I concentrate mostly on UK racing so I don’t normally bet much on Irish Flat Racing, but I was doing a Goodwood and Galway tips package last week, so was faced with plenty of races with reserves, and the associate problems that brings in trying to find value bets. That, and the fact I tipped a horse that came second to a reserve, focused my mind to try and find out exactly how each bookmakers deals with reserves if they run, or if they don’t. I did ask a few people who bet on Irish racing more than me, but nobody seemed sure exactly what rules were applied, and if the rules were universal across all bookmakers. I found this surprising as if punters don’t know if a reserve who ends up as a non runner will result in a rule 4, then they really have no idea what price they’re actually backing the horse at, and as such all the hours they may have spent studying the form to get a small edge, could be thrown away by unknowingly backing the horse with the wrong bookie.

I checked most of the major bookmakers terms and conditions to see their rules on reserves, and found some to be very fair, others not so much, and other bookmakers that don’t think the issue deserves any mention in their rules at all. I list the relevant rules followed by my interpretation of them below.


My reading of both Bet 365 and Boylesports terms is that they are pretty much the same, and if they don’t price the reserves you could come second to one and get paid as a winner. This would be very fair, but I’m pretty sure both firms priced up reserves at Galway last week, and they definitely both priced up the reserves in the 19:25 at Tipperary this evening, meaning this rule doesn’t really apply. Boylesports don’t take a rule 4 for any reserves that don’t take their place in the field, but Bet 365 do then apply a rule 4 deduction if a reserve  takes the place of a non runner. They don’t however explain how this is decided. Do they count the first reserve as an official runner if it’s still in the race once a non runner is announced, or is it like Paddy Power and only counts as an official runner if it’s in the race after the racecourse declaration stage of 45 minutes before the first race?

When the reserve rules for both these firms don’t seem fair is if a horse, let’s say a 8/1 shot is withdrawn, and replaced by a horse with a price of 4/1. There would be a rule 4 of 10p in the pound if you backed any other horse in the race, but the race has now become harder to win for your selection, yet if the 8/1 shot had remained in, there would have been no rule 4 on the 4/1 shot. So you get a 4/1 shot substituted for an 8/1 shot, and get a 10p rule 4 on top of it. Hardly seems fair at all.


Betvictor seem broadly similar in their rules to both Bet 365 and Boylesports, except reserves still count as a runner even if they don’t price them up.  Betvictor are the only firm I looked at for this piece, that haven’t priced up reserves in the 19:25 at Tipperary this evening, but unlike with Bet 365, or Boylesports you won’t get paid as a winner if your selection comes second to one of those reserves. It also means if an official runner doesn’t run, but gets replaced by a reserve, who could be the same price or shorter, you will be subjected to a rule 4, which again doesn’t seem reasonable, when there is no rule 4 if the reserves don’t run, which indicates the bookie has priced up the race as if they were non runners. If there is no rule 4 on the 8/1 reserve not running, why then is there a rule 4 on the 8/1 official runner, getting replaced by an 8/1 reserve? Betvictor however don’t apply a rule 4 to reserves who subsequently become a runner, which will sometimes be an advantage over other firms.


Coral and Ladbrokes have the exact same rules, hardly surprising since they are now the same company. They apply a rule 4 to any non runner, including reserves. At first glance this appears a rip off, but it is only so if you are not aware of it, which I suspect is plenty of their punters. So if say Coral are 10/1 on your fancy, and so is Bet 365, in a race with three reserves, then if the three reserves are non runners, each will be susceptible to a rule 4 deduction, which if say one of them is just 4/1, would be a 20p in the pound deduction from your winnings, turning your 10/1 shot into just a 8/1 shot with Coral, were as you would have got paid the full 10/1 with Bet 365. As I say this is only unfair if you don’t know about it, and I think this system is actually the best way of dealing with reserves. All potential runners are priced, so the punter should count all of them as runners when they are evaluating a horse’s true odds, and it is then easy to adjust your true odds when the non runners come in. The problem currently is most other bookmakers don’t use this system, and I suspect most punters taking a morning price with Coral or Ladbrokes don’t know that that price may not be the equivalent of the same price elsewhere.


Paddy Power like Betvictor do, also count the reserves whether they are priced or not, but they are the only bookie I looked at here, that will offset the price of a reserve runner against that of the withdrawn horse. They don’t explain exactly how they do this, but I would assume it means if say an 6/1 non runner was replaced with a 6/1 reserve, then unlike with other firms, there would be no rule 4. This is obviously fair, and the way it should be with all firms. What I’m not sure of, is if say a 16/1 non runner, which would have no rule 4, is replaced by a 4/1 shot, which would be a 20p rule 4 if it didn’t run, would they then add 20p in the pound to the price you took, so 10/1 would become 12/1? That would be the only way to adequately compensate you for a 16/1 non runner being replaced by a 4/1 shot, but again the offset could just bring the rule 4 to zero, but no more. Paddy Power don’t apply a rule 4 if a reserve is pulled out, unless it becomes an official runner, which they list as the racecourse declaration stage of 45 minutes before the first race.

I also checked the rules for Irish and UK racing for William Hill and Betfred, but I can find no mention of how they deal with reserves at all. Given the variation in methods employed by different firms, this isn’t good enough. It seems reasonably clear that of the above firms, if your selection was the same price with all of them, given their current practices, then you should be having your bet with Paddy Power, as they offset the price of any reserves that run, against the non runner, although if Bet 365 or Boylesports hadn’t priced the reserves that would make it less cut and dried. That said using the Qualified Riders Handicap at Galway last week as an example, if the reserve Sweet Company was withdrawn at the start, Paddy Power would have applied a 10p rule 4, were as Boylesports and Betvictor wouldn’t, or at least they don’t mention that they would in their rules.

It does look pretty clear that if your selection was the same price with everyone, then the worst bookmaker to place your bet with would be Coral or Ladbrokes who will take a rule 4 on the reserves once they become non runners. This doesn’t mean the Coral and Ladbrokes policy is unfair, I actually think it’s the simplest to understand method, just that the other bookmakers methods will see you get penalized less for non runners. Coral and Ladbrokes may compensate for that by offering better prices, or at least they should do, I don’t look at enough Irish races to know either way.

I’ve used the word ‘clear’ a few times in this piece, but in reality the only thing clear about reserves in Irish Racing, is that it’s far from clear. There is enough variation in bookmakers methods of dealing with them, to make what appears a good price with one firm, a bad price with another. To place good value bets you have to know what odds you are getting, and you should be trying to get the best price available,  but I suspect many punters have little inclination to delve into every bookmakers terms and conditions, in other to ascertain exactly who is going the best price. Even with a good knowledge of the bookie’s terms, reserves are at best an inconvenience for punters, and it must be questioned if there benefit to connections is worth the hindrance they cause punters, who after all are the reason Irish Horse Racing gets such healthy government funding every year.

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