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Horse racing and betting have been intrinsically linked for centuries, with the origin of the word ‘Steeplechase’ tracing back as far as 1752, when two Irish horsemen had a wager that their horse would defeat the other in a race between two local church steeples.

Fast forward nearly 200 years and gambling and racing forged another strong partnership when Winston Churchill created the Tote. Thus formed the start of one of the most long standing institutions joining the racing world with betting. Now, in 2020, the Tote has been re-invigorated to bring even more opportunities to racing fans and betting aficionados.

But before anyone starts betting on horse racing, it is vital to have an understanding of the types of bets available, which horses are worth betting on, and how to manage your stakes and betting banks.

When you’ve developed an understanding of betting and how you can form your own opinions, you’re ready to take your first steps into betting with the Tote.

The most simple and widely used bet type is the Win bet. Simply, select the horse you think will win the race (or is best value - more on that later), and if it comes home first, your bet is a winner.

Place bets allow for some margin for error. Your selected horse doesn’t need to win, it simply needs to place in the particular race. Depending on the number of runners, the position it needs to fill changes:

4 or fewer runners: No place betting

Between 5 and 7 runners: The first two

More than 8 runners: The first three

Handicaps with 16 or more runners: The first four

When betting with the Tote you also have other types of exotic bets to enjoy, which can yield big returns for a small outlay.

The Tote Exacta and Tote Trifecta require bettors to select the horses that will come first and second in the case of the Exacta, and first, second and third (in that order), for the Trifecta. With a large range of combinations, the odds and subsequent rewards can be substantial.

Single bets, i.e. betting on one horse in a particular race, is the most common type of bet, but there are occasions whereby your stake will be carried over multiple races, or legs.

The Tote Placepot and Quadpot are such examples. The task for anyone tackling either of these two bets is to find a horse to place in the first six races (or races two-six in the case of the Quadpot) on a given card. Successfully negotiate your way through all legs and bettors win a share of the pool, depending on their initial stake.

Other bet types are available with Sportsbooks and fixed odds-betting, but these are just a handful of the options available when betting with the Tote.

Tote Betting: The Basics


When betting with the Tote you are betting into a pool. That means all the money staked on each horse in the race is pooled together. After the race, everyone who has backed the winner will receive a share of that pool money, depending on the size of their original stake.

This way of betting is very different to betting with a traditional bookmaker. With the Tote you are betting against like-minded racing fans and bettors, rather than taking on the bookie. 

Secondly, as a business, the Tote do not set the odds that you’ll get when backing a horse like a traditional bookmaker would. The returns on any winning bet is determined by the number of people that have backed that particular horse. Therefore, betting on a horse that is less popular is ideal as it will mean a bigger winning dividend should it triumph.

As the dividend isn’t known until after the race, it is impossible to accurately show you what you will receive for a winning bet before the event. However you will always see an approximate estimation of the dividend based on the money currently in the pool for any given race.

One of the major plus-points to betting with the Tote, especially when you fancy an outsider is that you will often receive a bigger payout.

The Tote Guarantee means that even when the bookmaker's SP is larger than the Tote dividend, we will top up bet returns online so that you are never worse off.

Some of the time, the Tote Guarantee isn’t needed as you’ll simply be paid more than SP for a winning bet. This is particularly the case when it comes to the outsiders in the field.

In 2019 60% of winners that paid 10/1 or bigger with the fixed-priced bookmakers returned a bigger payout on the Tote. The reason for this is simple. Because fewer people are likely to have backed an outsider, it means there are fewer people to share the pool with.

Tote Betting: Utilising your opinions

Many horse racing bettors will start their study of a race by looking at the likely favourite. Although you can’t see the exact price a horse will be prior to a race, you’ll be able to get a good idea through the projected dividends.

By judging whether you feel that particular horse has as a good chance as the market suggests you can make a decision about whether to support the favourite, or look for something else in the race to oppose it with.

Form study is a cavernous area, with different racing fans and bettors favouring different methods to dissect a race. Whether it is looking at trainer form, recent performances, a horse's pedigree, race times, or something more advanced such as sectionals and stride lengths, bettors can find an edge into a particular race.

Sometimes you can utilise your opinions to good effect by betting with the Tote.

For example, if you feel that the favourite is solid enough at the top of the market, but could be vulnerable to one of the next in the betting, a Combination Exacta could be the way to go. That way, you are protected if you favourite wins, with your second choice filling the runners-up spot. However, an Exacta which sees an outsider defeat the favourite, can often pay a very healthy dividend.

For example, the final race of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival saw Early Doors defeat Dallas Des Pictons in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle. The straight forecast with the fixed-priced bookmakers paid £20.98 to a £1 stake, whereas the same selections in a Tote Exacta returned a dividend of £25.30.

Early Doors Dallas Des Picton Cheltenham

Betting small to win big

Of course, when placing any bet the opportunity to win a larger amount of money is always an attractive one. When betting with the Tote, there are certain types of bets that can return a big payout for a small outlay.

The best examples of this are the Tote Scoop6 and Tote Jackpot bets. While the latter is available at one course each day, the Scoop6 is a Friday and Saturday exclusive.

Winning either of these bets is straightforward, but not easy. Select the winners of the six specified races and you will share the winning pool. For the Scoop6, that prize is often particularly sizeable. The record win for an individual winner was £1.3 million, paid out to a number of shop bettors who successfully picked the winner in each Scoop6 race back in 2014. Two of those had staked the minimum £2 to take part in the bet, turning that very small outlay into a monumental windfall. 

Sometimes it’s not even necessary to pick winners to turn relative pocket money into a huge payout. Particularly during the major racing festivals, the Tote Placepot pool will swell to a notable size. And if you are one of the bettors who can negotiate the six races, a big dividend can ensue. One betting shop customer staked just a single £2 Placepot line on the first day of the 2019 Festival. Six races later, that racing fan collected a whopping £182,566.20 - as one of just 56 winning units that day.

Investigating these exotic pools and bet types might not come off regularly, but when they do, it could mean a bumper payout from a small initial outlay.

Klassical Dream Supreme Cheltenham

How to read our racecards

Learning how to read a racecard should be the first steps to analysing a race and the chances of the horses in it.

There is a lot of information stored on these cards, and to the first time viewer, could seem overwhelming, but with a little bit of practice, most bettors will be able to use the details on the card to form an opinion.

On each card you will find the race cloth number and the silks worn by that horse’s jockey to the left-hand side of the horse’s name.

Underneath you’ll also see the jockey and the trainer of the runner. It’s often worth knowing whether that particular jockey or trainer is in good form, with plenty of recent winners, or is somewhat of a specialist at the course, in order to form your opinion on the horse.

Perhaps the most important piece of information on the card comes next; the form. These figures will tell you the finishing position the horse has obtained in it’s last five runs. Do you see lots of 1’s signifying wins, or a multitude of 0’s indicating the horse has finished outside the first 10?

Next you will see three different figures. These are the horse’s Official Rating (OR) provided by the official handicapper, a Top Speed rating (TS) which measures the best finishing speed of the horse, and a Racing Post Rating (RPR) which is attributed by the sport’s trade newspaper.

On your racecard you will also see some indication of your returns should the horse win. The ‘Guide’ price on a Tote racecard gives you an idea what the horse is returning with fixed-odds bookmakers. However, the Totewin and Toteplace figures will be more accurate as an estimation of the dividend based on the current make-up of the Tote pools. All figures you see are an estimated return based on a £1 stake.

Finally, on all Tote racecards you can click on a specific horse to see a Racing Post Spotlight write-up. This is produced by some of the sports leading journalists at the Racing Post as a quick analysis of a horse’s chance.

Money management

Of course, when taking part in any form of gambling, it is important to show control and set yourself sensible limits.

One way of maintaining discipline when it comes to placing racing bets is to create a staking plan. Having a separate ‘bank’ of money used for your bets can be useful in order to keep your betting separate from your everyday spending.

With a bank established, working out a staking plan can be a good way to ensure you are staking sensible amounts on each horse. A staking plan can work on a points-based system, with 1 point representing a specific amount. You would then tailor each bet to stake 0.5 points, 1 point, 5 points etc. depending on how confident in your selection you are.

It goes without saying, but if you feel you are running into trouble with your betting speaking out is vital. Your Tote Customer Service Team will be able to help you put restrictions or close your account should you wish to stop betting.

Betting on racing should be fun and never have an effect on your day-to-day or social life. If you think you’re at risk of this happening, speaking to organisations such as Gamcare can help.

It may not become this serious, but by ensuring that you are betting responsibility, you can keep gambling fun. 


Finding and following profitable racing tips may seem like the default action when you start out betting.

There are, of course, a number of dedicated tipsters who share their expertise when it comes to analysing a race or a horse in particular, that are worth following.

However, simply backing a tipsters selections blind is not necessarily advised. Using information provided by others, such as Tote Tips, alongside learnings you have established yourself can become a healthy balance.

There are different approaches to consider when you start betting. Will you focus on handicaps? Do you find analysing the form of seasoned chasers easier to pull apart? Or maybe you’ve got a handle on the breeding side of things for Maidens and Juvenile Hurdles? 

Watch as much racing as you can, develop your own approach to analysing a race and ensure you bet responsibly and betting on the days racing can be exciting as well as potentially profitable.

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