The Beginner’s Guide to Betting on Horse Racing

by Anne B. Robinson
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Betting on horse racing is a popular pastime for Australian punters, but the level of knowledge different punters have can be vastly different. In this article, we’ll walk you through some things to keep in mind if you’re just starting out. These are far from foolproof tips, but they are nonetheless valuable things to remember when betting on horse racing.

1. Be willing to listen to those who know more than you

There is a huge amount of information available to consume about any given race, and knowing how to decipher it all is something that takes years and years of practice – and even then, you can always learn more. As a result, it’s important to be willing to listen to those who know more than you. If you don’t know much about horse racing, don’t try to figure it all out yourself; seek out the advice of those in the know.

And even then, ensure that the person or people you’re listening to is truly a voice of authority; plenty of people have strong opinions on how a race will unfold or provide their own horse racing tips, but many of them don’t know as much as their confidence might suggest.

2. Find the best odds

Virtually every bookmaker in Australia – of which there is an abundance – has odds on most if not all Australian meets and many international ones. This opens up the door to odds shopping, finding the best odds on the market on which you wish to bet. You might not expect to see a great deal of difference in the odds for the same outcome across different sites, and to an extent this is true.

If a horse is paying $3 at one bookmaker, it’s not going to be paying $6 elsewhere, but it might be paying $3.20 or $2.80. If you’re just betting $5 on one race, this difference might not matter very much, but over time this variation in odds can and does add up.

3. Pay attention to the conditions

Conditions aren’t necessarily something that beginners would instinctively think to consider when betting on horse racing, but believe it or not it does play a pivotal role. When it’s been or is currently raining, the track invariably gets softer and can be downgraded to either ‘soft’ or ‘heavy’. This favors certain horses and is a disadvantage to others. Some horses excel on softer ground, while others need firmer footing to be at their best, and their performance in different conditions can be found on betting sites underneath each horse’s name.

Often, the horses that do well in softer conditions tend to run towards the front, as it’s harder for horses at the back – backmarkers – to make up lots of ground when the track is wet. This will all be factored into the odds, but make sure you’re familiar with the track conditions and how each horse performs in those conditions.

4. Follow the money

Following the money is, in a roundabout way, a similar concept to point number one, but arguably even more important. While finding tips from more experienced punters is useful, it is also important to ensure you follow the right ones; following the money, in contrast, ensures that you’re following the weight of numbers, and very often the punters who are placing the largest sums of money, who are often (though not always) professionals. Following the money basically involves watching how the odds change as the race nears.

It might be tempting to bet on the horses whose odds are becoming increasingly long, but this can be a losing battle as it typically means few people are betting on them. In contrast, if a horse’s odds continue to get shorter, it can often mean that there is a lot of money coming for them as the race nears, and this can be a good indication that there are lots of people with some knowledge of the likelihood of that horse running a good race.

5. Wait until just before the jump to bet

It’s pivotal to do lots of preparation and not to just bet on something for the sake of it, but once you have done that and settled on a bet, it can often be a good idea to wait until just before the race starts to place your bet. The reason for this is simple; as the race nears, the bookie’s ‘margin’ – which basically refers to the difference between what the odds would be if the bookies weren’t trying to make money, and what they actually are – gets smaller.

This means that overall, the odds for a race get better. This won’t be the case for every horse – some of their odds may get shorter while others may lengthen – but for the race overall, they will be longer and closer to the jump. There are, of course, exceptions, for example, in the scenario outlined in point 4 in which lots of money is coming for a particular horse, and their odds are getting increasingly shorter as a result, and if that’s happening, you might want to lock in the odds before they get even shorter. For the most part though, the odds at the jump will be close to the best that you’ll get.

In summary

Betting on horse racing is a popular pastime for many Australians, but despite that, it’s something that is fraught with difficulty. The above tips certainly won’t guarantee that you’ll make a profit, and actually beating the bookies remains very tough, but they are important rules that it’s key to be aware of and follow if you’re a beginner in the realm of horse racing betting.

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