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What Is A Dead Heat In Horse Racing?

Zuletzt aktualisiert & geprüft: 07.09.2021

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Get the dead heat meaning explained to you


A dead heat in horse racing is where two or more horses cannot be separated in a photo finish that is used to determine the winner of a race when the judge on the line is unable to decide this from the naked eye. In modern times, it has become a very rare occurrence. There are special dead heat rules governing the betting on such a race, however, and that is the most important thing for punters to know.


We’ll explain all about a dead heat in more detail below. As we’ve just mentioned, an event being declared a dead heat race is very unusual nowadays and was more common before photo technology improved. This kind of finish can involve more than two horses, but that is so rare it is more likely to be just a couple. Whether you are betting on Royal Ascot or the Grand National, it’s good to have a basic understand of what a dead heat means.


The term dead heat and its meaning actually originates in horse racing, yet are often used in other racing sports. The Boat Race – an annual rowing event that takes place on the River Thames and contested by leading British universities Oxford and Cambridge – has had dead heat results in the past, for example.


A dead heat in horse racing is far less common than in swimming but, whatever the sport, there are implications if you’ve had a bet and this is the outcome. Dead heat rules state that your stake is divided by the number of horses tying for first, most commonly two, and bookmakers pay out on the full starting price.


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This is very much a double edged sword for punters. A dead heat race can work in your favour or against you. While you’ll almost certainly get the best odds guaranteed on all UK and Irish horse racing at all leading bookies, ensuring that you get a bigger starting price than the one you’ve taken in the build-up to the race, what if you got a better odds in the build-up than the horse was returned? You’ll still be in profit but not as much.


A dead heat will commonly see your half your stake paid at the full SP, so if you had £5 to win and the horse was sent off at 5/1, you’ll receive a return of £15 rather than the £30 you would’ve got if there had been an outright winner.


Grasping this dead heat meaning is important, so you understand the albeit small risk attached to gambling where more than one competitor can be declared the winner. It’s far from an everyday occurrence with horse racing and that means it’s something just to be aware of rather than worrying about.



Two horses, one winner, a true dead heat situation.


Sometimes the judge genuinely cannot split two or more horses with the naked eye or the aid of a photo finish. It is perhaps surprising that a dead heat in horse racing handicaps doesn’t happen more often, as horses can finish all in a heap close together.


That’s a dead heat summarised pretty neatly. Just remember that you’ll only get half (or a third if three horses are involved in the finish, etc.) of your stake to the full starting price paid out by the bookies!


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