Horse Wagering Explained

Horse wagering takes many forms and John explains the most common types offered, from the basic win bet to the most sophisticated exotic wager. John explains what the bet entails, from a straight wager to combination bets, multi-race exotic bets and how and when to bet it. He also defines and explains the most commonly used horse wagering terms used in reference to methods of combining horses, particularly for single race exotic wagers such as Exactas and Trifectas. This is the perfect primer for the beginner or novice at horse wagering.


There are many different wager types offered by horse racing tracks. Below we will define the most common wager types offered.

Straight Bets

Win: The simplest bet you can make on a horse race. A Win bet is an attempt to predict the horse that will win the race. If the horse wins, you will collect on your bet. The odds listed for the horses on the toteboard are the Win odds for each horse. For example, if a horse shows '5' on the toteboard, if you bet him to Win for $2, you will get back $12 (5 times $2 plus your original $2 bet). This $2 payoff of $12 would also be shown on the result payoffs under the Win column (1st column) for the horse when the race is official.

Place: Similar to the Win bet, a Place bet on a horse is a bet that the horse will finish in first or second. If the horse does finish in one of the top two spots, you will collect the amount shown in the Place column (2nd column) for that horse on the result payoffs for each $2 you have bet. If you make a Place bet, note that it does not matter if the horse wins or comes in second, you will win the same amount. This bet has less risk than a Win bet, but also a smaller reward. If you are confident the horse will win the race, you will receive a larger return betting the horse to Win.

Show: Another variety of a straight bet, the Show bet is used when you want to bet that a horse will finish in the top 3 positions in the race. For every $2 bet on the horse to Show, you will collect the amount shown in the Show column (3rd column) for that horse on the results payoffs. Again, if the horse comes in first or second, you will not win any more money than if the horse finishes third. This is the safest of the straight bets but also offers the smallest return. If you are confident the horse will finish better than third, you would have a larger return placing a Win or Place bet.

Combination Straight Bets

Across the Board (Win/Place/Show): This is a combination of the Win, Place, and Show wagers. If you bet a horse "across the board" you are effectively betting him to Win, Place, and Show. If the horse wins, you collect on all 3 bets. If the horse comes in 2nd, you collect the Place and Show payoffs. If the horse comes in 3rd, you collect on the Show bet only. Since this is actually 3 bets combined, a $2 bet "across the board" will cost $6.

Win/Place, Place/Show: These are simply 2 bet combinations of Win/Place and Place/Show, respectively. For a $2 bet, they cost $4.

Exotic Bets: Single Race

Exacta/Perfecta/Exactor: One of the simplest single-race exotic bets, the Exacta is the combination of predicting the winning horse and the second-place horse, in order. This will pay more than betting either of the horses to win or place. A $2 bet on an Exacta will pay out the amount shown for an Exacta bet on the wager payoffs after the race is official.

Quinella: Similar to the Exacta, but this does not require the bettor to predict the order of the top two horses. Simply put, the bettor only has to pick the horses which will finish in the top two places, but does not have to predict which of those two will actually win the race. Since this is easier to predict than an Exacta, it also pays less than the Exacta (typically it pays about half of the Exacta payoff).

Trifecta/Triactor: The Trifecta takes the Exacta a step further. It requires the bettor to pick the horses, in order, that finish in the top 3 positions in the race. It is significantly harder to predict than an Exacta, and accordingly will pay out much more for a winning bet. A $2 bet on a Trifecta will pay out the amount shown for the Trifecta on the wager payoffs after the race is official.

Superfecta: The most difficult of the single-race exotics, the Superfecta, requires the bettor to predict the first four finishers, in order. Predicting a Superfecta is very difficult and will always require the bettor to take different combinations of horses so that there are more chances of winning. The payoff for a Superfecta is generally very high, and is typically shown on the wager payoffs based on a $1 bet.

Exotic Bets: Multiple Races

Double: A Double is the simplest type of wager that spans multiple races. It requires the bettor to pick the winner in two consecutive races. Most tracks usually offer an Early Double (Races 1 & 2) and a Late Double (last two races on the card). There are also tracks that offer Double's in the middle of a card. If there is a Double available to be bet on, there will be a note of it on the first race (or leg) of the Double wager. The $2 payoff for a Double will be shown on the results for the second leg of the wager.

Pick 3/Pick 4/Pick 6 (Classix): These bets are all similar to the Double wager, only differing in the amount of consecutive races that a bettor needs to predict the winner. The larger the number, the harder it is to pick, as well as the greater the payoff. For these bets, it is recommended to take several combinations of horses in each race to increase your chances of winning (although this also increases the cost). Many race tracks have at least one or two available Pick 3's and/or Pick 4's on a card. Some tracks also offer one Pick 6 per card. If there is available Pick 3/4/6 to bet on, there will be a note of it on the first race (or leg) of the wager. The payoff for one of these bets will be shown on the results for the last leg of the wager. For Pick 3s and Pick 4s, if nobody has the required number of races correct, they will typically pay out for people who missed one less race. For example, if nobody predicted a Pick 4 correctly, people who had 3 of 4 correct will get paid. In addition, the payoff results would indicate a payoff for "Pick 4 (3 of 4 correct)". For a Pick 6, typically the track will also give a small payoff to bettors who had 5 of 6 correct. However, if nobody had all 6 correct, the majority of the Pick 6 pool will be carried over to the next racing day, making the subsequent Pick 6 pool even larger.

Place Pick All: This bet is similar to a Pick-x bet, except that you need a horse to place (come in 1st or 2nd) in each race, instead of to win. With a Place Pick All bet, you must pick a place horse in EVERY race on the card (usually 8 or 9 races).


There are different terms used to refer to methods of combining horses, particularly for single race exotic wagers such as Exactas and Trifectas. We will define the most commonly used terms below.

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Straight: Refers to any wager placed where there is only 1 combination. For example, a Trifecta with horses 1/2/3 would be a straight bet. Since a straight bet is only 1 combination, the total cost of the bet will the amount of the bet. For example, if you bet this Trifecta for $2, it would cost a total of $2. A multiple race exotic wager may be referred to as "Straight", if you take only 1 horse in each race.

Box: A boxed wager is where you take every possible combination of a set of horses. For example, a Trifecta Box with horses 1,2,3 would cover every Trifecta possibility with those 3 horses. In this example, it would come out to 6 combinations, or 6 bets. So if you bet this Trifecta Box for $1, it would cost a total of $6.

Key: If you a key a horse, it means you are taking the horse by itself on top and you will take several horses behind. For example, if you bet a Trifecta Key 1/2,3,4,5 you are betting that the 1 horse will win the race, and the 2nd and 3rd finishers will be one of those other 4 horses you choose. However, your key MUST finish first for you to collect on this wager. In this example, the Trifecta is 12 combinations (would cost $12 for $1 bet).

Wheel: A wheel refers to taking the entire field for a leg of a wager. For example, you might bet an Exacta Wheel if you think you know the horse that will win but you don't know who will finish 2nd. An example would look like 1/ALL. In this example, the number of combinations is the number of horses in the race besides the 1. Taking 'ALL' for a leg is very common in the last leg of a Trifecta or Superfecta since it is very difficult to predict who will run 3rd or 4th. A bettor may also take ALL in multiple race exotic wagers if a race is wide open and they have no idea who will win that race or leg of the wager.

Partial (Wheel): A partial is any combination of horses that does not fit one of the special combinations listed above. One example of a partial would be a Trifecta with the horses 1,2/1,2,3/1,2,3,4. This is a custom combination where you need the 1 or 2 to win, the 1,2, or 3 to run 2nd and the 1,2,3, or 4 to run 3rd. This particular example is 8 combinations. Partials are very common but their cost can sometimes be difficult to calculate.

Reverse: Reverse is an informal term, typically referring to Exactas. Some bettors may "press" an Exacta one way if he thinks a horse has a better chance to win, but then "save" his bet in the Reverse. This can be more cost-effective than boxing because the bettor is wagering more money on the combination with his/her favorite horse on top. One example, would be if you bet $5 Exacta 1/2,3 and then bet a $2 Exacta 2,3/1 to save with the Reverse for less. In this case you are hoping that the 1 wins, but in the case where the 1 runs 2nd to your other 2 choices, you hope to at least cover the total cost of your wager.