Unfortunately, there is no cut-and-dried answer to the question of what makes a good value bet. Every horse in a race has an implied probability, or percentage chance, of winning, which is reprented by the odds offered by the bookmakers. Obviously, a good value bet is a bet ‘over the odds’ or, in other words, a bet at odds which represent an implied chance of winning greater than the ‘real’ chance of winning. However, horse racing is a game of opinions and value, while a key element of profitable betting, is an elusive and subjective concept.
Notwithstanding the need to ‘balance’ their book, bookmakers employ odds compilers to set their prices, at least initially, based on form, statistics and a generous helping of opinion. Informed opinion it may be, reached through sound analysis of the available data, but nonetheless a subjective view on the likely outcome of a race. Of course, the initial odds offered may lengthen or shorten, over time, according to market forces.
Consequently, establishing what is, and what is not, a good value bet involves forming your own, considered opinion and comparing it with that of the bookmakers. Note that finding value does not, necessarily, mean betting indiscriminately on outsiders, but rather betting on horses whose odds are longer than they should be, in your estimation. Even a short-priced favourite can offer some, albeit not much, value if, in your opinion, it should be sent off at odds even shorter than those currently on offer.
Mathematically, there is no difference, whatsoever, between decimal and fractional odds and the choice between them is purely a matter of personal preference. Odds are expressions of the likelihood, or implied probability, of a particular outcome of a horse race; decimal and fractional odds are simply different ways of expressing the same market prices. Nowadays, most online bookmakers allow customers to switch back and forth between decimal and fractional odds at will.
Decimal odds, a.k.a. European odds, are expressed as decimal values, which represent the total payout, rather than the profit, for each unit stake wagered. In other words, the stake is incorporated into the odds offered; at decimal odds of 3.00, a winning £1 bet returns £3. Decimal odds are arguably the easiest way of comparing odds between bookmakers, but may appear, at least to the uninitiated, more favourable than equivalent fractional odds.
By contrast, fractional odds, a.k.a. British odds, are expressed as proper or improper fractions or, in other words, the ratio of two numbers separated by a slash, or hyphen, in the form 2/1, or 2-1. Unlike decimal odds, they do not incorporate the stake, so represent the profit on a winning bet for each unit stake wagered, rather than the total payout; at fractional odds of 2/1, a winning £1 bet returns £3, including the £1 stake, which is returned.
In the days before betting exchanges, racecourse betting rings, in which on-course bookmakers ply their trade, were the heart and soul of the betting experience. Nowadays, a typical betting ring may be less colourful, noisy and well populated than was once the case, but on-course betting remains part-and-parcel of a day at the races.
On a race-by-race basis, on-course bookmakers advertise the odds available on each horse. The odds available may vary, albeit only slightly, from one bookmaker to another and may change over time, in response to market forces. However, you always receive the odds available at the moment you place your bet, so it pays to shop around for competitive odds. When you find them, simply tell your bookmaker of choice your stake, bet type and the racecard number of your selection and hand over your stake money. In return, you will receive a receipt for your bet, including potential winnings, which you must hand back to the same bookmaker, following the ‘weighed in’ signal, to collect any winnings.
Of course, as an alternative to ‘fixed odds’ betting with an on-course bookmaker, you also have the option of ‘pool’ betting on the Tote. The procedure for placing a Tote bet is similar to placing a bet with a bookmaker, but bear in mind that winning dividends are determined by the amount of money in the pool for each market and the number of winning tickets; the dividend displayed at the moment you place your bet may go down, or up, by the time the race is underway.