How do I place a bet?

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.

What is a flag bet?

A flag bet is a full cover, combination bet akin to the ubiquitous ‘Yankee’ insofar as it covers four selections, participating in four different events, in six doubles, four trebles and one four-fold accumulator. However, while a Yankee consists of eleven bets, a flag also bundles together six pairs of ‘if cash’ or ‘any-to-come’ wagers, known as ‘single stakes about’ or ‘up-and-down’ bets, to make a total of twenty-three bets.

Of course nowadays Online Bookies, not just ‘bricks and mortar’ establishments offer a myriad of ways to place a bet, be it single, multiple and so on. Also options such as ‘cash out’ are sometimes available actually during a live event allowing you to take the money and run, as they say. Or alternatively see the bet out if you have enough confidence in your selection.

Each single stake about bet is a wager on two selections, in two different events, and consists of two single bets. Thus, for four selections, A, B, C and D, a flag bet includes single stakes about bets on AB, AC, AD, BC, BD and CD. For the sake of simplicity, consider just the selections A and B; if selection A wins, the return on the single bet is used to fund an additional single bet, up to the original stake, on selection B, and vice versa. Of course, if either selection loses, the return on the original single bet is zero, so the additional single bet on the other cannot be funded, and both original stakes are lost. If both selections A and B lose, the return from the single stakes about bet is zero.

In horse racing, how do I pick a winner?

Obviously, the many imponderables dictating the outcome of any horse race mean that picking a winner is not altogether straightforward. Indeed, even successful punters cannot expect to correctly predict the result of every horse race on which they place a bet and losing runs are inevitable.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the importance of luck in running, picking a winner essentially boils down to a handful of factors, most, if not all, of which can be determined by analysing the form book. You can often make an educated guess about ability or, in the case of unraced, promising or progressive horses, potential ability by reference to the pedigree of the horse in question and its recent recent performances on the racecourse. Furthermore, certain organisations, including Racing Post and Timeform, publish ratings that express, in Imperial pounds, the ability of each horse in the eyes of their private handicappers, which can be extremely useful for comparison purposes. Recent form, say, within the last six weeks or so, indicates that a horse is likely to fit and ready to do itself justice.

Beyond that, the fact remains that most horse races are won by horses that are attempting little, or nothing, more than they have achieved in the past. Beware of any marked disparity in class, distance, going, value and weight; winning horses inevitably rise in the weights, according to official ratings allocated by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), but the weight a horse carries ultimately affects the speed at which it can gallop.

Can I bet on virtual horse racing?

Perhaps the best known virtual horse race is the Virtual Grand National, which was first introduced in 2017, but took centre stage in 2020 after the real-life Grand National was called off due to the coronavirus. Like all virtual horse races, the Virtual Grand National is a computer simulation; computer-generated imagery (CGI) is employed to create a faithful rendition of racecourse, runners and riders and the result is determined by a sophisticated, step-by-step list of rules, technically known as an algorithm.

As in a real-world race, the odds offered on each horse are inversely proportional to its theoretical chance of winning, but the outcome is determined by a regulated random number generator (RNG). As the name suggests, a RNG is designed to generate a sequence of numbers without any discernible pattern but, in a virtual horse race, the favourite has a higher ‘weighting’ in the RNG – and, therefore, more chance of winning – than the second favourite and so on throughout the field.

The Virtual Grand National may be the best known virtual horse race, but virtual horse racing is everyday occurrence with bookmakers, on the High Street and online, in Britain. In fact, virtual horse races, Flat or Jumps, typically take place every few minutes, with win, each-way, forecast and tricast betting available.

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