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Betting guide

Betting Overview

Whether it be horses, greyhounds, tennis or football, betting on sports can be a complex past-time.

However, whatever the sport, there are basic principles of betting that remain the same, regardless of whether you are a casual punter, professional gambler or arbitrage trader. 

Record Keeping

If you are taking your betting seriously you must keep good records for many reasons:

  • It allows you to keep track of the bets you make and cross reference them with your bookmaker accounts. Mistakes do occur, on both sides, and it is important that you know what bets you have made and with who.
  • You will be able to look for trends in the types of bet that win for you and which ones lose, so as to avoid repeating losing type bets. For example, if you find that every time you bet accumulators you lose more often than you win, you may decide not to bet those again in the future.
  • You will be able to keep track of whether you are making a profit or not. This is the most important factor, as obviously without good record keeping you don’t know how much you are winning or losing.

Staking Plans

Firstly set aside an amount of money, that is separate to your day to day finances and that you can afford to lose, as a betting bank. This is your starting point, and you then need to decide how you are going to approach your staking. There are many different types of staking plans, below are a few basic ones.

Fixed Staking – betting a fixed amount on every bet, this should be a small % of your betting bank to enable you to ride out losing streaks. E.g. For an initial  bank of £1000, a fixed stake of £20 – £25 would give you a minimum of 40 to 50 bets.

Percentage Staking – betting a variable amount depending on what your bank stand at. For example a 3% staking plan on an initial £1000 bank would see the first bet at £30. If that bet won at 10-1, your betting bank would then stand at £1300, so your next bet would be 3% of £1300 – £39.

For a successful punter, percentage staking can be a very lucrative way of increasing your bank quickly, as the more you win, the more you stake. This can lead to you betting high amounts that you wouldn’t normally bet, but with the prevailing thought that the increased part of the stake is funded from previous winnings. Click here for an example.

For an unsuccessful punter, percentage staking can be a way of keeping your betting bank alive by betting smaller and smaller amounts as your bank decreases. Click here for an example.

Maximum Exposure – this type of staking plan is tailored more towards the layer but can be used by a backer as well. The amount that is staked varies on each bet, depending on the required liability (for laying) or return (for betting).

For layers this gives the benefit of not having a huge exposure if your selection has high odds.

For those who use this method for betting it gives the benefit of reducing their stake on higher priced horses (which in theory may have less chance of winning).

Value Staking – this involves analysing each bet to determine whether there is value in it. I.E. Is the price you can get unevenly matched with its chance of winning. When you find a bet where the price is in your favour you would increase your stake, when a bet is not in your favour you would decrease it.

This type of betting is more complicated and requires a lot of analysis and research. For more information do a web search for any combination of “John Kelly value staking”

Dutching – dutching is a method of betting multiple selections at different stakes with a view to a obtaining the same return should any one of the selections win. his doesn’t work on all types of selection – the prices have to be right – there are sites that offer free dutching calculators which tell you how much to stake and what your return might be at different prices. An example can be found at www.oddschecker.co.uk under the “power tools” drop down box at the top of the page.

Making Selections

The topic of horse selection and the factors that go into it, is far too large a scope for this website. At this stage though, I would strongly recommend that you acquire a good guide to race horse analysis prior to commencing betting, to ensure that you understand it properly. It is very tempting to pick up a copy of the Racing Post and look for a horse with a good jockey or gets a good write up. However, in the long run this will be a quick  way to losing your betting bank.

When making selections there are two different methods you can use


Systems are formed by analysing historic data and seeing which are the common factors that run through the winners and losers of each type of race. By doing so, you can look back over time and see whether betting certain types of horses would have made you a profit or loss, and then use that information to bet / lay horses that fit that criteria in the future.

Systems can be very time consuming to construct as in order to be good, they need to have a fair sized history to check against, which involves a lot of data entry into something like an Excel spreadsheet. Alternatively there are various software packages that are available to purchase that already contain many variable factors, which you can then select to see what impact they have on a system.

Obviously the factors that are used are the key and that is where having a good knowledge of horse racing will help you know which things influence a horses performance the most.

On the internet you will find many sites that offer horse racing ratings, some are free, and some you have to pay for. In our experience, you get what you pay for, the subscription sites are able to charge as they significantly better than the free ones, that said, if you are a casual punter the free ones would probably suffice. Check the historic results of the sites to see if they are any good. If they are good, they will publish all of their historic results.

Many systems have been created using these types of ratings, some of the best examples of these are:

www.timeform (subscription site – well respected information but is quite expensive in relation to other ratings sites)

www.racing-edge.co.uk (subscription site – a well respected ratings site that has a very good track record)

www.racingpost.co.uk  (free ratings and an excellent source of all racing information)

www.adrianmassey (Free ratings, but does not cover every meeting)

The Racing-Edge website has a free downloadable database that holds a lot of racing information which you can then run through different racing scenarios. It is an excellent tool and is recommended. By selecting different variables, you can run a report which will then tell you how many points you would be up or down if you had bet those types of selection, it can then be adjusted and re-run to see if you can improve the return.

Once you have a good system, they can be very lucrative and a lot less time consuming to compile your selections each day. The downside is that systems are normally rigid and all of your selections should be bet each day otherwise the previous historic returns that you are hoping to see again could be missed.

For example, you create a system that has a 40% strike rate (that is an average of 4 winners out of every 10) and one Saturday there is 10 selections all fitting your systems criteria. If you only bet 5 of the 10 selections you are running a risk that the 4 winning horses you are hoping to see, are amongst the 5 horses you don’t bet, in which case the system will fail very quickly. Remember winners can also arrive in any order – none for 20 races and then 12 on the trot for example.

Lastly, don’t be put off by having to subscribe to ratings services. The best ones are not usually free, but will easily earn you the subscription costs each month by helping you make better selections.

Reading Form

The other, more traditional, way of choosing your selections is to analyse the previous form of each of the horses in the race. In this way, you are paying a lot of attention to each horse looking for advantages that will help the horse to win. This method is more time consuming on a daily basis than the system method, but does allow for small details to be picked up on, and for “gut feel” bets. Sometimes a system will produce a selection that you just know isn’t going to win for a number of reasons, “systemites” would bet the selection anyway, however form readers would simply ignore the selection. 

You can of course combine systems and form – the historic results of the system would no longer be an indication of what you could hope for going forward, but you would have the system selections as a starting point before examining each one closer looking for the best selections.

The beauty of betting in this way is that it reduced the time taken for the initial selection process by using the system selections, but if you don’t like a particular race, you just leave it out as you are not following a rigid system.