Often abbreviated as NR, a non-runner in horse racing refers to a horse that has been withdrawn from a race, usually on the day of the contest or the day prior. In this article, we will briefly touch on why this happens and the possible impact it could have on your bets. In some cases, a non-runner makes no difference at all but in other instances it can significantly reduce your potential payout.
What Is a Non-Runner?
As the name indicates, a non-runner is simply a horse that will not be taking part in a race they were declared to be running in. For a typical race, trainers need to enter their horse for the contest no more than five or six days prior. This period can be much longer for more high-profile races, however. At this stage, some races can have a long list of names, with more horses entered than the maximum field size, but expect that list to be whittled down at the 48-hour final declaration stage.
It is at this point where trainers make the final decision if they wish to enter their horse in a particular race or not and where various criteria, such as ratings are used to decide who is allocated a place should they want one. Withdrawing at this stage has no impact because betting will not have taken place, or if it has, it will have been ante-post wagering (of which more later).
Why Are Horses Withdrawn?
There are a few reasons why a trainer might withdraw a horse for a race just a day or two after confirming they would compete. The most common is ‘unsuitable ground’ and you will find this a lot more with National Hunt meetings during the winter. Heavy rainfall can, within a few hours, dramatically change the going at a racecourse. If a particular horse is poor at running on soft and heavy ground then rapidly deteriorating conditions means it no longer makes sense to keep them in the race.
It was precisely for this reason that most National Hunt races used to have a 24-hour declaration stage but this was permanently increased to 48 hours (the same as Flat racing) in 2020 despite some opposition. Early data collected by the Racing Post indicated this saw the amount of non-runners jump from 6.02% to 9.17%. Early declarations are good for punters, bookies and the authorities in some ways but any benefit is lost if there is a significant increase in the number of horses that then subsequently withdraw.
Problem with the Horse
Unsuitable ground is far from the only cause of a non-runner though. Sometimes a trainer may feel a horse has not travelled well and is simply not in good enough shape to run. Similarly, it is possible that a horse might pick up an injury just prior to the race and this will require a certificate from a vet.
A refusal to enter the stalls would also lead to a horse being classed as a (very-late) non-runner and this is the sort of NR that has the most impact on what you might receive should your horse win such a race. Refusal to run once the starting pistol has been fired though does not count and in such cases the horse would be a loser, displayed as RR (refused to race) in the results.
Non-Runners & Betting
Now we will take a look at how non-runners may impact your bets. In all instances, we will focus on examples where you have placed a bet and afterwards a horse has been withdrawn. If you confirm your wager after the non-runner has been declared, it does not impact upon your bet as the bookies will have already updated their odds accordingly.
Ante-post bets work differently than bets made after the final declarations because you do not stand to get your stake back if your selection turns out to be a non-runner. It is the risk you take in the hope of getting better odds, but sometimes it will inevitably backfire. If an ante-post selection does not run for any reason at all, no matter what it is, you will say goodbye to your stake. The trainer may decide an alternative engagement is a better idea, the horse may have picked up an injury and, in some sad instances, a horse you have backed ante-post may even die prior to the race taking place.
No matter what the reason, if you have made an ante-post wager on a horse that does not run you will lose your stake. The only exception to that would be if you made the bet with a bookie offering a Non-Runner No Bet (NRNB) promo. Many of the best racing bookies offer this for the biggest meetings, especially as the race draws closer and in this scenario you will get your stake refunded. Non-Runner Free Bet is a similar, less favourable, offer where your stake would be refunded as a free bet.
It is also worth noting that Rule 4 does not apply to ante-post markets. We will explain more about Rule 4 shortly but in brief this is the standard way in which all bookies adjust winnings where the shape of the race and betting market has been impacted by a non-runner. This is partly why ante-post betting can deliver such huge odds, the price you pay for this being the lack of a refund if it is your horse that is the NR.
A single bet on a horse which is later confirmed as a non-runner will see your stake refunded to you. This is standard bookmaker policy so there is no danger of you wasting a large stake just because some trainer has had a change of heart overnight. What happens if another horse in the race is declared as a non-runner though?
In such cases, Rule 4 (an industry-standard) will come into play in order to ensure bookies do not end up unfairly losing money from a race. Imagine if you had backed the 4/1 second favourite for a race and the strong 8/13 favourite drops out. The bookies could no longer honour the 4/1 price on the horse that is now the favourite without taking heavy losses. You might feel the bookmaker should simply accept their bad luck but how would you feel if you had backed the favourite and were told there was no refund on your stake? Effectively the refund of stakes on non-runners is paid for by Rule 4 reductions to the subsequent winner and placed horses.
Although you may have confirmed the 4/1 price when placing your bet, there is no escpaing Rule 4, which again, is something applied at bookies across the board. Essentially you will see a reduction in your potential payout in direct relation to how strong the withdrawn horse (or horses) was. The table below shows how Rule 4 works at the various odds bands.
|Odds of Withdraw Horse||Deduction Per £1||Odds of Withdraw Horse||Deduction Per £1|
|1/9 or shorter||90p||1/1 to 6/5||45p|
|2/11 to 2/17||85p||5/4 to 6/4||40p|
|1/4 to 1/5||80p||13/8 to 7/4||35p|
|3/10 to 2/7||75p||15/8 to 9/4||30p|
|2/5 to 1/3||70p||5/2 to 3/1||25p|
|8/15 to 4/9||65p||10/3 to 4/1||20p|
|8/13 to 4/7||60p||9/2 to 11/2||15p|
|4/5 to 4/6||55p||6/1 to 9/1||10p|
|20/21 to 5/6||50p||10/1 to 14/1||5p|
There is no deduction if the NR had odds greater than 14/1
So, let’s say you had a £10 single on a 5/1 horse for the 2:30 race at Newmarket. A 6/1 option, just down the pecking order, is withdrawn after you placed your bet. Your selection wins the race but rather than securing £50 profit (and your £10 stake back) you will instead get £45 profit (and your £10 stake back) due to 10p reduction per £1. This is always automatically applied so there is no effort required on behalf of the punter. If your returns are ever lower than you were expecting, and you are no sure why Rule 4 is always a good place to start.
If there was more than one non-runner, which is not that unusual, you would simply add the deductions together. There is a total deductions limit of 90p though so you cannot have a situation in which you stand to win no money from a race, or even lose money. Note that you would not add the deductions together if you placed your bet in between the two non-runners being declared. Only non-runners made after your bet are relevant for the purposes of Rule 4 as the earlier NR should already have been factored in to the odds you received.
Sticking with the 2:30 at Newmarket, say that you held off placing your bet on your 5/1 pick (Horse A) and in that time Horse B (6/1) was declared a non-runner. The odds of Horse A in the reformed market drop to 4/1 in response to this and at this stage you make your bet. Before the race begins Horse C (3/1) refuses to enter the stalls and must be subsequently withdrawn. Only the 25p per £1 reduction would apply here because when placing your bets, the market had already adjusted to the first non-runner.
If you end up betting on a non-runner as part of an acca, this line of your bet will be voided and your winnings calculated as though it did not exist. In the table below, the first column lists the original bet and initial predicted winnings.
The second column includes where you have selected a non-runner and in the last column, another horse in one of the races pulled out. The withdrawn horse was trading at odds of 20/21 so the pay out, for this one event, has been cut in half (50p reduction per £1).
|Odds of Selection||Odds of Selection||Odds of Selection|
|Race 2||5/1||5/1||5/2 (Rule 4)|
Non-runners in accas are simple enough to understand because you just entirely discount the horse that did not run. So a double becomes a single, a fivefold becomes a fourfold and so on. One exception to this would be if your initial bet was as part of some sort of offer, perhaps with enhanced odds for a certain level of wager.
If you needed to place a treble or above to avail of the promotion but the NR makes your initial treble a double, expect the bet to be settled at the normal, non-promotional prices.
Lucky 15 (And 31/63), Heinz, Yankee, Etc Multiples
Bookmakers offer a variety of different bet types when wagering across different races, not just your standard accumulator, which is one stake on all selections to win.
A Lucky 15, for example, requires four selections and covers all possible multiples using those four picks, as well as the four singles: it includes four singles, six doubles, four trebles and a fourfold. If your selections were Horse D, Horse E, Horse F and Horse G, and the first trio won but the last let you down, unlike with an accumulator bet, you would still get a decent amount of money back as you can see below.
|Winning Bets||Losing Bets|
|Single||D, E, F||G|
|Double||DE, EF, DF||DG, EG, FG|
|Treble||DEF||EFG, DFG, EDG|
This is a fairly simple example as a Heinz bet, by contrast, features 57 separate bets featuring six selections. A Heinz is a full cover bet without singles, so covers all accas from a double upwards but not the six base single bets. This means it entails 15 doubles, 20 trebles, 15 fourfolds, 6 fivefolds and a sixfold. No matter what type of multiple bet you choose though, having a non-runner does not completely sabotage the whole bet.
Going back to our Lucky 15 example, say that horse D was declared a non-runner after placing our bet. In this case we would simply remove D from the equation, and you would be paid out as though it did not exist. As with a standard acca, any doubles become singles, trebles become doubles and the fourfold effectively becomes a treble. To see how this would work, check out the table below. As before, Horse E and F were winners but Horse G was not.
|Double||E (ED double becomes E single), F (DF double becomes F single), EF||G, EG, FG|
|Treble||EF (DEF treble becomes EF double)||EFG, FG, EG|
This is how the bet would end up being calculated with some doubles turnings into singles, some trebles into doubles and so on. No bets would be outright voided except for the one single placed on Horse D and subsequently, you would get the stake back for this.
Forecast and tricast bets allow punters to guess what they think will be correct top two, or top three finishing order. A forecast bet which includes one non-runner will be converted into a single bet and a tricast bet would be converted into a forecast. This is what usually happens but it is always good to check your bookies’ terms and conditions as it is possible the entire bet will be voided.
Most forecast or tricast bets are not placed at fixed odds, instead they are paid out as dividends that use computer algorithms to calculate your payout. If there ends up being a non-runner in a race, but this is not the horse you backed, this would be taken into account during the calculation.
Finally, we wanted to mention how a non-runner might affect a Totepool bet. For any single-leg pools, a non-runner would be declared as void so you would be able to claim your stake back. If the withdrawn horse forms part of a multi-leg pool though, then your pick would usually be transferred to the favourite. This might not be a fully satisfying solution for some but imagine a situation in which you have a ‘placepot’ bet, something that requires you to pick a placed finisher across the first six races in a selected meeting.
If you had successfully called the first four right but your fifth selection was a non-runner, you would be rather unhappy, to say the least, if the bet was simply voided. How the Tote works means you cannot simply void this one race either as getting five out of six is not enough for a share of the prize, because, of course, not everyone’s horse will have been a non-runner. So, automatically replacing a non-runner with the favourite is the fairest compromise possible.