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What Are the Different Types of Bets in Horse Racing?

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We recently went to the racetrack with a group of friends that’s never to the horseraces. They researched gambling on horses online but didn’t understand the basics, so I thought it a good idea to explain the bets a person should know before wagering at the racetrack.

The bets you can place on a horse race are classified as either a straight bet or an exotic bet. Straight betting is wagering on a single horse to finish first, second, or third in its race; exotic races are more complicated.

Betting on horses is fun, and it’s a part of the experience of visiting a horse racing track. But there is a lot to know before you start pulling out your money and gambling on a horse.

Picture of horses racing,

There are two primary types of horseracing bets.

You can break racehorse betting down into two main groups, straight bets, and exotic bets. Straight betting is simple to understand, choose a horse and bet on the horse to come in first, second, or third place in a race.

If you want to wager on a horse coming in first, you bet to win. If you’re going to place a wager on the horse running second, bet to place, and if you want to wager that a horse will run third, you bet him to show.

Straight bets are the easiest to understand.

Win bet

Your horse has to win the race. This bet has the highest odds of straight bets. If your horse wins the race, you cash your ticket.

Place bet

You are wagering that on a horse to run first or second. The odds are lower than the win bet, but you can cash your ticket if your horse wins or comes in second.

Show bet

The lowest odds of straight bets. The horse you chose to bet on can run first, second, or third and you can cash your ticket.

Across the board bet

These are three different bets combined. It makes it easier when you are at the window laying your wager. You say to the teller, I want to bet two dollars across the board on the number two horse, and you’ve placed a two-dollar bet on the two-horse to win the race, place, or show on a single ticket.

The cost will be six dollars. You can also make combination straight bets, such as win/place, place/show, etc. If you do this, each combination will cost as a separate bet.

Exotic bets are difficult to win but the payout is usually higher than straight bets.

Exotic wagers allow you to make multiple bets on multiple horses in a single wager. Exotic wagers are generally much more difficult to win than straight wagers, require an advanced degree of skill and knowledge in horse picking, and are more expensive.

However, the payoffs on exotic wagers are much greater than straight ones. Exotic wagers are more complex but are higher risk and have higher rewards.

Picture of a racing tote board showing the betting odds for an exacta wager.


To place an exacta bet, pick your two favorite horses from the field of starters and bet them together and in order. For example, if you believe the seven will win and the five-horse will place (come in second), you can bet them as an exacta.

To make this bet, go to the teller and say, I want a two-dollar exacta 7,5. They have to finish: seven-horse wins and the five-horse places. Any other combination, and you lose.

Exacta Box

To bet an exacta box means either of the horses in your exacta picks can run first or second. So in our example above, you will cash your ticket if the five and seven run first and second in the race regardless of which one finishes first.

The exacta box is two bets, so a two dollars exacta box costs four dollars. You win if the 7 and 5 finish first and second regardless of their order.


A quinella is the same as an exacta box but is considered one bet. You can play a two-dollar quinella for two dollars, and a two-dollar exacta box costs four dollars. Of course, since an exacta box costs more, it will typically payout to the winner more as well.


The trifecta bet is similar to an exacta bet, except it includes three horses. You choose three horses you believe will win/place/show in order and make your wager.

To place a trifecta bet, go to the window, tell the teller the race number, and say, I want to bet a three-dollar trifecta, 8-9-10. The horses must finish in this order for you to cash your ticket. Any other combination, and you lose.

Trifecta Box

A trifecta box bet allows you to win if the three-horse you choose to bet finishes 1,2, and 3. The order doesn’t matter. Boxing a trifecta costs a lot more because the combination allows for more bets. For example, a two dollars trifecta box cost twelve dollars.


A superfecta works like a trifecta and an exacta, except it includes four horses. They have to finish in the order that you chose for you to cash your ticket.

Superfecta Box

Again, this works the same as the trifecta and exacta boxes except with four horses. The combinations increase substantially, resulting in increased costs. However, some tracks allow smaller wagers when making superfecta boxes.

Keying Horses

This is a method of taking a horse you love and placing multiple horses under it. For example, you could love the one horse, and like three other horses, let’s say the two, three, and four horses.

You could key the one horse in an exacta bet over the 2,3,4. In this scenario, if the one horse won the race and either the 2,3 or 4 placed, you would cash a ticket.

The bets described above are not an all-inclusive list of wagers you can make at a track; however, it does cover the basics you will need to enjoy your time at the races.

Making a bet at the racetrack is simple.

Once you have picked your horses and decided on your bet, it is time to place your bet. At most tracks, they have a kiosk and live tellers to accept your wager.

If you decide to make your bet with a live teller, be prepared to bet. Have you money out and know the basics of how to convey your message. You should be ready to blurt out the following information in order:

  1. Name of the racetrack (this is necessary if you are at a track with simulcast gambling, which most are today);
  2. Race Number;
  3. Amount of the wager;
  4. Type of wager;
  5. Horse’s number;

The following is my typical bet, “Fairgrounds, seventh race; I want a two-dollar exacta box on the 3,4”. A ticket with the information will be printed out and handed to you by the teller. Put the ticket in a safe place because you will need it to collect your winnings.

Picture of a racing form

Handicapping tips are essential to winning.

I’ve been to tracks with professional gamblers, and I’ve taken people to the horse races who have never been before. Guess what? The success rate in picking winners was very close between the two. Gambling on horses is a lot about luck. But some basics are good to know before you make your first bet.

Read the race day program

The race day program has useful information, including the horse’s past performances, whether or not the horse is on Lasix or wearing blinders. Some gamblers strongly consider betting horses running on Lasix for the first time.

Lasix is given to horses to prevent horses from bleeding through their nose, and it also opens their airways and causes them to pee a lot which reduces their weight right before a race.

The information provided in a race day program is voluminous. Click here to read a great source to assist you in learning how to read the program so you can get as much information on the horses as possible.

Fitness of the Horse

Be wary of a horse coming off a long layoff. If you noticed the horse hasn’t run in over a month, check the workouts carefully. The horse you want is coming off a strong outing, regardless of if he won the race or not.


Look at speed rating and performance. What is the best this horse has ever shown? What is the best the other horses in the field have ever run? Is there a reason he can not duplicate his best today? How fast can the remaining horses run on their best day?


Class is the term used to describe the competitiveness of the race. The highest quality of horse racing is a stakes race, then the classes move down to allowance, claiming, and maidens.

You need to watch for horses dropping in class and for those moving up in class. Playing the class angle can be tricky.

Race conditions

Race conditions refer to the specifics of the race, how long it is, what surfaces they are running on, and the eligible horses. So you want to review how the horse performs in the current conditions of this match.

Does the horse perform well on this type of surface? Has he been successfully running this distance in the past? Sometimes you will see a horse accustomed to running sprints entered into a distance race. If you don’t know any information indicating why he should be running this unfamiliar distance, avoid the horse.

Trainer, Owners, and Jockeys

In the racing program, you can review the winning percentage for jockeys, trainers, and owners, review these numbers. Quality jockeys get asked to ride many horses and usually choose the horse they can earn money riding.

I also like to compare the jockeys winning percentage when choosing a horse to bet on because some get on a hot streak and often get a little more out of a horse than others. I wrote an article about whether jockeys can make a horse go faster you may find interesting.

The same goes for trainers, who also make their living from the purse money. On the opposite end, eliminate the bottom-dwelling trainers and jockeys.


An analysis of a horse’s pedigree is essential when you are considering first-time starters. But realistically, this information is more for professional gamblers looking for a value bet.

Gambling is gambling, have fun but don’t expect to win. Limit the amount you intend to spend at the track and enjoy the day with your family.

Watching horseracing is fun and exciting.

I grew up going to race tracks and watching bets laid on horses. I saw lots of winners and plenty of losers, but I always enjoyed the excitement. Some of my fondest memories are the times I spent piddling around the Fairgrounds race track in New Orleans.

It would take us about an hour to drive to the race track pulling a horse trailer from my hometown in Louisiana. The Fair Grounds is the second oldest racecourse in the United States still in existence. Racing began on the course in 1838.

In 1993, the grandstand was destroyed by fire and was damaged again by Hurricane Katrina, but racing continued through these tragedies. The Fairgrounds were rebuilt finer than ever and provided a great place to eat, drink and watch races.

Our Parish, St. Tammany, is the established seat of racehorse breeding in south Louisiana. There are horse farms from Folsom to Slidell and many places in between.

Horseracing has three main groups of people.

The horse business involves many people, but there are three main categories of horseman in racing, the owners, the breeders, and the gamblers.

Racehorse owners are in a high risk, high reward business.

My family was owners. Owners own the horses racing on the track. They acquire the horses by auction, direct purchase from a breeder, or claim the horse in a claiming race. (You can click here to read my article on claiming races).

Owners pay for the upkeep of the horses, which includes vet bills, training fees, and any other associated costs of the horses. My father used to say owners are gamblers because your only chance to make money is if your horse wins a portion of the purse money.

There are incentive programs for racehorse breeders.

Breeders own the broodstock, and they mate bloodlines in the hopes of producing winners. In Louisiana and most other states, there are incentive programs called breeders awards to encourage breeding in the state.

In Louisiana, two breeder associations contribute to the award payments, the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association, and the Louisiana Quarter horse Breeders Association.

The Louisiana Quarter Horse Breeder Association pays to the owner of Louisiana bred foals mare and stallion. The mare award is 25% of what their foal earns for finishing 1st through 5th place in a race in Louisiana. The owner of the stud that sired the Louisiana Bred foal is paid a stallion award.

The fee is paid for their foals which finish first, second or third in Stakes, Handicap, Allowance & Trial races in Louisiana. You can click this link to read more about the Louisiana Quarter Horse Association Breeder incentive program. The Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association has a similar program.

The money gamblers bet is used to pay the purse.

The final category is gamblers. Gamblers are a necessary part of the racehorse industry. The purse money paid out for the races is derived from the amount of money bet on races.

Without gambling, horse racing as we know it today would not exist. See my article Where Does the Purse Money Come from in Horse Racing. During our forays to the track, the adults often asked me to help choose a horse to bet.

After I passed on my selection, I was asked to explain the method I used to make my choice. Most of the time, I based my pick on the color of the horse. I had a fondness for greys, although it seemed they weren’t inclined to win.

This was my introduction to racehorse gambling. Watching family and friends study racing forms so intensely, they didn’t notice the sweat from their foreheads wet their racing programs. I learned terms like daily double and trifecta and won and lost money.