How to Bet

This section goes through everything you need to do to place your bet. You probably want to know beforehand just what type of bet you are going to place so make sure you read the Types of Bet section too.

There are four main ways to place your bets and we will look at the pros and cons of each below. They are: on course; off-course (at the bookmakers’); via the telephone or via the Internet. There are probably lots of other avenues for betting that could be explored (Digital TV etc.) but, traditionalists that we are, we will concentrate on the main ones as outlined above for the moment.

We’ve also a section devoted exclusively to the Tote.

On course betting

Terry McQuaidEvery racecourse in the UK has a plethora of on-course bookmakers who will be happy to take your money. Usually, they are all grouped together in a common area near to the grandstand like hyenas (and a particularly unattractive bunch of hyenas at that) round a stricken gazelle. They are easily spotted: a squalid advertising board displays their name; a colourful, yet somehow sadly dilapidated, umbrella helps to keep them (and their money) dry; a queue of well-dressed mug punters line up close by. Do not, however, be put off by the bookmakers’ somewhat shabby appearance. Like most predatory animals, they cloak themselves in a way that displays the least sense of threat, inexorably luring the unwary to penury, premature baldness and alcoholism.

Once you have selected your horse, approach your chosen bookmaker. Remember to fix him with a resolute eye – you will be coming back again and again to trouser your reward so it pays to show who is boss right at the outset. In a firm and steady voice, announce your bet. You can choose to name the horse or simply state the number. Thus "Ten pounds on number 5, please" and "Ten pounds on Pongee, my man" are both valid statements. The size of bet is entirely down to personal preference although be aware that some bookmakers will set a minimum limit (usually around £5) or may stipulate win-only bets. They will also limit the amount that they will pay you although this should only really concern high-rollers such as the Plumbers. Betting on course is limited to win and each-way wagers.

Bookmakers may also choose to offer odds on the field without the favourite. This is particularly the case where a very short-priced favourite may put off the casual or novice gambler. The Midnight Plumbers would warn against involvement in this form of betting.

You may also find a number of big-name bookmakers such as Ladbrokes, William Hill and the Tote with outlets at the racecourse. Some are like traditional bookmakers’ establishments in that you can go into a shop. Others require you to queue at a window on the course.

Some betting tips

TipsHaving stated your wager you should now hand over your money to the clerk.

The bookmaker will then repeat your wager out loud – in a meaningless bookmaker argot – to enable his clerk to enter your bet in the ledger. You will then receive a small ticket. It is important that you nurture and protect this ticket as you will need it to claim your winnings when your horse romps home.

On most courses today, the majority of this transaction is executed using some electronic means. The bookmaker will still shout out your bet to a clerk but you may well find that the information is input to a laptop with you receiving a printed-out statement outlining the amount of your bet and the likely return should your bet prove a good one.

If you are unsure of what to back then there are some small pointers to look out for. One obvious one is to watch the market. The on-course bookmakers will spend a lot of time prior to the race changing the displayed odds for various horses. If no-one is betting much then they may lengthen the odds on some nags to try and stimulate interest. On the other hand, if a lot of money is being wagered on a particular horse then the odds will suddenly start to tumble. It is well worth watching out for this as you may be able to get a small piece of the action.

Another good tip is to go and see the horses in the paddock or parade ring. If a horse is restless or listless or just generally doesn’t look right then don’t waste your money on it. If it winks at you, however, have no hesitation on wagering a shed load of cash on it. This latter tip comes courtesy of Super Mario’s mum.

Once your selected nag delivers the goods, it is prudent to delay your return to the bookmakers’ area. This allows the little jockeys sufficient time to weigh in and any nonsensical claims of interference in the home straight to be correctly quashed. Savour the moment. Feel the power. Drain the cup of success to the very dregs. Then simply march straight up to your bookmaker, present him with the ticket dispensed earlier and claim your reward.

Pros: the thrill of the live event, getting close and personal, real money changing hands

Cons: limited betting options with single win or each-way bets only

Off course betting

LadbrokesOff-course betting generally means going to a High Street bookmaker such as Ladbrokes or William Hill. These establishments today are a far cry from the dingy, smoke-filled, sticky-floored dives of yesteryear. Now they are sparkly, clean, bright and shiny. Full of electronic wizardry and flashing lights, they aim to seduce you into a world of dogs, horses and puggies: all wholesome gambling fun. Some will offer you complimentary food or beverages. Some will run special promotions for big occasions such as the Derby or Grand National. The staff will often be found dressed in comedy costumes to celebrate some unlikely national or local event. But remember. They just want your money. But of course, you want theirs so there’s no harm done there, then.

Today’s High Street Bookmaker offers a bewildering array of bets on any sport (or virtually anything else) known to man. However, we’re here to concern ourselves with the Sport of Plumbers so horse racing it is.

There are two approaches to placing your bet with an off-course bookmaker: The Veteran Gambler and The Big Lassie. We examine each below.

The Veteran Gambler Approach

newspaperLook around and you will see a set of small yellow or white betting slips. Look around again and you will find, scattered amongst the human and artificial detritus, a number of cheap, tiny pens such as might be used by dwarves, small children or Jeremy Beadle. Simply write down the terms of your bet using the latter on the former (the pen on the slip rather than Beadle on the dwarves). Hand your completed slip and stake money to the clerk(ess) behind the Bet Here window at the counter. Now retire to the place of your choosing to await the result.

You may, when you hand over your slip, ask for the current odds for your selection. If you do not, then you will be paid the starting price assuming your horse wins. It is often pertinent to ask for the current odds as a number of factors can affect the starting price. It is not uncommon for well-fancied horses to receive a run of money quite late in the day with a subsequent shortening of the starting price. Much of the fun to be derived from gambling lies in making the most of any tips you might have. Remember, though, that prices may well drift throughout the day as more information becomes available. Getting your bet on early does not necessarily mean you will get the best price.

The Big Lassie Approach

In the Big Lassie Approach you need do nothing more than place a tick or a cross in a box on a specially designed betting slip. Just cast your eye around the shelves. Quadpots, placepots, trifectas, exactas, Scoop6 and the rest are all there. All you need to do is follow the dumbed-down instructions on the card and mark a cross, tick or little line in the relevant space. Take your slip to the Bet Here window and hand it over along with your stake. The clerk(ess) will run the slip through some kind of electronic reader and present you with a patronising glance and a receipt. Go and do some shopping in Asda.

Pros: cleaner and more comfortable than they once were, good range of available betting options

Cons: still very much a male dominion, lack of live action

Telephone betting

TelephoneTelephone betting accounts have been around since well, since the telephone was invented I guess. Quite simple. You open an account with your bookmaker, depositing an amount by credit card or whatever. In return you will receive a telephone number and a little card with various security details. When you want to bet just phone the number, provide the required responses, place your bet and return to your high-octane lifestyle.

Pros: available round the clock so handy in an emergency

Cons: first step on the road to ruin

Internet betting

KeyboardInternet betting has increased significantly over the last few years with most of the major chains devoting considerable resources to establishing an Internet presence. William Hill is the biggest in the UK although there are plenty of alternative options to choose from. Internet betting sites require you to open an account. There will be some area on the site where you will need to create a username and password and also provide some personal details. You will also need to put some money into your account before you can start betting – usually via credit card.

There are many, many sites out there offering online betting facilities so just explore and see for yourself what’s on offer. The Midnight Plumbers regularly use Victor Swindler, William Hill, the Tote and Blue Square but there are countless others that would offer similar services.

Pros: enormous number of events and bets to choose from, worldwide coverage

Cons: many sites are poorly constructed and difficult to navigate, credit card needed

The Tote

The Tote is just a big pool where what you win depends on how much money everyone else has bet. All winners will receive a share of the dividend. You can find Tote bookmakers on the High Street and also within most racecourse concourses. The Tote runs a number of different competitions such as placepots, quadpots and various jackpots where you make your selections by marking a number of boxes on a computer-readable card. These are all quite popular but the return can vary – obviously.

Pros: good number of different competition selections, easy to follow, good for beginners

Cons: not much of a horsey feel to the proceedings, variable returns

Some Betting Rules

There are loads of betting rules covering all sorts of eventualities but there is no intention of covering them all here. Instead we will simply go through the ones most likely to arise. Traditionally, horse racing bets have been covered by Tattersalls’ Rules of Betting and these form the basis of most bookmakers’ rules. If some kind of odd circumstance arises that is not covered by these rules then Tattersalls’ committee would make some kind of announcement to determine the outcome.

Each Way Betting

Each way betting is a combination bet consisting of a win-only and win-or-place bet. Thus if your horse wins you will receive a return from both parts of the bet. If it is placed then you will receive a return from the place portion of the bet only. How much you get back depends on the number of horses running and the type of race. In general, if your horse is placed then the bookmaker will pay you a fraction of the odds – usually 1/4 or 1/5. The following table shows the figures:

Type of Race

Number of Runners

Horse needs to finish in the first

Fraction of odds paid










8 or more








16 or more



Rule 4c

Legalised swindlingIf a horse withdraws from the race before coming under Starters’ Orders then the bookmakers are allowed to deduct a small amount from each winning bet. The amount deducted depends on the starting price with more deducted from shorter priced favourites than long-priced outsiders.

A good yardstick is to assume a deduction of 10%.

Ante-post betting

Ante-post betting governs the placing of bets before the overnight declaration stage – usually 10 a.m. on the day before the race. This can be a good thing as you will generally be offered much better odds. Ante-post bets are, however, accepted on an "all in – run or not" basis. This can be a bad thing as it means that should your horse not take part then your money is lost.

Under certain circumstances you will get your money back though. If the race is abandoned or officially declared void or the venue changed then you should receive your stake money back as all bets are declared void.

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