Understanding Odds

Sensational socialite, Candida Tottering de Prave, takes you gently by the hand and leads you through the rather perplexing practice that is racegoing… 


The moment that you set foot on a racecourse, you are likely to hear two phrases. The first is “What do you fancy for the (insert next race time)?” The second is “What odds did you get?”. 


Note that the answer to the first question should not be “A glass of Bolly, please Darling”; rather you should pick a name at random from your race card, and smile sweetly. Unless of course you actually know the name of the horse you have backed, in which case, speak it with a flourish (well done!). 

The answer to the second question is much more complicated. 

Odds are a method of communicating to ‘the Punter’ (you) how likely it is that something will happen and when it does, how much you can expect to win. 

Odds are decided using various obscure and mystical calculations, but it is safe to say that the higher the (first part of the) odds, the less likely the ‘experts’ consider it is that the horse will win. But… then you know what they say about experts. 

Typically on a racecourse, odds are expressed in the form of one number (X) followed by a dash (to) followed by another number (Y). E.g. 10–1 (Ten to one).

What this actually means is that ‘For every Y pounds you bet, IF your horse wins the race, you will win X pounds.’ In this case (10–1), if you bet £1, you will win £10. If it had been 7–4, and you had put £4 on the horse, you would have won £7. 

However… the good news is that if you win, you also get back your stake (what you bet in the first place) so you actually receive £11 for betting £1 at 10–1 odds. Marvellous, eh? 

Sometimes the bookies declare a horse to be an ‘Odds on Favourite’, which means that unless some kind of miracle occurs, it’s pretty certain THAT horse will win the race. In these cases, the bookies don’t really want people to bet on the horse, because they might lose money if it wins, and your average bookie is not a registered charity. 

If the horse is an ‘Odds on Favourite’, the odds will be reversed E.g 1–2, (or 2–1 ON) So you’d get back £1 for every £2 you bet. There are still times when it is worth betting with these odds, simply because you get your stake back if you win. So, if you had bet £2 on 1-2 odds, you would receive £1 win plus £2 stake back = £3. Phew! 

Now then, where’s that glass of Bolly?

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