The Betting Ring

Racecourse bookmakers

Traditionally an integral part of the racing experience, bookmakers with names like Jolly Joe, loud check jackets, and voices like foghorns used to shout the odds and hand our colourful cards as receipts. While their clerks entered the bets in their ledgers and tic tac men, standing on orange boxes, waved their white gloved hands in signals of the trade, communicating changes in the horses’ prices.

How to bet with a bookmaker

There is nothing to be afraid of, apart from losing your money. Walk up and tell the racecourse bookmaker which horse you would want to back. You used to say the horse’s name, and still can, but racecourse bookmakers go by numbers now, so the horse’s race card number will do.

To back a horse to win, simply say ‘£4 win number 7, please’ provided the minimum stake is not £5. You will be given a ticket with the details of your bet, including the odds and how much you will receive if the horse wins.

To back a horse each-way, say ‘£4 each-way number 7, please.’ In effect, it is two bets – £4 to win and £4 for a place, making the total stake of £8. If you only want to spend £4, you need to bet £2 each-way.

Each-way is a simple and popular bet, complicated by the fact that whether or not a horse is placed, as well as the odds applied the the place part of the bet, vary according to the number of runners and whether or not the race is a handicap or non-handicap.

Place terms can vary and you should look at the bookmaker’s board to see what they are.


Handicap terms:

Races with five to seven runners – one quarter the win odds for places one and two.
Races with eight or more runners – one fifth the win odds for places one, two and three.
Handicap races with 12 to 15 runners – one quarter the win odds for places one, two and three.
Handicaps with 16 to 21 runners – one fifth the win odds for places one, two, three and four.
Handicaps with 22 or more runners – one quarter the win odds for places one, two, three and four.


Be vigilant when backing a horse each-way in a race where there is an odds-on favourite, particularly in non-handicap races. At the standard terms, there are often attractive bets to be struck in such races, and bookmakers protect themselves. Either by not offering each-way bets on the race, or by offering, say, one sixth or one seventh the win odds a place rather than one fifth the odds.


The Tote

You place your bets at Tote ‘windows’, giving the race card not the name of the horse you want to back.

There are two main differences between betting with a racecourse bookmaker and with the Tote. First, Tote bets are pool bets. All the money bet goes into a pool. The Tote takes a percentage and the balance is divided between the winning tickets. The odds are determined by the size of the pool and the number of winning tickets; the bigger the pool and the fewer winning tickets, the higher the dividend. When you place your bet, a screen will show the dividend for each horse at that moment but it might change by the time the race starts.

Second, as well as win and each-way bets, the Tote allows you back to back a horse just for a place.

Types of bets:

Exacta Select the first and second horse to finish, in the correct order.
Trifecta Select the first, second and third horse, in the correct order.
Placepot Select a horse a horse that places in each of the first six races.
Jackpot Select the winner of each of the first 6 races
Scoop6 Select the winner of each of the six selected Saturday races. There is a consolation dividend if all your selections place, with a bonus for six winners.

Not all of these ‘exotic’ bets are available on every race, nor every day. In the case of some bets, the pool is rolled forward if there are no winners. This sometimes produces very big pools for the Jackpot and Scoop6.

The Placepot is a very popular bet, providing an inexpensive interest throughout the afternoon (or, at least, until one of your selections is unplaced). You will be amazed at how many times 5 of your 6 selections are placed. It’s almost a rule.

Furthermore, you can have multiple combinations of selections, increasing your chances of winning but also increasing the cost, which can be as small or as large as you choose.


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