Top three winners in a cover bet
Paul /

Four-letter words often have a lot of power and the f-word in question here is no different. “Full” might not get you sent home from school, told off by your nan or even be a particularly exciting word, but it certainly makes a big difference in this context.

In short, a full cover bet is an entirely different sort of wager to a cover bet, meaning that “full” essentially turns chalk into cheese. Because they are completely distinct bets. Rather than explain the differences between them, we will instead detail separately what each bet involves. Given the cover bet is the less well-known of the two, let’s start there.

What Is a Cover Bet?

Cover bet example
An example of a Cover Bet, which is usually only offered on limited races – pay close attention the terms and conditions offered by your bookmaker, as these will vary

A cover bet is a wager primarily offered on horse racing. It can be viewed as a sort of insurance bet, or even a little bit like a “draw no bet” wager, or some Asian handicap options in football. It is not the most widely available bet out there but is now being offered by an increasing number of online betting sites. Whilst most commonly available on horse races, you may also see it offered for dog racing and, in theory at least, for other events that operate as races in a similar fashion.

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on horse racing. With a cover bet, you are betting on a horse to win a race but if it finishes second, third or sometimes even fourth (or possibly even lower down in a big-field contest, subject to the terms of the market) you will get your money back. The upside for the punter is obvious – if your pick goes close but doesn’t quite make it, you break even, rather than ending up having lost your stake.

But what of the downside? Well, in exchange for this stake-back insurance, the bookie reduces their odds. In simple terms, whilst the standard win market may offer a horse at odds of 4/1, if you back it as a cover bet, those odds may only be 3/1. Many punters are happy to accept these shorter odds because, after all, a win is a win.

Land a 3/1 winner and you’re still happy and won’t regret too much not opting to take it on the nose at the bigger price. On the other hand, watch that same horse at 4/1 miss out by a neck and you’ll wish that you had opted for the cover bet instead.

You Say Tomato, I Say …

Whilst relatively few bookies offer cover bets, there might be more than you think. This is because some use a different name for exactly the same wager. Other major UK betting sites might, for example, call this bet “Money Back”, whilst yet others label it “Insure Bet”, and you may well find going it by alternative names too, perhaps featuring the word “Insure” or “Insurance”.

In truth, both Money Back and Insure Bet give you more of a clue as to what this market entails than Cover Bet but, no matter what you call it, all of these wagers work in exactly the same way. If your pick wins, you will be paid out at the stated odds. If it doesn’t win but finishes in the places you have selected, you will get your stake back and live to fight another day.

The key thing to note with all of them is how many places are involved and, as with any punt, what the odds are. Generally speaking, no matter whether you use a bookie that calls this a Cover Bet, Money Back, Insure Bet or anything else, this will be followed by “2 Places”, “3 Places” or “4 Places”, clearly indicating where the horse must finish in order for your stake to be returned.

How Do the Odds for a Cover Bet Reduce?

Horse racing meeting
Wikihamish /

Perhaps the most important factor that will affect whether you opt to make your wager an out-and-out win bet, or one that offers insurance, is how much you have to pay for that insurance. In other words, how much smaller are the odds for the Cover Bet? The table below shows how the odds changed for the three market leaders based on a win single, then with two places covered, then three. To make the comparison more obvious we have used decimal odds.

Horse Win Odds 2 Places 3 Places
Free Willy 4.00 3.50 2.88
Howdydooda 5.00 4.33 3.75
Blind Eggs 8.00 6.00 5.50

Quite how the odds change varies according to a number of factors, the most important being the number of runners in the field and the odds of those toward the head of the market. Cover/insurance bets that go down to four places are less common and tend to only be offered when the race features a very high number of runners.

The ways in which the odds reduce from the win odds to a Cover Bet with two places, and then two places to three places, also vary dependent on the race, horse and odds. As the example above shows, the drop in odds with Free Willy, the favourite, is bigger from two to three places, than it is from win to two places. In contrast, with an outsider the price reduction is greater from the win-only market to taking insurance for two places than it is when you go from two to three.

A punter who decides they want to back Free Willy may decide that insuring against him coming second for a reduction from 4.00 (3/1) to 3.50 (5/2) is worth it. On the face of it, that seems a small price to pay, with a £10 bet retuning £40 in the first instance and £35 in the second. In contrast, going for Blind Eggs would mean accepting a return of £60 instead of £80, a difference that might make a punter think twice. However, adding the third place to the latter horse would only cost a further £5 (returning £55 instead of £60) and so may be more tempting.

In fact, one interesting thing to note, and that punters should always check for, is that selections at longer odds (the exact price varies) do not necessarily see the odds reduce at all whether you cover two or three places. In one recent contest with three runners declared, the odds for the five biggest outsiders (all priced 20/1 and upwards), did not change whether you backed Cover Bet 2 Places or Cover Bet 3 Places.

In another race with 12 horses heading to post, two 9/1 shots were reduced to 8/1 for the extra place, whilst the six horses priced between 14/1 and 28/1 did not see their odds altered at all. Clearly, if you can get the same odds but get your stake back if the horse finishes third, this is preferable to only getting the refund if your pick is the runner-up, so make sure you always check out the markets with further places insured.

Alternatives to a Cover Bet

When it comes to placing a Cover Bet, you will have to weigh up many factors in your mind in order to decide whether or not it makes sense. Really the variables are simple: how many places you are insuring, what reduction in price that is costing you, and how confident you are that the horse will win. However, it is also very much worth bearing in mind that there are alternatives to a Cover Bet which might be more appealing to you.

The notion of backing a horse each way, or even just to place, is unlikely to be novel to even a horse racing newbie, but how do these compare with a Cover Bet? There will always be variations according to the odds and runners in a race, but to give you an idea of how these wagers stack up, let’s take a look at the returns from a £10 total stake (£10 win single, £5 each way, £10 Cover Bet or £10 place only). The each way bet is based on ¼ of the odds for the top two places. Note that we will keep the number of places constant across our comparison and will use decimal odds once again.

Win bet returns (Win/Place) Each Way Cover Bet Place
Favourite £28.70/£0 £21.69/£7.34 £21/£10 £15.30/£15.30
Dark Horse £60/£0 £41.25/£11.25 £50/£10 £28.70/£28.70
Outsider £150/£0 £91.25/£21.25 £130/£10 £60/£60

The table above is a really useful way to see how these different bets work. Whilst you will find the numbers can vary dramatically based on the variables we have already discussed, the numbers above demonstrate why investigating an alternative market, such as the Cover Bet may be worthwhile.

Naturally, should the horse win, the win single is the best option, whilst if it places, the place only is. The more interesting comparison is between the each way returns and those of the Cover Bet. In general though, returns will vary according to the odds, and the fraction of the odds an each way bet pays at, the Cover Bet can be seen as sitting between an outright race-winner wager, and an each way bet. As such, it would certainly seem a very viable option for any punters who are interested in each way betting.

What Is a Full Cover Bet?

Yankee Full Cover Bet ExampleA full cover bet is an entirely different entity and is a type of multiple bet that includes multiple selections and then every possible combination of doubles, trebles, fourfolds and so on that can be made from them. In the case of a full cover bet with singles, it also encompasses win singles on each of the component legs.

A simple single could, theoretically at least, be classed as a full cover bet but generally speaking, it is accepted that the smallest such wager has three legs. To explain the concept more clearly we will use examples and once again we will take these from the world of horse racing. This is because these wagers are most commonly placed on the sport. However, it should be noted that full cover bets can be made on more or less any sport or event, or even a combination of different sports and markets.

So, for example, you might opt for a full cover wager that had a horse race, over 2.5 goals in a football match and the winner of the weekend’s F1 Grand Prix. The only real restriction is that the selections must not be related contingencies. This is a bookmaking term for wagers where the odds are linked to each other and this is standard practice across all bookmakers and all multiples bets, from the smallest of them all (a simple double) upwards.

Example of a Full Cover Bet

Let’s look at a full cover bet with four selections, called a Yankee, and one of the more popular ones around. If you are heading to the racecourse you might opt for a Yankee to keep you interested across the day. So, you might include the following four selections:

  1. Blue Badger at 4/1 in the 13.10
  2. We’re All Doomed at 5/1 in the 13.40
  3. Golden Sausage at 13/10 in the 14.50
  4. Horses For Morses at 2/1 in the 15.25

A Yankee is made up of 11 separate bets using these four picks. It needs 11 separate stakes to cover all of the six possible doubles, four possible trebles and the single fourfold acca. As such, a £5 Yankee will cost £55 in total. Using the numbers above to denote the bets, the 11 wagers are as follows:

  • 6 Doubles – 1 and 2, 1 and 3, 1 and 4, 2 and 3, 2 and 4, 3 and 4
  • 4 Trebles – 1, 2 and 3, 1, 2 and 4, 1, 3 and 4, and last of all 2, 3 and 4,
  • 1 Fourfold – 1, 2, 3 and 4

All four of your picks must win if you are to be successful with all 11 of your bets. If none win, or just one win, you will lose all 11, as the smallest wager is a double that needs two legs to win to pay out. For example, if your first two horses win and the next two lose, the only winning bet of your 11 placed will be the double with legs 1 and 2.

A full cover with singles bet is one that adds singles to the above, meaning you will see a return even if just one leg wins. Sticking with four selections, the relevant bet is known as a Lucky 15, its name coming because there are now 15 separate bets (the 11 as above, plus singles on each of the four horses). A £5 Lucky 15 will set you back a not insignificant £75.

The table below details the main full cover wagers and also the ones with additional singles included.

Bet Name Legs Type of Bet Total Stakes Needed
Trixie 3 Full cover 4
Patent 3 Full cover with singles 7
Yankee 4 Full cover 11
Lucky 15 4 Full cover with singles 15
Super Yankee (or Canadian) 5 Full cover 26
Lucky 31 5 Full cover with singles 31
Heinz 6 Full cover 57
Lucky 63 6 Full cover with singles 63
Super Heinz 7 Full cover 120

We have stopped at a Super Heinz but in fact the full cover wagers keep going, with Goliath made up of eight separate selections and a massive – goliath even – 247 bets in total. In theory, you can just keep going and adding more selections up to whatever your preferred bookmaker’s maximum is. However, as you can see, the number of stakes required is already very high (a £1 Goliath will cost you £247) and so few people place such bets.

The same applies to the full cover with singles bets and whilst you will never hear mention of a Lucky 127 (or larger takes on this wager), you can easily create and place a full cover bet with seven (or more) legs.

Conclusion: Full Cover Bets & Cover Bets

As we can see, these bet types may only differ by a single word but in reality, aside from the fact that they are both bets and both most closely associated with horse racing, they have very little in common. A full cover bet is a multiples bet that uses several selections to create a large wager with numerous component bets.

A Cover Bet, also known as (among other monikers) a Money Back bet, Insure Bet or Insurance Bet, is a wager where you can see your stake returned if your pick finishes second, third or occasionally fourth. Both the Cover Bet and the various full cover wagers have their place but they are, unquestionably, entirely different entities.