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Different Horse Racing Bets: Understanding All The Types

Mitchell South

by Mitchell South

Updated Apr 30, 2024 · 11:08 AM PDT

If you find horse racing terminology confusing, you’re certainly not alone. While being totally fluent horse racing’s idiosyncratic (and sometimes, bizarre) language certainly is necessary to become a successful bettor, it can be quite the learning curve for beginners.

There are definitely certain words you’ll need to know and different bets you’ll need to understand. Here, we’ll explain the different types of wagers you can find at many online betting sites so you can start betting on horse racing with ease.

In this guide you’ll learn about:

  • The different types of horse racing bets and their names
  • The difference between straight bets and exotic bets
  • The difference between horizontal and vertical horizontal bets
  • The difference between straight and boxed bets

There are a multitude of horse racing bets you can make, but let’s get started with the basics.

Straight Bets (Win, Place, Show)

It is pretty easy to understand straight bets. There are only three types: win, place, and show. These basic bets are perfect if you’re new to horse racing and if you have access to something like the ESPN BET sign-up bonus.

Win Bets

A win bet means exactly what you think. Simply put, you must select a single horse that crosses the finish line first in order to cash a ticket.

Place Bets

Place bets require your horse to finish either first or second.

Show Bets

A show bet is when your horse finishes in first, second, or third.

Exotic Bets

There are two types of exotic bets, horizontal wagers, and vertical wagers.

Essentially they are either race to race parlays (with between two and six races) or they can require you to predict the exact order of finish of a single race (who will finish first and second; first, second, and third; or first, second, third, and fourth)

Let’s look at some of the exotic wagers and clear up what they mean.

Horizontal Exotic Bets

Horizontal wagers are essentially parlay bets. To win, you must select the winner of consecutive races before the first of the series of races begins.

A Daily Double is the winner of two races in a row, a Pick 3 is three straight races, a Pick 4 means you must select the winner of four consecutive races, a Pick 5 is hitting five winners in a row, and the Pick 6 is six straight winners. We’ll get into some of the specifics below.

Combinations in Horizontal Bets

It is very common for bettors to make more than one wager on an individual type of bet.

For example, in a Daily Double (picking the winner of two consecutive races), you might love number one in the first race, but in the second race think number one, two, and three are really similar.

Instead of guessing which of the three might win, you can play three combinations, 1-1, 1-2, 1-3. You are making three bets so it costs more, but if one wins the first race and any of your three choices win the second race, you cash a ticket.

Keep combinations in mind because it’s possible to integrate them into all types of horse racing bets, both straight and exotic.

What Is a Pick 3?

A Pick 3 is similar to a three-race parlay. You must select the winner of three consecutive races and you must get your picks for all three of those races before the first race contained in your parlay begins. The rules for horse racing parlays are generally consistent with standard parlays, but there are some key differences between them.

Whatever the minimum wager is of your chosen sportsbook or track, you can bet that on one Pick 3, despite the fact that it is technically a parlay. This is in contrast to parlays placed on conventional sports, where you would have to wager your sportsbooks’ minimum bet amount on each consecutive leg of your parlay.

However, in horse racing, you can place a Pick 3 parlay bet that counts as one bet. You don’t technically have to construct it yourself, as you do when you’re betting on conventional sports.

For example, if the racetrack you are betting at begins Pick 3 bets at $1, you can bet on the winner of all three races, but you only have to wager $1. If you were betting on conventional sports at a sportsbook where the minimum bet was $1, you’d be required to wager at least $3 to construct a three-legged parlay.

Unlike standard sports parlays, which have pre-determined odds, parlay wagers in horse racing pay differently depending on the odds of different horses. A Pick 3 where each race is won by a longshot pays a lot better than hitting three straight favorites.

What Is a Pick 5?

If a Pick 3 is a three-race parlay, a Pick 5 is the five-race equivalent. It works exactly the same; you must pick the winner of five straight races before the first leg is run. Each combination costs the same amount.

If the minimum bet is $1, and you chose number one in each leg, the cost is $1. If you chose one horse in each leg and the minimum bet is $0.50, the bet costs $0.50. If the minimum bet is $1 and you choose one of two horses to win in each race you will spend $32. Here’s a breakdown:

1,2 (two horses in leg 1) x 1,2 (two horses in leg 2) x 1,2 (two horses in leg 3) x 1,2 (two horses in leg 4) x 1,2 (two horses in leg 5) x 1 (price of wager)

= 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 1 = $32

As you would expect, a Pick 5 is a difficult bet to win so even if the cost of the wager is expensive, the payouts can be enormous.

Vertical Exotic Bets

Vertical wagers require you to pick the correct finishing order of a race.

An exacta is the first two finishers in order (first place winner and second place), a trifecta is the first three finishers (first place winner, second place, and who shows), and a superfecta is a wager where you must identify the first four finishers of a single race in order correctly. We’ll take a deep dive on each of these popular horse racing bets below.

Straight Exactas

In order to win a straight exacta bet, you must choose in order which horse wins and who will finish second in a race.

Straight Trifectas

A straight trifecta bet requires that you pick who finishes first, second, and third in the correct order.

Straight Superfectas

A winning straight superfecta ticket correctly identifies the first four finishes in a single race in the right order.

Boxing Exotic Bets

Picking the horses in order, as is required in straight boxed bets, is a tall order. There’s an alternative in horse racing betting and it’s called boxing.

A box itself is not a type of bet, but rather a strategy within several bets. Exactas, trifectas, and superfectas are all designed for the handicapper to pick the order in which a number of horses will finish during a single race. These three different bets can either be made straight or boxed.

If you pick the exact order, say Horse 1 first, Horse 3 second, and Horse 6 third, that is a straight bet, it has to be perfect in order to win.

Boxed bets give you an alternative. They give bettors the option to box the order of the horses, meaning they don’t have to finish in a specific order. In boxed bets, the horses you select just have to finish within either the top 2 (exacta), top 3 (trifectas),  or top 4 (superfecta).

For example, in a boxed exacta bet, of the two horses you select, either could finish in first as long as the second horse comes in second place. As long as one of the horses runs first and the other one runs second you win your exacta. Each combination costs the same, so your cost is double by playing a two horse box. If the minimum bet is $1, your bet will be $2 because you are betting on two horses. For all the different orders that the horses could finish in, you’ll have to place a minimum bet.

A three horse exacta box is a viable wager too. If you think #1, #2, and #3 are roughly on a level playing field, but nobody else in the race can really compete, you can play a 1-2-3 box and as long as some combination of 1, 2, 3 finish first, second, and third, you’ll win.

What Is a Quinella?

A quinella is an intriguing option that could fit into either vertical exotic or boxing exotic category, depending on how you want to look at it.

In order to win a quinella, you must choose who will finish first and who will finish second in a race, but the order does not matter.

For handicapping purposes, a two horse quinella and a two horse exacta box are exactly the same. You are picking two horses to finish one-two, but the order that they do so doesn’t matter. As such the same approach can be taken to handicapping both wager types, though it makes sense to use them in slightly different scenarios.

The big differences between a quinella and an exacta box are the pools and standard wager size.

Because quinella bets and exacta wagers go into separate betting pools, the odds may differ. If I bet a one-dollar exacta box (two dollars total, one dollar on the 1-2 combination, and one dollar on 2-1 combo), I am betting against everyone else who has played exactas.

A two-dollar quinella covers the same two potential outcomes as the above-mentioned exacta box but does not tie half the wager to each one. Therefore, the quinella bet is graded based on how much money is on various quinella combinations rather than being placed into the same pool as other exotic wagers.

Because all quinella bets are essentially boxes (order the horses finish doesn’t matter), there are fewer possible combinations. While that can make the payout lower, a standard quinella wager is $2 whereas you only have $1 on each combo in the exacta, so it evens out.

Quinella vs. Exacta Box: When to Bet Each One

Here’s a general rule of thumb: if you prefer the horse with higher odds to finish first, and the horse with lower odds horse to finish second, the exacta box is the better bet (fewer people will have that combination).

If you think the lower priced horse will win, and the longer shot will finish second, consider the quinella because the exacta is likely to pay less.

The More You Know…

Now that you know how to decipher the language of horse racing betting, get started betting today! If you’re looking to build on your knowledge outside of horse racing, we have guides on a wide range of sports betting topics that can help you sort out all the intricacies of sports betting.

Check them out and make yourself an informed bettor today.

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