How to Bet on Horses for Beginners (Ultimate Guide)

31 August 2020
Not quite sure how to get started placing bets on horses? This guide has everything you need to know about betting in New Zealand - from bet types to strategy and more.

Types of Horse Racing Bets

Win, place, each way? Here are three of the easiest ways to bet on a horse race…

Win bet 

A win bet is pretty simple - you are backing the horse to win the race!

Place bet 

If you place a bet on a horse to run a place, you are backing it to finish first, second or third.

Each way bet

An each way bet is a combination of a win and a place bet. If your horse wins, you collect both the win and the place. You also win money if your horse comes in second or third. Brilliant! (And easy too).

Quinella bet 

A quinella bet is when you select the two horses you think will win first and second place in a race.

The boxed quinella bet 

A boxed quinella is where you pick more than two horses, which means you’re increasing your chances to win. With this bet, you'll still need two of your picked horses to come in first and second in order to collect.

Trifecta bet 

A trifecta bet is when you select the horses you think will come in first, second and third place in a race. It’s not as easy to pull off but when you do, you can seriously reap the rewards!

Boxed trifecta bet 

A Boxed Trifecta is when you pick three horses and if they win in any order, you win! If you pay a bit extra, you can pick more horses, which increases your chance of winning.


Types of Betting Odds

In racing, the betting odds tell you how likely it is that a horse will finish first, second, or third place in an individual horse race. In New Zealand racing you can choose between two types of odds when you place a bet – fixed odds or totalisator odds.

Fixed odds

In fixed odds betting, you know the exact odds that you will receive when you place a bet. These odds can shift over time as the bookmakers actively change the prices to reflect changes in the race environment, for example changes in track conditions.  Once you’ve made your bet though, the odds available at that time (and your potential winnings) are locked in.

Totalisator odds

Totaliser odds are slightly different from their fixed counterparts. Pretty much, all the money betted goes into a pool and is divided out at the end of the race, based on the result. For example, if a horse is paying $10 when you bet, and before betting closes (just before the race), a lot of people bet on that same horse, the odds will drop and so will the amount of money you get back!

Short odds and long odds 

Short odds or long odds indicate the probability that a racehorse will win a race. If a horse is paying $1.30 return on your bet (short odds) to win, that means punters believe it is more likely to win (or place) than a horse paying a $130 return (long odds). There is more perceived risk with betting on a horse with long odds, but the reward (should they run well) will be much higher. The gamble is up to you …


How can you bet on horses in New Zealand? 

There are three ways you can bet on horse racing in New Zealand - on-course at a race meeting, online or in-store. If you’re not able to attend a raceday on-course, or want to make an early bet, visit the New Zealand TAB website or one of their retail stores to place your bets.


Reading a Racebook or Race Form Guide 

Available for purchase at most big racedays, the racebook includes an illustrated guide to each race, showing the horses’ names and their jockeys, owners, trainers, colour of the ‘silks’ and a summary of their recent racing form or performance. They also contain tips from the experts - bonus! If you’re not on-course, you can find’s Race Form Guides online  or the TAB website. 

A Racebook is the most important money you’ll spend on raceday

It’s the racing bible and - if you know how to read it correctly (and not use it to prop your wine glass up on the grass) - it can completely change your racing experience.

How do I use my racebook?

At the very least, you'll use your racebook for the race number (usually there are about 10 races) and runner number (that's your horse's number in the race, which it will also wear on its saddle cloth).

Breaking down the race form

But here’s the racebook gold. There’s a wealth of important information in the string of numbers by each horse’s name.

Here’s an example: 2 3X021 No Hero (5) 57kgs Jonathan Riddell

The 2 at the start of the line is No Hero's (the horse’s name) runner number. He'll be wearing it, and if you pick him, it's the number you'll give the TAB operator at the tote.

The numbers in the form column (starting with the number 3) refer to the last five races the horse has run; you read from right to left.

If you’re wondering what the numbers mean, here’s a quick explanation:

  • 1 = 1st (he came first in his most recent race)
  • 2= 2nd (he came second two races ago)
  • 0 = 10th or more (he came in 10th position - or worse - three races ago)
  • X = He had a break from racing for six weeks or more
  • 3 = 3rd (he came third in his last race before the break)

So, reading No Hero’s form above, here’s how he’s done recently:

He’s come in 1st and 2nd, in his latest races, didn’t do so well in the third race (coming in, according to the explanation above, 10th or more) his fourth race (the one indicated with the X) means he took a break and before that he came in 3rd.

No Hero’s barrier number is 5 - that's where he'll start from in the starting gates. 1 is the closest to the inside rail. Generally speaking, the higher the number the worse the draw.

57 is the number of kilos the horse will be carrying in a thoroughbred race and Jonathan Riddell is the name of No Hero's jockey for the race.

So, based on that form, he wouldn’t be a bad horse to place a bet on.


What to say to the teller

You’ve got the basics sorted, now it's time for the real business - to bet on horses! If you’re on-course, you’ll want to find a tote - look for the signs or the queues of people lining up in front of a small window.

Once you’re at the betting window, here’s how to talk to the TAB operator like a pro when placing your bet:

Meeting venue & race number 

Tell them which race meeting venue and race number you would like to bet on.

E.g, “Ellerslie, Race 4”. You can find this detail in the racebook where the heading will be at the top of each race.

Bet amount 

Say the amount you want to bet.

 E.g $5 dollars please!


Tell the TAB operator the type of bet you wish to place.

E.g ‘To Win’ or ‘Each Way’

Horse number 

Say the number(s) of the horses you are betting on e.g “Number 7”, or you can use the name of the horse if that’s easier to remember.

All together now!

“Hi, I’d like to place a bet on Ellerslie, Race 4 - $5 dollars to win on number 7 please.”


How do you get paid?

When you place a bet, the odds show you the amount of money you will win for every dollar spent. Your bet amount multiplied by the odds equals the amount you get paid.

For example, if you put $10 on a horse paying $3.50 to win, and it does, your return would be $35.

Or if you put $10 on a horse paying $2.00 to place and it does, your return would be $20. Get the idea?


5 Tips for Horse Betting: Making the Right Wager 

Play it safe

A race favourite is the horse bookmakers deem to have the best chance of winning a race. In a betting market, the favourite will have the lowest odds. On average, the favourite horse in a race wins 33% of the time and places 67% of the time. Although it’s unlikely they'll be paying any great odds, backing the favourite is probably your safest bet.

Cool, calm and collected

A relaxed horse will usually run better than a horse that is playing up before a race. Keep an eye out for horses walking calmly and confidently around the birdcage pre race.

Listen to the pros

There are plenty of racing form experts who give their thoughts around horses before they race. These experts spend hours studying horses past performances and analysing how a race might pan out. Have a look online at LOVERACING.NZ or TAB or check out the comments in your racebook.

Where to find the odds 

You won’t find the odds in the racebook - generally, they're displayed on-course somewhere. Keep an eye out for one of the screens with Teletext on them. You can also find odds online at LOVERACING.NZ or TAB. Not entirely sure about using us for odds - it is not as up to date as the TAB and since you can’t place a bet through us, should we be directing the audience there?

Keep things fun! 

Enjoying cheering your horse home, without taking things too seriously. If you’re struggling to keep your betting fun, free help is available.


5 Factors That Influence Horse Betting: Choosing Your Strategy


A horse’s form refers to its past performances and is possibly the most important piece of information punters look at. If a horse is ‘in-form’ (its past performances have been good) and it is lining up in a similar race, chances are it will perform well again. If a horse is ‘out of form’ (its past performances have been somewhat unimpressive) then it might be best to leave it out of your betting selections. In saying this, form can change!!

Track condition 

Track condition is a key factor in choosing a winning horse. Some horses prefer a firm track, while others prefer to ‘get their toe in’ (racing on a soft track). You can scan back through a horse’s form and check its performance against track conditions to see if there is a pattern - see more in the Reading a Racebook or Race Form Guide .


Generally speaking, top jockeys find it easier to get into the saddle of better horses. Some punters will back a certain in-form jockey all day and have good success in doing so. Find out who’s hot and who’s not with the current Jockey premiership standings.


While some punters have a favourite jockey they follow, others have a favourite trainer. You can find out who the country’s leading trainers are, and their strike rate, on our current Trainer’s premiership standings.

Racing Gear

There is a range of horse racing gear (think accessories) that a trainer can have their horse wear to improve its racing performance. Whether a horse is over racing or struggling to focus during its race - there are ways to help them overcome these issues. For example, the addition of blinkers on their eyes could be the difference between a horse being competitive or not.


Horse Race Betting FAQ

How often does the favourite win in horse racing? 

The favourite in a race wins around 33% of the time and places 67% of the time. Although it’s unlikely they'll be paying any great odds, backing a favourite is probably your safest bet.

Can you bet on every horse in a race? 

Technically yes - but this is no way to make a dollar! More often than not, the cost of backing all runners in a race will be greater than your return.

What happens when my horse gets scratched? 

If your horse is scratched from a race, you will be refunded your full bet amount.

What is an easy bet?

If you’re finding choosing a horse to be harder than deciding where you want to eat, this is the best betting option for you. With an EasyBet the TAB computer will choose the horse for you at random. There’s no strategy here, just luck! Can you do a win/place Easybet? Or is it only quinellas and trifectas?

What is a PICK6 bet? 

Pick6’s are available on particular races nominated by NZ TAB. Here, you need to pick the winner in six consecutive races to win. It’s no easy feat (to put it lightly!) but the rewards can be huge with Pick6 pools often guaranteed at $50,000.

Whether you’re looking to add a little more excitement to your raceday or gain ultimate bragging rights over a mate, LOVERACING.NZ has your back. Be sure to check us out on Facebook and Instagram too. Happy betting!

You might also like