Racing: How to place a bet without embarrassment

Greg Wood guides the once-a-year punter through the mysteries of the betting shop
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The Independent Online
BETTING - everyone's doing it these days. A lottery ticket every Wednesday and Saturday, and maybe the odd scratch card in between. And yet, when it comes to the local bookmaker's shop, it might as well be an obscure corner of an ancient map marked "Here be dragons" as far as many people are concerned.

The Lottery may not be much fun, and what little thrill it holds rarely lasts past the first four balls, but at least it is easy. Betting on the nags, by contrast, is probably difficult and potentially embarrassing. Not so. In truth, a punt on the horses is all too easy, and the very fact that it is not a mindless, random transaction also makes it considerably more satisfying.

There are no more than five fairly simple decisions which need to be taken. First, which horse do you want to back? Second, how much do you want to risk? Third, do you want a straightforward win bet, or would you rather go each-way and get a return if your selection is in the first four home? Fourth, are you going to take a price? And finally, are you paying the betting tax up front (an easy one, this, since the answer should always be yes).

Steps one and two are up to you. Step three is the one which can be fraught with confusion, since an each-way bet is, in fact, two separate bets. The first is to win , the second to finish in the places, so a pounds 1 each- way bet will cost pounds 2. If your horse finishes second, third or fourth, the win bet is obviously a loser, but the second wager is paid at a quarter of the odds for a win (for instance, at 5-1 about a 20-1 chance, returning pounds 6). If, however, it comes first, then the win bet is successful too, adding, in this example, another pounds 21 to the return.

Whether to take the price on offer is one of those Sod's Law decisions, but as a general rule it pays to shop around wherever possible and take the best price you can find (see page 18).

Finally, once you are happy with your total stake, add on the tax at nine per cent (most slips have a handy ready-reckoner on the back in case your maths is rusty). Hand over the grand total, and retire to watch the race.

There are only two other points to remember. Wear old clothes for your visit to the bookie, or at least an outfit that needs washing, since even a fairly brief visit will leave them reeking of fag smoke. (Alternatively, go early, before the fug builds up). And if there is an old chap in the corner muttering to himself, on no account allow him to exhale in your direction. Follow all these simple rules, and your trip to the bookies should be interesting, pleasant and, hopefully, an experience you may care to repeat.