How Do Betting Odds Work?

Before you do anything you’ll need to know how do betting odds work and luckily this is quite straightforward. Traditionally in the UK odds are specified as fractions, although in Europe and at betting exchanges like Betfair they are usually expressed in decimal form.

Using the UK system, if a horse’s odds are 2/1 this means that if you bet £1, you make £2 profit (you get £3 back as you also get your stake, or bet, back). Decimal odds are the fractional value plus one: so 2/1 is 3.00. The decimal odds specify how much you will get back from the bookmaker (based on a £1 bet) including your stake, whilst the fractional odds say what profit you will make.

We will stick to fractions here, as that is the prevalent method in the UK, especially with regards the Sport of Kings. Not all odds are described as “something to one” though. For example, you may see a horse at 5/2. This means that if you bet £2, you make a profit of £5 (you also get your stake back remember). This could be expressed as 2.5/1 but you will always see it as 5/2. These are just the odds, however, you don’t need to bet £2 in this instance, with a £1 bet returning a profit of £2.50 and a £4 bet a profit of a tenner.

If a horse is a strong favourite to win a race it will sometimes be “odds-on”. As you look at the odds, this means that the number on the bottom/right (the amount you bet – called the denominator) is bigger than the number on the top/left (your profit – called the numerator). For example, the great horse Frankel started some races at 1/10, meaning that if you bet £10 you would have got £11 back, a profit of just £1. As 1/10 is odds-on it will sometimes also be written, and particularly spoken, as “10/1 on” (ten-to-one on).

Different Types of Bet

Now you know how the odds work, let’s look at some different types of bet…


There are a number of different types of bets you can place and the simplest and probably most common is the win bet. This is one bet, on one outcome and you are backing the horse to win the race. Told you it was neither rocket science nor brain surgery!


Another hugely popular bet is to back a horse each way. This is effectively two bets, with one going on the horse to win and the other going on it to “place”. The place terms vary according to the type of race and number of horses in it, although it’s normally for your horse to finish in the top three. The place portion of your bet pays out at a fraction of the main odds and again this varies but is usually 1/4.

So, if you have a £10 each way bet on a horse at 4/1 that will cost you £20, with £10 on the win and £10 on the place part of the bet. If it wins both bets win, so you get £10 x 4 = £40, plus your £10 stake back for the win portion. You also get your each way bet too, so ¼ of 4/1 is 1/1, or evens, so you get £10 plus your stake of £10 so £20 in total. Overall you get £70 for a profit of £50. If the horse finished second, third or fourth you would lose your £10 win bet but make £10 profit from the each way win to leave you level overall.

Each way bets are usually only used on horses at relatively long odds as otherwise you can still end up losing overall if your pick doesn’t win but only places. They can be a great way to back an outsider and still profit if makes the places with a huge bonus should it really cause an upset and win.


This is where you are backing just one, single event. So if you back Big Banana in the 12.30 at Bangor that is a single bet. This could either be, as above, to win (a win single) or each way.


There are numerous different types of multiple bet. Starting from the most simple, a double, up to the complex, almost ridiculous Goliath, which actually includes 247 separate bets in one single wager.

A double involves backing two separate events, for example Big Banana to win the aforementioned 12.30 at Bangor (hypothetically at 2/1) and Synaptic Explosion to win the 15.00 at Wetherby (at evens). Both bets must win for you to succeed. A £1 double would cost you £1 and if both horses deliver you would get £6 back. After the first horse wins you effectively have £3 (£1 stake plus £2 profit) on the second horse at evens, resulting in a payout of £6 and profit of £5.

A treble is the same concept but with three selections. As well as being called multiple bets these are also known as accumulators, or accas for short. You may hear the terms fourfold, fivefold and so on, referring to accumulators with that number of selections.

In addition to these simple multiples you also have various combination bets such as the previously mentioned Goliath. With these you have multiple selections (for example a Yankee has four) and you cover the various doubles, trebles and, in this case, a fourfold. A Yankee is 11 bets in total: six doubles, four trebles and one fourfold. You need at least two picks to win to get anything back and as it is 11 bets, a £1 Yankee would cost £11


Betting at is under the pari-mutuel system, where all bets of a particular type (such as win bets, show bets, exacta bets, etc) are placed in separate pools. A percentage of the pool is withdrawn to be reinvested into racing, and the remaining funds are paid out on the winning wagers.

The mutuel payoffs lists – so named because TwinSpires uses the pari-mutuel betting system – are another way of indicating to bettors how much money they will receive. Unlike the odds format (ie 1-2, 5-1, 7-2, as mentioned above), the listed mutuel payoff includes the original investment and not just the amount of profit.

The mutuel payoff amount for win, place and show bets in the United States is the payout for a $2 bet, the minimum amount for these bet types at TwinSpires.

When calculating the payout for a $2 bet compared to the listed odds, divide the first number in the odds by the second number, multiply that by 2, and then add the standard minimum $2 bet.

Therefore, for a horse at 7-4, divide 7 by 4 (1.75), multiply this number by 2 (3.5), and then add 2 (final payout: $5.50).

If a bettor wants to know exactly how much money will be returned to them from a successful bet, multiply the mutuel payout by the amount invested, and then divide by two. So if a bettor invested $10 to win on a horse that won at a mutuel payout of $5.50, multiply $5.50 by 10 ($55), and then divide by 2 (final payout $27.50).


In addition to betting on a single horse to win, place, or show in one race, bets which involve selecting the first two, three, or four horses are available.
These include:

Exacta: Predict the first two horses in a race in the correct order.
Trifecta: Predict the first three horses in a race in the correct order.
Superfecta: Predict the first four horses in a race in the correct order.

Developing Your Own Handicapping Method

“How do I pick a winning horse?”: This is well and truly a million-dollar question to which there is no one definitive answer. There are a numerous horse racing betting tips and guidelines you can follow that can help you make more informed decisions, however, horse racing is, after all, a sport in which anything can happen and where plain old luck can often prove to be the most deciding factor. In the sections below we will be going over only the most essential handicapping methods, which can increase your chances of picking a winner. Our aim is not to give fool proof tips on how to make a fortune, but rather, provide some sound advice on how to discard noncontenders and decide which horse, or horses, really merit a wager. Note: these tips only apply for straight, win only wagers on a single horse.

  • Try to avoid low level races as much as possible – especially if you’re a beginner. Horses of a lower-class can often be inconsistent and thus become a strain on your bank roll.
  • As a general rule, try to narrow your choices down to a maximum of three horses – this only applies to races where you’re planning to wager on just one horse.
  • Check and see at what level the prospective selection has been racing at. A horse may have won many of its previous races, however if it has just been bumped up to a higher class it may be out of its depth. To avoid this, you should always check to see if the horse has managed to show in its last three races at the same approximate distance and surface of the race in question – by approximate distance we mean no longer than a furlong.
  • Check and see if the horse has proven the ability, or at least the potential to compete on a track similar the one in question. i.e. is the track right or left handed? Are they changes in the gradient?
  • See if the horse has recorded a big win (a win by more than three lengths) in the last 6 months – the more recent the better.
  • Check to see if the horse has had any significant gaps in its race history due to injury. Much like other sports, good form and consistency is important for horses. If the horses is just returning from a lengthy spell of absence (more than 6 months) it might be a little rusty.
  • Always do some research on the jockey. A talented jockey can be the difference between a selection finishing somewhere near the middle or nearer the front. Check the jockey’s history; if he’s consistently managed to show then he may be able to turn a consistently middle ranking horse into a winner. Moreover, if you manage to find a horse-jockey pairing that has consistently managed to finish in the top three places in the last 12 months there’s a fair chance that they’d be a safe bet.
  • Similarly, it pays to do a quick check of the trainer. See if the trainer of the horse you have in mind has managed to win a decent number of races in the past two months – by decent amount we generally mean more than 20%. Also, see if the trainer has had any success at track on which the race is taking place.
  • Check to see if the horse has completed a good work out five or six days prior to the race. What is meant by a “good work out” will depend on the length of the race at hand, however somewhere around the half mile mark is a good indicator.
  • Always check the odds prices of the competitors. The odds price of a given selection reflects the chances of the horse actually winning (according to the bookmaker’s research and calculations). If you find a selection that matches well with points 2-9, the chances are it will have short odds, but there are times when selections are under priced. Scan the race day program and use our handicapping guide to see if you can sport any contenders that have slip under the radar. Or you can always just play it safe and opt for a selection with a short price.