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Racing Post betting guide 2024: expert punting advice and bookmaker considerations

If 2024 is the year you decide to take betting more seriously than just having a throwaway flutter at the weekend, you are going to need to know about the best bookmakers to bet with.

While we would of course recommend the Racing Post as your number-one resource for form study, the game of betting itself ultimately takes place between the punter and the bookmaker.

It might seem strange to be recommending which bookmakers to bet with, but if 'bashing the bookies' is the game then you need to know who is leading with their chin, and when. Having the best bookmaker accounts in your wallet, and knowing when to best use which ones, is the gap between a solid judge and a winning punter.

RP Recommends has already published a series of articles laying out the best bookmaker accounts for major branches of betting, specifically on horseracing. Readers will already have insight on how to make it pay with multiples, when betting each-way and when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival.

It is now time for some practical advice on building your own betting toolkit to take on the bookmakers in 2024.


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About the author

Keith Melrose has been the Racing Post's betting editor since February 2019 and has spent his near 20-year career in the fields of form and betting. In 2021 Keith was nominated for the HWPA's specialist writer of the year award, with submissions that included a punter's guide to finding the optimum stake for any bet using the Kelly criterion.


Horse racing betting in 2024: the key things to consider

Somewhere to get the very best odds available

The whole reason for having multiple bookmaker accounts is that the question of who provides the best odds is unanswerable. That is, unless you place single win bets minutes before a race goes off. In that case your answer is nearly always the Betfair Exchange.

Why a Betfair account should be top of your list

Since Betfair launched at the turn of the century, their main selling point has always been the bigger odds provided on the exchange. This is because, unlike with a bookmaker, no-one is necessarily laying all the horses in a race. Therefore every individual runner can find their 'true' odds, in accordance with market forces, and punters get totally fair books.

That's the theory, anyway. It does not work out perfectly by any means, but it gets close enough to beat traditional show prices an overwhelming majority of the time, even inclusive of the commission Betfair charges on all winnings.

This is even more true now that bookmakers provide their own prices up until the off. In the later days of the fully on-course starting price (SP), on-course bookmakers hungry for business would sometimes compete with the exchange. That incentive still exists, but nowadays it is only really relevant to punters on the track because the knock-on effects of this competition do not apply to off-course firms offering their own show prices.

Betfair have their own SP now and it comes out just as favourably with traditional odds as their show prices. According to Betfair's own figures for 2023, even once commission is factored in, a bet at Betfair SP would yield bigger odds than the industry SP 96 per cent of the time.

Protektorat: favourite for Saturday's Cotswold Chase
Getting a Betfair account gives you access to the exchange as well as the sportsbookCredit: John Grossick

There are no restrictions on stakes on the Betfair Exchange and no marketing offers to be taken away as soon as you look remotely sharp. It is also the best place for in-running betting, although you should tread carefully here as there is a cottage industry in getting the fastest pictures to quick-fingered in-running players.

The exchange is also one of few real options to place lay bets. Lay betting can expose you to a lot of risk, so tread carefully at least at first, but it can be a handy way to create strong, no-lose positions on horses you expect to shorten or whose odds have already shortened. Doing this on the exchange will almost always work out better for you than cashing out with a bookmaker. The only downside if you 'lay off' a fixed-odds bet on the exchange is that you cannot directly link your putative winnings to the lay bet, so until the race is run you would need to stand the full liability of your lay.

Betfair put up a lot of educational content around the exchange. This suggests that they have issues with getting less experienced punters used to the slightly different landscape compared with traditional bookmakers. Like many things in horseracing, the concept is much simpler than the language that surrounds it. Spend a little bit of time to familiarise yourself with the exchange and reap a lifetime of benefits.

Getting a Betfair account also comes with access to their sportsbook, which launched in 2012. There are occasions when the Betfair Sportsbook comes in handy, such as with big-race offers, particularly around Cheltenham, and certain each-way terms. Most of the time, it is just an adjunct to the exchange account. Note that you can at least play your Betfair Sportsbook account with impunity. Even if the sportsbook limits your stakes or access to offers, your ability to play on the Betfair Exchange will be unaffected.

So which bookmakers should I look to bet with?

While horseracing is a game of absolutes, winners and losers, with a bit of hard-headed maths thrown in, an element of personal preference will always feature here. There is no one 'right' supermarket, or car, or phone. It is the same with bookmakers, the main difference being that having a choice between them is free. Play the sign-up offers right and you might even end up better off with more accounts.

We will get on to specific bookmakers for specific tasks in a moment. I will start by suggesting two firms whose general-purpose offering means that you should consider a betting account with both. Those firms are bet365 and Coral.

I have probably bet with bet365 more than any other online bookmaker, Betfair aside. They price up races early, which allow rick-spotters a sporting chance to take a little bit (and I stress little, if you prize your account) of early value. Even in the mornings, they will hold standout prices for longer than many of their rivals.

There is also their price promise. This is different from best odds guaranteed (BOG), which competes only with SPs. Industry-leading bet365 pledge to match Ladbrokes, William Hill, Paddy Power, Coral, Sky Bet and BoyleSports on all horses in races shown on ITV, between 10am on the day of the race and 15 minutes before the off.

At RP Recommends, we always stress that price is king. The price promise makes bet365 a massive player for those who bet on major races on the day. That will capture most horseracing punters, while their aggressive early pricing will entice most of the rest.

The major selling points of Coral are similar, without the eyecatching offers. They like to indulge in some good old-fashioned trading and will take a view with certain horses. They also have a better reputation than most for not closing down accounts at the first sign of a bettor showing discerning behaviour.

The surprising exception to Coral's relative lack of promotional activity is best odds guaranteed. At the time of writing, no firm offers BOG earlier than Coral's 8am. A few will match it.


A sun-drenched crowd soaks up racing at Warwick on Classic Chase day and received a fine customer experience
Three and four extra places with Sky Bet, and up to eight in total, is saved for the biggest racesCredit: Edward Whitaker

The right tools for the job: the horse racing betting accounts you need

When it comes to the best online bookmakers for specific bet types and offers, there is less in the way of personal preference. There is only utilisation. For example, I rarely place Lucky 15s, so would use my Betfred account about as often as an electrician uses a plunger. But that does not change the fact of their best-in-class offers.

An each-way account

We will start off with an easy one. Anyone familiar with the each-way terms line on the Racing Post odds comparison tab will know that Sky Bet usually lead the field when it comes to additional places. One place above standard in big races, even midweek, is humdrum, two is standard on ITV handicaps. Three and four extra places, up to eight in total, is saved for the biggest races but they are reliably available when those races come round. Consider William Hill as the next-best option, while Coral also perform better than you might expect on midweek races.

A multiples account

The Bonus King styling of Betfred is backed up by a leading offer for those who play Lucky 15/31/63s in particular. They are no longer out on their own when it comes to bonuses, however. Their odds boost for one winner (treble odds for a Lucky 15, quadrupled for Lucky 31s and quintupled for Lucky 63s) cannot be licked, which means they should be high on your list if you place multiples while avoiding favourites.

Counter to that, if the big day arrives and you cop all four winners, Betfred's bonuses get only minor honours. Ten per cent on a Lucky 15, 20 per cent on a Lucky 31 and 25 per cent on a Lucky 63 is nearer the top of the table than the bottom, but William Hill can match it and bet365 beat it. That gap grows once you consider Hills do not offer BOG at all and Betfred do not offer it on Luckys, presumably because of their generous odds boosts for a single winner. Meanwhile, bet365 will apply their usual BOG concession.

There is not a clear winner in this round. Seeing as bet365 and William Hill are competitive in other rounds, it would be suggested that this is a good excuse to make sure you have a Betfred account. While only market leading in one aspect of multiples, they are competitive in most areas.

Getting early value

In the early days, Betfair leaned heavily on betting being peer-to-peer, thereby cutting out the middleman of the bookmaker. Nowadays, Betfair is where the real market forms and all major bookmakers will show at least some tendency to track the Betfair prices as soon as the markets are liquid.

If you want peer-to-peer betting these days, I would argue the closest you are likely to get is with William Hill. They price up races up to 48 hours in advance, meaning there is a good 24-hour window in which the only influences on the price are the odds-compiler's own view, adapted to the modest amount of money Hills will entertain at that stage.

Some of my colleagues suggest a willingness by William Hill to lay a bet. Sadly, I cannot report the same. My Hills account was great fun while it lasted, and pitting yourself man-to-man against their traders is a good way to tell whether your feel for the odds is up to snuff.

If it is available to you and you are willing to keep a tight leash on your stakes, their early prices are one of the few truly unique offers in the betting landscape in 2024. It is reason enough on its own to have a Hills account, and as we have seen they score well in other areas too. Just tread lightly if you want the fun to last, is my experience.

Hills are way out in front in this category. Clear runners-up are bet365 and Paddy Power, while the Betfair Sportsbook generally follows the latter's prices.

Ante-post options

Betting ante-post remains an attractive option, as in many cases it is exempt from the pull of the Betfair Exchange market. Excepting the odd exchange-led drift, bookmakers call the shots in the ante-post market and are eager to do business with punters.

There are two things you want with ante-post betting. If you do a lot of your ante-post betting at the Cheltenham Festival in particular, you will want both traditional and non-runner no bet (NRNB) options. The best options in the NRNB category tend to be bet365, William Hill and Paddy Power, who are already likely to be in your toolkit.

For traditional ante-post betting, including on weekend races, you may want to consider some new firms. Unibet in particular attempt to price up loads of races ante-post. Their prices can be rather defensive, but ricks can still exist for the clued-up. Sky Bet are similar.

Betway and BoyleSports are strongest in the ante-post arena and are worth considering here, as are some challenger firms such as BetMGM and Star Sports. I have no personal experience with the last two, but reports from colleagues have tended to be positive.

. . . and don't forget your Placepot

Finally, it is recommended that you have an account with the Tote. A bit like Betfair, they offer something different and are a sound choice for those who stake high enough to quickly lose their bookmaker accounts. The Tote's tagline, 'winners welcome', hints heavily at this appeal.

Betting through the Tote is the best place to put on multi-leg bets such as the Placepot. There is a daily Placepot guarantee meeting, which means that there will always be at least £50,000 in one meeting's pool. This floor goes up to £1 million at major meetings like the Cheltenham Festival, although recent history shows that Cheltenham pools tend to get that big on their own anyway. Counter-intuitively, the offer is more relevant at the lesser meetings.

Exotics punters should consider the Tote too. While it is impossible to say whether the computed forecast or the Tote Exacta will come out on top in any specific case, the Exacta dividend exceeds the forecast in a majority of cases. Personally, I also like to give the Swinger a spin in the right circumstances. This bet involves you picking two of the first three home in any order.

The placepot remains a popular form of pool betting
Betting through the Tote is the best place to put on multi-leg bets such as the PlacepotCredit: Julian Herbert

The Tote is also the most international firm to bet with. They are part of the World Pool, which means that at major Flat meetings the pools are swelled by money from high-rolling jurisdictions like the US and Hong Kong. This creates opportunities for British and Irish punters. Also, the Tote now simulcasts France's PMU pools. If you like a bet in France, the Tote's offer is miles better than the fixed-odds alternatives.

Finally, the Tote make a significant push on their SP guarantee. This states that if you back a horse on the Tote, and the SP is bigger, then you will be paid at the bigger odds. This offer is most useful to those who bet on the track, or who get antsy about never being able to take a price on the Tote.

It is a good offer, and those who still bet at SP should strongly consider switching to the Tote. However, far more often than not you will be better off still with the Betfair SP.


Conclusion

Do you shop at more than one supermarket? It is likelier that you do in 2024 than it would have been in 2014. Consumers respond to the market around them, and rising prices coupled with competing offers has driven many to be a little less loyal and a bit more price-led.

Betting has been like this for many years now, and it has arisen from a similar response to the realities of the market. In an arena where marketing spend trumps all, you need to be able to pick and choose the best offers depending on what type of bet you are placing. Even in the wished-for land where regulation guarantees punters can get on, the marketing offers would dry up and the competition would switch to trading. Maybe it would be better, but it would still mean having the accounts to take advantage of the best odds on offer.

In other words, having a significant betting toolkit is always going to be a must for punters in the online era.

More than
As a punter you need to be able to pick and choose the best offers depending on what type of bet you are placingCredit: Edward Whitaker

This piece has laid out most of the main considerations you should put into building your own. Exactly which online bookmakers you choose to bet with will come with a degree of personal preference.

However, some are going to be pretty much universal. Primarily, no serious punter should be without a Betfair account, for access to the exchange. Next best is a Tote account, given the pools betting system gets to some places that traditional odds just do not reach.

Bookmakers will vary more, although in my experience every good punter either loves their bet365 account, or laments its loss. They are top of many people's lists because they are as close as you can get to one bookmaker who offers the best odds. Behind them, Coral is an excellent all-rounder account, although there is possibly a little bit of personal taste going into that.

I will also admit that my Coral account got a lot less action while I could get on with Sky Bet and William Hill. When it comes to each-way betting and early prices respectively, those two lead the field and should be high on your wishlist for online betting accounts.

Many other firms have a single selling point, while being competitive elsewhere, that makes them well worth including in your wallet. Betfred fall into this category. The Bonus King styling is not as pertinent as it was but they do fairly well across the board. For ante-post betting and offers, Paddy Power are still big players. If you are a serious ante-post punter, online bookmakers like Unibet and BoyleSports ought to round out your roster.

More general punters can have a freer choice around the established online bookmakers. We have not mentioned Ladbrokes, BetVictor and the like here because they do not stand out on any metric, but that does not mean that they will not be the best option sometimes. Some challenger firms may in time fit into this space too. Keep up to date with RP Recommends, through which we will advise on those we know to be reliable.


RP Recommends: read the full series


Commercial notice: This article contains affiliate links. Offers are handpicked and come from operators our experts have first-hand experience of. Opening an account via one of these links will earn revenue for the Racing Post, which will be used to continue producing our award-winning coverage of horseracing.


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Keith MelroseBetting editor

Published on 4 March 2024inRP Recommends

Last updated 10:00, 4 March 2024

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