeping within these parameters will go a long, long way to ensuring you don’t become what is known in the sport as a “mug punter”, i.e. someone who bets blind and loses a lot more than they win.  This is what the bookmakers rely on!