Types of Bet on Horse Racing in the USA
Horse racing offers a plethora of different bets from which to choose, ranging from your simple win wager to the white whale of racing, the Pick 6. The foundation of the betting menu is Win, Place, and Show (also known as WPS), which are straightforward and have been around for more than a century, but in recent years more complicated bets, known as “exotics,” have come to dominate the wagering landscape. There are two main types of exotic bets: vertical and horizontal. Vertical refers to bets that are placed on a single race (e.g. Exacta, Trifecta, Superfecta), while horizontal are those in which you’re betting consecutive races (e.g. Daily Double, Pick 3, Pick 4). The following is a list and explanation of all the different kinds of bets you might expect to find at the track.
This one is pretty much self-explanatory. A win bet means you are betting on a horse to win the race. It is possible to bet multiple horses to win (though of course only one can actually win, unless there’s a dead-heat) and there is typically a $2 minimum bet. This is the bread and butter of any serious or casual bettor.
In order to cash a place bet, your horse must finish in either first or second. The payout will be the same regardless of where they finish (so long as it’s in the top two), and like a win bet there is typically a $2 minimum.
A show bet pays dividends if the horse you wager on finishes in one of the top three positions. Same as a place bet, whether the horse finishes in first, second, or third makes no impact on the payout. If your horse is anywhere in the top three, you win.
Across the Board
This is the term given to betting Win, Place, and Show on a single horse. You’re essentially placing three separate bets, so a $2 across the board bet will cost $6 total, but it is a more concise way of inputting the bet.
The simplest of the vertical exotics, an exacta requires the bettor to select which horses will finish first AND second in a given race in the correct order. For instance, if I believe Horse A will finish first and Horse B will finish second, I would bet an exacta with A in the first slot and B in the second. If Horse A wins the race and Horse B finishes second, you win, however if Horse B comes in first and Horse A in second, you lose because the order matters. To avoid this problem, many bettors choose to “box” two or more horses in an exacta, which allows you to win if the horses you select finish in any order in the top two. Boxing horses just means you are playing every possible exacta combination of the horses you choose, so a $2 exacta box of Horses A and B would cost $4 total, because you are actually placing two separate bets: a $2 exacta with A in first and B in second, and a $2 exacta with B in first and A in second. It is also possible to get creative and use multiple horses in each slot. Perhaps you think Horse A will win but that any of Horses B, C, and D could come in second. In that case you would want to place a $2 exacta with Horse A in the first slot and Horses B, C, and D in the second slot, which would cost a total of $6, as you are actually placing three separate bets.
A trifecta is the same as an exacta, except now you must correctly predict the first three finishers in order in a given race. Boxing is also common practice for trifectas, but accounting for the extra spot adds a layer of complexity that often requires bettors to use multiple horses in each slot. Trying to hit a trifecta “cold,” or in other words using just three horses in the exact order you think they’ll finish, should only be attempted if you’re feeling lucky (or confident).
A superfecta is the same as an exacta or trifecta except that it requires the bettor to correctly predict the first four finishers in order in a given race. Given the abundance of possible combinations, many tracks offer a base wager of just 10 cents for the superfecta.
A Hi-5 demands the bettor correctly predict the first five finishers of a given race in order. It is the most complex bet of the vertical exotics and not for the faint of heart.
The daily double is the simplest form of the horizontal exotic wagers. Rather than betting a single race, the daily double requires the bettor to select the winner of two consecutive races. The bet must be placed prior to the start of the first race, or “leg,” of the wager, and multiple horses can be used in each race. For instance, if you like two horses (A and B) in Race 1 and just one horse in Race 2 (Horse C), you would place a $2 daily double using A and B in the first leg and C in the second leg. This would cost a total of $4, as you are actually placing two separate wagers (A/C and B/C). Formerly a rare offering at racetracks, daily doubles can now be placed on nearly every race, except the last race on a card.
The pick 3 is similar to the daily double, except that you must pick the winner of three consecutive races. Like the double, the bet must be placed prior to the start of the first race of the sequence and multiple horses can be utilized in each leg. Many tracks offer “rolling” pick 3’s, which means that the wager is offered starting in every race except the last two on the card.
Following the same pattern as the double and pick 3, in the pick 4 a bettor must select the winner of four consecutive races. These bets are often offered twice a day at a track, once earlier on the card and once later.
The pick 5 requires bettors to correctly predict the winner of five consecutive races. It is one of the most popular bets in racing due to its nearly universal low takeout (the track’s cut of the pool) and affordable base (just 50 cents). It also provides bettors the opportunity to wager a small amount for a potentially large payout.
The most complex of the horizontal exotics, the pick 6 requires bettors to pick the winner of six consecutive races. The bet is the most elusive of all wagers not just because it’s extremely difficult to pick the winner of six races in a row, but also because in many jurisdictions the base bet is $2, making it very expensive to use multiple horses in each leg. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of “jackpot” pick 6’s. These wagers provide a lower base (usually 20 cents), but differ from regular pick 6 wagers in that the entire pool is only paid out if there is a single winner, otherwise it “carries over” into the next day. This means that if you and another person were to both correctly pick all six winners, neither of you would win (though there is typically a consolation payout). There is also a Rainbow-6 Bet that is a special version of the Pick-6.