To place a bet, legally, on horse racing in Britain, you must do so with a licensed bookmaker. Some licensed bookmakers, including the so-called ‘Big Three’ – William Hill, Ladbrokes and Coral – are household names, but there are plenty of others plying their trade on the High Street, on racecourses up and down the country and online.
Placing a bet in a betting shop involves writing the name of your selection, the time and meeting at which it is running, the type of bet you wish to place and the amount you wish to stake on a betting slip and handing it to a cashier behind the counter. In return, you will receive a receipt – nowadays, typically a duplicate of your original betting slip – which you must hand back to the cashier, after the race, for payment in the event that your bet is a winner.
On-course bookmakers display the odds available on the next race on a electronic display board, so placing a bet simply involves approaching the bookmaker and stating, clearly, the racecard number of your selection, the type of bet you wish to place – that is, win or each-way – and the amount you wish to stake. In return, you will receive a printed receipt bearing the details of your bet, which you must present to the bookmaker after the race – after the horses have ‘weighed in’ – to receive any winnings.
Placing a bet online involves opening an account with the bookmaker of your choice and registering an appropriate credit or debit card, by means of which you will fund the account. Terms and conditions, including minimum deposit and withdrawal amounts, maximum payouts and so on, vary from one online bookmaker to another, so make sure that they are acceptable before committing to opening an account. Thereafter, placing a bet is as simple as clicking on the name of your selection – which will be added to an electronic betting slip – clicking the type of bet you wish to place, entering your stake amount and clicking another button to confirm your bet. You will be able to view your list of ‘open’ bets at any time and any winnings will automatically be credited to your account when each bet is settled.
The most obvious difference between Flat and Jump, or National Hunt, racing is that Flat racing does not require participants to negotiate obstacles, but National Hunt racing, at least for the most part, does. The one exception is the confusingly-named National Hunt Flat Race, colloquially known as a ‘bumper’, which is run under National Hunt Rules, but involves no obstacles at all.
Flat racing is also staged, on the whole, over shorter distances than National Hunt racing. In Britain, the official minimum distance for a Flat race is 5 furlongs, but the official minimum distance for hurdle races and steeplechases is 2 miles. At the other end of the scale, the longest Flat race staged in Britain is the Queen Alexandra Stakes, run over 2 miles, 5 furlongs and 143 yards, while the longest National Hunt race is the Grand National, run over 4 miles, 2 furlongs and 7 yards.
Nowadays, Flat and National Hunt races take place throughout the year, but the Flat season ‘proper’ traditionally starts with the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster in late March or early April and ends with the November Handicap at the same course in early November. By contrast, the National Hunt season ‘proper’ traditionally starts in mid-October and ends with the Bet365 Gold Cup, originally known as the Whitbread Gold Cup, at Sandown Park in late April. National Hunt racing is typically less financially rewarding than Flat racing and, with the most important part of the season extending through the winter, is generally considered less fashionable and less glamorous.
In horse racing, Flat or National Hunt, a handicap race is a race in which each horse carries a weight determined by its official rating, so that, at least in theory, every horse has an equal chance of winning. To be eligible to run in a handicap, a horse must qualify for an official rating and, to do so, must usually run in three non-handicap, or weight-for-age, races, so that the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) handicapper has the opportunity to assess its level of ability. The official rating of each horse corresponds to its ability, expressed in Avoirdupois pounds, in the eyes of the handicapper. In a handicap race, the horse with the highest official rating carries the heaviest, or ‘top’, weight, while the other horses carry less weight, proportionate to their official ratings. Of course, the official rating of a horse can go up, down or stay the same, depending on how it performs from one race to the next.
Jump racing, also known as National Hunt racing, is the code, or discipline, of horse racing that involves negotiating obstacles, usually in the form of hurdles or fences. Some jump racing does, however, take place on specialist ‘cross country’ or ‘bank’ courses, on which some of the obstacles are more akin to those typically found in open countryside. In Britain, with the exception of some National Hunt Flat races, all jump races are run over an ‘official’ minimum distance of at least 2 miles, although on certain racecourses the advertised distance may be slightly shorter. However, the longest jump race staged in Britain is, unequivocally, the Grand National, nowadays run over 4 miles 2 furlongs and 7 yards, at Aintree Racecourse in April each year. Since the advent of so-called ‘summer jumping’, which began in 1995, jump racing is staged throughout the year, although the National Hunt season ‘proper’ lasts from mid-October to late April or early May.