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A beginner’s guide to horse racing: Betting odds explained


You can’t beat the glamour of a day at the races – especially if you’ve gone all out and splashed out on your own private box, with privileged views of the on-track action. With the 2019 horse racing season about to get underway and some of the biggest events in the calendar – including Cheltenham Festival – now just weeks away, it’s an exciting time of year for fans of the beautiful sport. So if you’re planning on having a flutter or two during your next day at the races, then it pays to brush up on how to get ahead now.

The noble sport of horse racing has now been around for centuries, and people have been betting on horse races since the sport first began. Providing excitement and adrenaline in equal doses, it’s edge-of-your-seat action at its best – but do you know how to make the best of the odds and turn the event in your favour?

Placing a bet or two on the big day has to be one of the highlights of any racing event, and you’re guaranteed to either lose or gain some money along the way. Truth be told, losing is part of every game, but let’s face it; a losing streak is not the aim here, and a tidy windfall would be much more welcome. If you want your foray into betting to be a profitable one, then here’s all you need to know. You can thank us later, when the drinks will be on you.

Knowing the odds is key to securing that big windfall

Understanding the odds

Whether you’re hoping to pick the victorious winner of this year’s Gold Cup or Grand National, or vying for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, or the Belmont Stakes of this year’s Triple Crow, if your goal is to turn a tidy profit then knowing the most up-to-date odds is your best bet. The odds are a good initial indicator of where your chosen horse stands when compared to its opponents – and whether placing your faith in its abilities is a clever way to go.

Betting odds can appear daunting when you first look into them, but they are actually quite straightforward to calculate. When looking at the odds (price) of a horse, they are presented in decimals and fractions; the betting exchanges operate in decimals whereas the fixed odds betting firms operate in fractions.

When determining the returns of a fractional bet, the first number will denote what the profit will be if the bet wins, and the second number will suggest the stake at hand. For example, take 4/1 as a betting odd for a sample, if you stake £1 on a horse, then you will stand to win £4 if the selection wins the race wherein your initial stakes are excluded.

On the contrary, in terms of the decimal format in the initial stakes, betting odds of 4/1 would equate to 5.0 decimal terms, thus 5/1 would be 6.0, and so forth.

Racegoers can turn a tidy profit if they educate themselves about how odds work

Fractional Odds

Fractional odds, such as 4/1, are usually displayed in this type of format; however, this can also be written as 4-1. When being spoken, this would be referred to as “four-to-one”. Odds are actually just basic maths. Here are some examples of how they work.

  • 4/1: In every 1 unit you stake, you’ll receive 4 unit if you win, plus your stake.
  • 7/2: In every 2 units you stake, you’ll receive 7 units if you win, plus your stake.
  • 9/4: In every 4 units you stake, you’ll receive 9 units if you win, plus your stake.

If you see fractional odds that appear to be the other way around (for example, instead of 4/1 it’s ¼), this type of odd is known as an ‘odds-on’, which means that the horse in question has the most supporters or is a hot favorite to win the race. If this is the case, your odds will likely be something like:

  • 1/4: In every 4 units you stake, you’ll receive 1 unit if you win, plus your stake.
  • 1/2: In every 2 units you stake, you’ll receive 1 unit if you win, plus your stake.

Meanwhile, if you see ‘evens’, or EVS displayed on the boards, know that this is the equivalent of a 1/1 fraction and that the horse in question is expected to win.

Pick the right horse and all you have to think about is how to spend your winnings

Decimal Odds:

Put simply, decimal odds are usually displayed in this type of format: 5.00. Calculate the odds by simply multiplying the number (5.00) by your stake to calculate your total potential returns if you are placing a win bet. Unlike the fractional odds, your stake has already been factored into this price; for example, this is the equivalent of 4/1 plus the 1 unit you staked.

Race Favourite

There’s no race that doesn’t have a darling of the crowd, and you should keep an eye on the race’s favourite since this is the horse that is most likely to win. This is reflected in having the shortest price displayed with betting operators – giving you the smallest return on your bet.

A race’s favourite will have an ‘F’ displayed alongside the horse’s odds. If there is more than one horse that has the same odds of winning according to the betting market, this will be displayed as ‘JF’ – which means ‘joint favourite’.

Picking a winner will pay for the champagne all weekend


With the UK racing season about to hot up, knowing your numbers will place you odds on to win – so turn them in your favour by gathering Preakness stakes odds information and bet your way to a big win.

Please gamble responsibly (18+ UK) – check age restrictions before participating