Reserve Horses

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Irish races often contain reserve runners, and occasionally this can cause confusion if a reserve horse runs and wins, or if one is at a short enough price to incur a rule 4 when it is declared a non runner.

Why Reserves?

There are too many horses in Ireland for the number of races available, so rather than cut off the number of entries at the safety limit (which is what normally happens in the UK), the Irish races are left with usually up to 3 reserves which can run if there is a non runner from the original field. There is a cut-off time a couple of hours before the race when the reserves are themselves non runners, unless another horse has been withdrawn.

Reserves and Betfair

Unlike ordinary non runners, reserves have no reduction factor at Betfair regardless of how good they are. They are listed at the bottom of the racecard, and since they are only ever present in big fields, they are always off the screen:

Looking at the market information (click on the graph symbol on the left of the horse’s name) for Designated Decoy, we see that the last price matched was 11.5 and the projected Betfair SP is around that price. A horse like this would normally have a reduction factor of around 8-9% and you would expect a 5p or 10p rule 4 at the bookies. But the reduction factor is 0% at Betfair:

This means that at Betfair the reserves are completely ignored and will disappear from the field without causing a suspension of the market or a reduction in odds unless another horse is a non runner.

Reserves and Bookies

What do the bookies do about rule 4 on reserves which do not run? Here we enter the realms of total confusion. The bookies themselves do not seem to know what they do, and customer service have trouble understanding the question, let alone answering it. The only bookie who has given me a comprehensible answer consistent with what is shown on the website is Bet365: 

I spoke to the trader at Bet365 regarding this race, and asked what would happen if I were to back another horse in the race at the quoted price of 12-1 and it won with the 3 reserves being non runners. He said that since bets would have been taken on Designated Decoy, there would be a rule 4.

I have asked William Hill a similar question on a previous Irish race, and got the answer “I suppose it depends on the race”. This is what appears on William Hill’s website:

The figures in the black circles tell you that these 2 reserve horses are joint top rated, and could therefore possibly incur a rule 4, if the bookie felt like charging one. I think I remember someone having backed a horse in an Irish race which was won by a reserve, and the bookie paid out on the 2nd horse as a winner, ie they were betting “without” the reserve. I think the bookie concerned was William Hill, but I am not certain. Whether they would have charged a rule 4 had the reserve not run and the backed horse won I have no idea.

Paddy Power produce a similar card to William Hill, but without the helpful ratings:

I am fairly sure I have heard of Paddy Power charging a rule 4 on a reserve which was a non runner.


The only safe conclusion from all of this is that it is best to avoid betting on Irish races containing reserves until it is clear whether or not the reserves will run. If you know how to assess the form of the reserves and can determine that they would have no chance anyway (and therefore not incur a rule 4) you are fairly safe. The main thing is to be aware of the possibility and always check for reserves before you bet on an Irish race with more than about 10 runners. The same warning applies to races in Dubai which have fairly small field size limits and frequently contain reserve horses.


A further aspect of reserve horses appeared on Sunday 15/5/11. A reserve horse, backed down to 2nd favourite when other horses were withdrawn, won the race. At some bookies all punters who had bet in the race before the reserve horse was declared a runner lost their money – this is against the principle of betting that if you can’t win you should not be able to lose. This has nothing at all to do with the rule 4 issue above, it is a completely separate quirk of reserves.

The following article appeared in the Racing Post this morning. It still leaves the whole situation as clear as mud, but at least it does provide some information.

Boylesports to change rules on reserve winners.

Boylesports last night joined the list of bookmakers trading in Ireland who will pay out punters if their morning price selection is beaten by a reserve.

The Tony Martin trained Sensational Sema became the latest reserve to wina race in Ireland when he scored at Killarney on Sunday.

Ruby Walsh’s mount only got into the race early on Sunday afternoon after 3 of the field were declared non runners. However he was soon latched onto by punters who sent him off the well-backed 9-2 2nd fav.

Ladbrokes, William Hill, Bet35 and VC are 4 firms with a punter-friendly policy in relation to winning reserves, which in effect ignores the winner on bets placed before the reserve got into the race.

The all paid out on the runner up Mubrook and each way on the 5th horse Ephorus. Paddy Power and Boylesports were among those who did not, but Boylesports have since committed to making a change.

“We’re going to change the policy in light of Sunday’s result and the prospect of future reserves winning” said Boylesports sportsbook manager Noel Hayes. “Our rules will change and become effective from June 1. We need that time to consider the logistics of the change and update the software to provide for it. This change is in keeping with our efforts to be fair to customers whenever possible.”

Paddy Power will change their rule too, but have decided not to follow Boylesports’ concession.

“It’s not something that’s been an issue upto now” said company representative Paddy Power, “but we’re always looking at ways to improve our service and have decided to soon begin pricing up the reservesin Irish races. And if those reserves are non runners they won’t be rule 4s”.

Hayley O’Connor of Ladbrokes said “If a punter takes an early price on a horse in the morning and subsequently a reserve gets into the race, then we think its only right to pay out if their selection comes 2nd to that horse”.

Tony Kelly of William Hill said “The race at Killarney goes to show the fairest way to deal with reserves is to discount them when settling the result and we strongly believe punters who have placed a bet before the reserve is inserted shouldn’t be punished for a change in the race conditions”.

My advice to people betting or arbing on races containing reserves is still the same – if you are not certain that no rule 4 will be applied if the reserves don’t run, avoid the race until the status of the reserves is known. It appears from the above that if Paddy Power has prices for reserve horses then it is safe to bet there, because they have said there will be no rule 4.

Our AI articles are NOT written by a real person and are provided for entertainment only. They may contain content which is inaccurate but we are hoping our AI bot, Rose, will become better over time. The AI category is the ONLY section of that has zero human input.

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