The Number Of Horses In A Race

Justin Legg

2 Aug 2019

Updated: 23 Nov 2023

Horse racing can be one of the most tricky sports to get your head around. With many different facets affecting the potential winner of a race, from the weather to the weight the horse is carrying, it can be one of the trickiest sports to pick a winner. One of the things that can affect the outcome is the number of horses involved in a race. Whilst that may sound fairly obvious there are further effects caused by the number of runners in races. Read on to find out more

Horse Racing Categories

Before we look at the wider impact of the number of runners in a race we must first look at how horse races are categorised and how the horses are entered.

UK horse racing can split into two main categories which are “Flat Racing” and “National Hunt Racing”.

Flat Racing:

As you may guess from the name of this category flat racing takes place over a flat track, the horses do not need to jump over hurdles or fences. Traditionally flat racing takes place in the summer months, and they tend to be sprints over short distances

Example flat racing festivals are:

The Epsom Derby

Royal Ascot


Glorious Goodwood

York Ebor

The St Leger

National Hunt Racing:

The other category is national hunt and with this category, the majority of the time, the horses are required to jump over an obstacle.

The type of obstacles that the horses need to navigate can be broken down further within this category to:

Hurdle Races: as the name suggests, this involves hurdles

Steeplechase: where horses have to jump over, not only fences but also ditches and water jumps. A famous example of this type of racing is the Grand National.

Earlier it was mentioned that most National Hunt races involve obstacles but there is an exception to this rule in the form of “bumper races”. Bumper races are designed to give young horses racing experience prior to them tackling obstacles. The reason I mention this is because some horse racing promotions offer money back if your horse falls in the race. So just be aware of this and don't place a qualifying bet on an ineligible bumper race. To help you on your way, these bumpers do tend to be the last race of the meeting.

Traditionally National Hunt races take place between Autumn and Spring in the racing calendar.

An example of some well known National Hunt festivals are:

Cheltenham Festival (this is the big racing event for matched bettors)

Aintree Festival (including the Grand National)

Punchestown Festival

To read more about horse racing terminology please see our full horse racing guide available here.

Horse Racing Declarations

Before the final number of horses that are appearing in a race is confirmed trainers will need to declare their horses to be running. Timing for this can vary but a general rule of thumb is 10:00 am the day before the race, however, it can up to 48 hours beforehand. The stage before all runners is declared is called the “Ante Post” stage. After declaration is made horses may still not race and pull out. This can be for many reasons but if they do pull out then they are called a “Non Runner” and this will be clearly identified on the race card. For more information on non runners and also rule 4 please see this guide here.

Unfortunately, there is no single specific answer as you can get any number of horses running, within reason. Due to non runners you could see horse races with just one or two horses in it, conversely, you can get huge fields like in the Grand National where you will see 40 runners competing.

Well, the two main impacts on betting are:

  • With fewer horses in a race, the odds are likely to be lower and there will be a greater chance to pick a winner due to there being fewer horses in a race
  • The amount of horses influences the number of places that are offered for each way betting

Each Way Betting & Number of Horses

An each way bet is two bets rolled into one. The first bet is betting on the horse to win and the second bet is on the horse to place. In traditional gambling, if the horse wins, then you win both bets, if the horse finishes in the place positions then your place bet wins and your win bet loses. If it fails to finish in the place positions then both of your bets lose.

Place positions and terms are dictated by the number of horses within a race. The standard place terms are usually as follows:

Number of Runners (At the off)Race TypePlace Terms
2-4All RacesWin Only
5-7All Races1/4 First 2
8-11All Races1/5 First 3
12-15Handicap1/4 First 3
12+Non Handicap1/5 First 3
16+Handicap1/4 First 3

With matched betting, we can neutralise or limit any losses by laying both parts of the bet with an exchange. This can also give us the potential of big payouts through extra place offers.

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For more info on what matched betting is, check out these articles:

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