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Ultimate Horse Racing Guide for South Africa | How to Read Form, Bet and Win

There's been betting on horses since people have been racing them, and South Africa has an incredibly long history of horse racing. After soccer, horse racing is the most popular type of sports betting in South Africa but surprisingly few online bookmakers in South Africa offer odds and markets.

While many punters still prefer to place their horse racing bets in person at the track, the meteoric rise in mobile and online betting in South Africa has made it much easier to place your bets online than ever before. Top bookmakers like Hollywoodbets and Betway have brought horse racing to the masses online!

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This horse racing guide covers all the basics from how to read form and understand horse racing terminology to bet types, betting rules and where to find all the best racing promotions in South Africa. 

How to read form from a racecard

So you've probably heard the word 'form' being spoken about in relation to horse racing, but what does it mean? The form is your first clue as to which horse might win any given race, but it's only a small part of a long selection process which we'll discuss later in more detail. So hold onto your horses!

The easiest place to find the form of a particular horse is on the racecard where you'll also find information about the track and which races will be run that day. The racecard also shows the times of each event and a list of competing horses and jockeys, with their names, silks and numbers

bzet on horse racing in south africa racecard

Some of the most important information on the racecard appears in a series of numbers and letters alongside each horse’s name. These indicate how the horse has performed in recent races and understanding what these mean is key to reading form from a racecard.

The way you read a racecard is from left to right like a book, with the oldest races on the left and the most recent on the right. Here’s what the various letters and symbols on the racecard mean:

Numbers 1-9Position the horse finished
Number 0Horse finished outside the Top 9
The symbol ‘ – ’Results listed before this symbol are from the previous season
The symbol ‘ / ’ Results listed before this symbol are more than a season old
P or PUHorse was "pulled up" and did not complete the race
FHorse fell
RHorse refused to run
BDHorse was brought down by another runner
N/RHorse was a non-runner
U or URHorse unseated the jockey
CHorse has won on this course before
MHorse is a maiden (never won a race)
DHorse has won over this distance before
CDHorse has won on this course and over this distance
WHorse has won on a slow/heavy track before
BFHorse was the betting favourite but did not win
betway horse racing in south africa

How To Use Form To Pick Your Horses

Now that you know how to read a racecard, let's look at how to pick a winning horse and which factors you should weigh up to help make your decision.

In horse racing, as with any sport, you're only as good as the competition you beat or as bad as the competition you lose to. In other words, only by comparing the form (past results) of different horses in the race with each other can you make an informed decision about which runner is likely to win.

For example, if a horse has good form going into the race you want to bet on, but their competition has done even better under similar conditions, their good form doesn't matter as much. So, when reading form, it's always better to find results where you can make a like-for-like comparison wherever possible.

How reading form can help you win more bets

There are so many reasons we could put forward as to why reading form is important but here are just two practical examples of how this information can help you win more horse racing bets.

1️⃣ A horse has placed in its last five races, but they have a terrible record on soft going (ground). If the conditions for the upcoming race are soggy, this horse might be a poor choice to win, regardless of its current form, as other runners might be better suited to these softer conditions.

2️⃣ Handicaps are another area where reading form is incredibly important to betting on horse racing. This refers to a particular type of race where horses carry different weights according to their racing ability in an effort to try to level the playing field. Considering any horse's allocated handicap in previous meetings compared to their handicap in the upcoming race is crucial to assessing their ability to win a race.

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Key factors to weigh up when betting on horses

If you choose to take it seriously, evaluating horses is a complex process with many different variables and approaches. There are however some universal factors worth considering which we have listed below:


Class refers to the category of races in which a horse has competed. Regardless of previous form, it's hard for a horse to win races in a higher class, especially just after being promoted. If a horse has won a few Class 4 races and moved up to Class 3, you can expect a drop-off in performance relative to the field.


Distance is another big one to consider when making your picks for any race. Different horses prefer to run shorter or longer distances. Factors that determine a horse's preferred distance include weight (lighter generally means speed but not always endurance) and whether a horse is a pace-setter (races out in front), a stalker (comes up from the middle) or is a closer (is good at coming from behind).

horse racing distance and running style

Depending on the distance, a race with only a few pace-setters could give one of these horses an advantage in the race. Whereas a stalker might be a better selection if there are lots of pace-setters and no closers in the field. So consider which running styles make up the field when placing your bets.

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The various track surfaces and weather conditions can also affect the softness of the ground and combine to favour some horses over others. Tracks with natural dirt or grass are preferable to some horses while artificial “all-weather” tracks are the happy hunting ground for other runners. When making your horse racing predictions, it's always important to consider the track surface and weather conditions from previous races and compare them to the upcoming event.


Jockeys and trainers work hand-in-hand to get the best out of any horse. A race win is often as much a result of the jockey and trainer's skills and experience as the ability of the horse itself.

For example, a jockey consistently finishing in the places regardless of the horse they ride is a good indicator of their talent. Although it's unlikely that even a top jockey will ride a slow horse to a win, they can certainly help good runners win races more consistently.

horse racing trainer south africa

Like horses, jockeys are also better suited to certain racetracks. Ruby Walsh, for instance, has been the top jockey at Cheltenham many times and Ryan Moore is the man to beat on any horse at Ascot.

Trainers play arguably an even bigger role in terms of how well a horse performs. They are responsible for preparing horses for specific tracks, distances and weather conditions. By choosing carefully which races to enter with various track types and distances, expert trainers can more easily find their niche, allowing them to get the very best out of that particular horse.

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Types of Horse Racing Bets

There are many horse racing bets to choose from when making your predictions about how a race might end, some of which can include more permutations than just the race winner.

Horse racing is also a popular sport for placing combination bets across multiple races with the potential for absolutely huge payouts! However, if you're brand-new to horse racing, markets such as Win Bets and Place Bets are probably the best place to start.  

Here are some types of horse racing bets available in South Africa:

WinBet on a horse to finish 1st
PlaceBet on a horse to finish 1st or 2nd
Show BetBet on a horse to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd
DoubleBet on the winner of two consecutive races
Pick 3Bet on the winner of three separate races
Pick 5Bet on the winner of five separate races
Exacta Bet on the first two finishers in the exact order
QuinellaBet on the first two finishers in any order
TrifectaBet on the first three finishers in the exact order
Quartet/SuperfectaBet on the first four finishers in the exact order
Straight Line JackpotBet on the winners of four consecutive races
Permutation JackpotBet on the winners of four consecutive races
BipotBet on six horses to finish 1st or 2nd in six separate races
Place AccumulatorBet on seven horses to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd over seven consecutive races
Swinger Bet on two horses to finish in the top three positions in any order
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Fixed Odds vs Starting Price

When betting on horse racing in South Africa, you can often choose whether to place a bet at Fixed Odds or take the Starting Price instead. The benefit of Fixed Odds betting on horse racing is that you know exactly how much you stand to win based on the current odds displayed when you place your bet.

Taking a Fixed Odds horse racing bet is usually advantageous if you want to bet on the favourite as the odds will almost invariably get smaller closer to the start of the race.

betway horse racing odds

On the other hand, how betting on the Starting Price works is that you'll get the odds available for your horse at the start of the race and not when you place your bet. For this reason, you won't know the potential payout of your bet until just before the race when the SP odds have been confirmed.

Betting on the Starting Price is a good option if you think the odds available on a particular horse will get bigger before the race. If the final field is yet to be confirmed, taking the Starting Price can offer betting value, especially if an outsider (longshot) is suddenly left with weaker competition in the race.

Guaranteed potential payout ✅Potentially bigger payout than advertised ✅
Good for backing favourites ✅Ideal for ante-post betting ✅

There are many other reasons for punters preferring to bet on Fixed Odds over the Starting Price (and vice versa) related to market fluctuation and other complex factors, but we won't go into these here.

Bookmaker Betting vs Tote Betting

For horse racing, betting sites in South Africa will usually offer you either Fixed Odds or a Starting Price, but another way to bet on horses is with the Tote. This works like a lottery where the money received from all bets is placed into a pool together and a share ("dividend") is distributed to each of the winners.

Although Tote bets on horse racing have traditionally been placed at the track, you can also play these lucrative horse racing bets with an online bookmaker like Hollywoodbets. How it works is that you place your bet online and winners are paid the exact same dividend on winning bets as declared by the Tote.

Discover more about Tote betting on Hollywoodbets.

hollywoodbets horse racing tote betting

Horse Racing Betting Tips

Now that you know all the ingredients for what makes a winning horse, here are some extra horse racing betting tips to help you make some money: 

1️⃣ Do your homework

The best preparation for any horse racing bet is to read the racecard carefully. Aside from the information on the racecard, there are many resources available online for viewing past results and reading form.

2️⃣ Manage your bankroll properly

Decide how much you want to bet on one race or race day, and stick with it. Try not to bet on the next race just because you lost your last bet. Rather plan ahead which races and horses you like and then set aside however much money you can afford to bet on them. 

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3️⃣ Look for betting value

When picking a horse, try to decide whether the market has over or underestimated its chances of winning. It's also worth remembering the odds bookmakers offer are based on how they think punters will bet on the race and not only on who will win the race. While favourites are often the best-performing horses overall, sometimes their reputation precedes them and there is better value elsewhere.

4️⃣ Time your bets accordingly

As a rule of thumb, try to bet on favourites early as their odds usually get even smaller just before the start of the race. If you like an outsider at big odds, it's often better to wait until the last minute to place your bets when the odds on these less favoured horses have drifted and your potential payout increases! 

5️⃣ Don't bet on every race

It's tempting to bet on every race but a better strategy is to do your homework and rather play for bigger stakes on fewer races. So pick your spots carefully and take full advantage when you see a good betting opportunity rather than trying to spread yourself too thinly over lots of races.

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Horse Racing Promotions

Always look around to see where you can take advantage of the promotions available at online bookmakers in South Africa to improve your chances of winning. Hollywoodbets and Betway are the standout bookies for betting on horse racing in South Africa but there are many others too.

Hollywoodbets Punters Challenge: Win your share of R10 000 at every race meeting at the Hollywoodbets Greyville and Hollywoodbets Scottsville tracks. The Hollywoodbets Punters Challenge is free to play if you sign up for a Hollywoodbets account. To enter, just log in and make your selections.

Learn more about the Hollywoodbets Punters Challenge and how it works.

Hollywoodbets Irish Objection Promotion: If you bet on a horse that finishes first but the win is awarded to another horse because of an objection, then Hollywoodbets will refund your stake in full. This promotion applies to single Win bets only (no multibets).

hollywoodbets data free app south africa (570x372)


Done by a Donkey: Get your full stake back up to R1 000 if your selection is beaten by another horse whose odds were 10/1 (SP) or bigger.

Best Odds Guaranteed: If the Starting Price of a horse is bigger than the odds you got, will payout at the bigger odds. This promotion applies to Win and E/W bets placed on UK and Irish horse racing only.

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Watch Live Horse Racing on Gallop TV

Gallop TV is a free live horse racing streaming service brought to you by Hollywoodbets, where you'll also find betting odds, tips, race results, tote dividends, podcasts and race replays! Find out more.

gallop tv live racing stream

Horse Racing FAQ

Below we provide answers to some common questions related to betting on horse racing in South Africa. We hope you get all the help you need!

How does a 'Dead Heat' work?

A dead heat occurs when there is a tie between two or more horses in a race. This happens occasionally when runners cannot be separated by even the smallest distance with the photograph at the finish.

In this instance, the odds get divided by how many runners are tied (usually only two). For example, if the winning horse you bet on at odds of 8/1 dead heats, your payout will be reduced to odds of 4/1.

hollywoodbets durban july 2022 ante post betting odds

What is Ante-Post Betting?

Placing a bet on a horse before the betting market has opened is called an ante-post bet. One of the main reasons for placing ante-post bets is that the Ante-Post odds are usually bigger than the Starting Price because the final field is yet to be confirmed and some horses may still drop out.

While they can offer bigger odds, the downside to Ante-Post bets is they pose the risk of losing if your horse fails to run.

What does it mean when a horse is scratched or withdrawn?

A horse withdrawn before the start of the race is considered a non-runner and your stake is returned. But if the horse refuses to run on their own accord, your bet is usually considered a loss. For multibets, if a horse is withdrawn that leg becomes void and the total odds for your bet are reduced accordingly.

A “scratch” is when a horse is entered for a race but the trainer or owner decides not to run them. The racetrack veterinarian might also decide the horse is not fit to run and "scratch" them from the race. When you bet on a horse that gets scratched, your stake is returned unless the bet was taken ante-post.

what does scratched mean in horse racing betting

Best Betting Sites for Horse Racing in South Africa

Here are some of the best online bookmakers for betting on horse racing in South Africa:

➡️ Betway (R1 000 First Deposit Bonus)

➡️ Hollywoodbets (R25 Sign Up Free Bet)

➡️ Sportingbet (R1 000 First Deposit Bonus + 20 Free Spins)

➡️ (R2 000 First Deposit Bonus - Use Code BETG100)

➡️ Betfred (R5 000 First Deposit Bonus + R5000 First Bet Bonus)

➡️ PalaceBet (R2 000 First Deposit Bonus)

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Horse racing quick links

➡️ Betway Horse Racing

➡️ Hollywoodbets Horse Racing

➡️ Horse Racing

➡️ Hollywoodbets Racing Schedule

For more about online sports betting, casino games and lotteries in South Africa, visit the Betting Guide homepage to find bookmaker reviews, promotions, betting tips and more.

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