From a punters standpoint, one of the best things about horse racing is that it’s a year-round, international sport. This means that handicappers can be very picky about their bets, finding value every day.
Horse racing is the most popular form of pari-mutuel betting, which means that handicappers are betting against each other, rather than against the house. The house makes their money from taking a percentage of the betting pool, not off of lost bets. During big races that draw in a large number of casual bettors, this can translate into a lot of great betting opportunities for sharp bettors. In big races like the Kentucky Derby, favorites attract the largest percentage of wagers, offering better odds for other horses. Remember, favorites don’t always win.
In this article we’re going to show you all the different types of bets that can be made on horse racing, and give you professional betting tips for making consistent profits. It’s fun to bet on horse racing, but it’s more fun to win.
Use this as a guide to understanding the types of bets that are available, but understand that each type of wager has an angle. To become a consistent winner, it takes a deeper understanding of each type of bet for finding the best value. In many cases, it’s about keeping your costs down. In other situations, it’s about choosing one type of bet over another. Learning to find the best value in horse racing can take years, so start slow and read as much as you can.
New: regional horse racing guides starting with US Horse Racing Betting and information for fans of UK Horse Betting. You can also see our guide for virtual horse racing to learn all about betting on simulated horse races. And lastly, don’t forget to check out our in-play racing betting guide for an introduction to the fastest form of horse handicapping.
How To Bet On Horse Racing
There are a lot of ways to bet on horse racing, and some of them can be confusing at first. We’ll try to explain the betting options as easily as possible. Some of the betting terms below are different types of bets in various parts of the world. We’ve explained them based on their most common usage.
If you’re new to racing betting, be sure to stop by our how to read the odds page for a primer on understanding your potential risk and reward for every wager. Once you have a handle on how the odds and different types of bets work, make sure to see our collection of in-depth horse racing strategy articles.
- Win Bet: Also called a straight bet or single. A wager where the punter chooses a specific horse to win the race. Any other finishing position results in a losing bet. Odds on a tote board or online racebook are shown in fractional format. 5/2 odds means that $5 profit will be returned on a $2 wager, for a total payout of $7. 7/1 odds would pay out $7 for profit on every $1 wagered. 1/3 means that $1 would be paid out for every $3 wagered.
- Place Bet: A bet on a horse to finish either first or second. A popular bet in a race when two horses are clearly favored over the rest of the field. Since this bet wins regardless of a first or second place finish, odds are lower than a win bet.
- Show Bet: A striaght bet on a horse to finish first, second, or third in a race. A popular bet to make when a punter likes a long shot to finish in the top three. Since the horse can finish in any of the top three positions for a winning bet, the odds are lower than a place bet.
- Win-Place: A win-place bet is similar to a place bet, but the payout is determined by the exact finish of the horse. If he finishes first, payout is based on first place odds. If he finishes second, the payout is based on place odds.
- Win, Place and Show: Also called ‘Across the Board’: Three single bets put into one wager. Instead of getting show payouts, if your horse wins the race it pays the win bet, place bet, and show bet. If it finishes in second place, it pays the place and show bets. If it finishes in third, it pays the show bet.
- Quinella Betting: Popular in races where two horses are clearly favored over the rest of the field, quinella bets at wagers picking the first and second place finishers in a race – in either order. For example, if you selected the #2 and #5 horses, they could finish 5-2 or 2-5. At most tracks, the minimum quinella bet is $2. A quinella is essentially the same as an exacta box, except payouts can be different. In an exacta box, you have two separate bets, versus a quinella which is a single bet with two potential wins. The payouts for these bets come from separate pools, so the payouts can be different. In an exacta box, when the horse with lower odds wins, and the horse with higher odds takes second, the payout is usually better on a quinella. When the horse with greater odds wins, the exacta box tends to have a better payout. As a general rule, if you prefer the favorite to win, take the quinella. If you prefer the horse with greater odds, choose the exacta box. See also Quinella box bet and Quinella wheel betting.
- Exacta: An exacta bet is a wager where the punter selects the horses they believe will finish in first and second place, in exact order. If the horses finish in any other order, the bet is lost. Most tracks have a minimum exacta bet of $1 or $2.
- Exacta Box: An exacta box is essentially two exacta bets put onto one ticket. It allows the horses selected in an exacta to finish in either order. For example, if you’ve selected horse #1 and horse #2, it doesn’t matter which order they finish, as long as those two horses finish in the first two spots. Since there are 2 possible finishing orders that could win, an exacta box is 2 bets. At most tracks, the minimum exacta bet is $4 (2 bets of $2 each).
An exacta box is popular in races where there are two horses clearly favored over the rest of the field.
- Trifecta Betting: A trifecta bet is the same as an exacta, with one difference. In a trifecta, the bettor must also choose the horse that comes in third place. So, the handicapper needs to pick the horses that will finish in first, second, and third place, in exact order. If any piece of this bet does not come through, the bet is lost. For example, if the horse you selected to some in first and second come in second and first respectively, the bet is lost. If the first two horses come in as predicted, but your show horse comes in any other position, the bet is lost. If you select horse #1, horse #2, and horse #3 to win, place, and show respectively, they must come in with that exact order.
- Trifecta Box Betting: A trifecta box is the same as an exacta box, with the third place horse added to the ticket. So, in a trifecta box, the handicapper selects 3 horses. Those three horses need to finish first, second, and third – in any order. For example, if you choose horse #1, horse #2, and horse #3, there are six possible combinations that these horses could finish that would produce a winning trifecta bet.These would be: 1-2-3, 1-3-2, 2-1-3, 2-3-1, 3-1-2, 3-2-1Since there are six possible winning combinations, a trifecta box is six bets. So, a minimum trifecta bet would be $12 (6 bets x $2 each). While trifecta and trifecta box bets are tough to win, the payouts can be huge. Professional horse racing cappers and casual punters can go after a huge payday for a relatively small wager.
- Trifecta Key Betting
- Superfecta Betting: Straight superfectas give handicappers a shot at massive payouts on very small wagers. In several cases, $1-2 wagers have turned into six-figure payouts. While they’re difficult to win, the enormous potential makes them popular wagers with fans and professional cappers.While most handicappers select four horses in a superfecta, some tracks allow punters to pick up to 12 horses. Of course with every horse added to a superfecta ticket, the more difficult it becomes to win, and odds are increased.In a 4-horse superfecta, punters must select the exact finishing order for the top four horses, without any discrepancies. For example, if your first and second place picks come through, but your third and fourth place horses swap finishing positions, the bet is lost. All four horses must finish in the exact order as you’ve predicted.Since there is only one possible combination of finishing results that would result in a winning wager, a superfecta is a single bet. The standard minimum bet amount for a superfecta is $2.Since it’s so difficult to win a superfecta, a lot of punters prefer a superfecta box. The odds are still huge, but they’re much easier to win.
- Superfecta Box: A superfecta box is just like a trifecta box, with at least a fourth horse added to the ticket.
In a four-horse superfecta box, the punter selects four horses to finish in the top four finishing positions. The exact order doesn’t matter, as long as your four horses finish in the top four spots. There are 24 possible combinations a cappers horses could finish that would result in a win. If you chose horse #1, #2, #3, and #4, winning finishing orders would be:1-2-3-4, 1-2-4-3, 1-3-2-4, 1-3-4-2, 1-4-2-3, 1-4-3-2
2-1-3-4, 2-1-4-3, 2-3-1-4, 2-3-4-1, 2-4-1-3, 2-4-3-1
3-1-2-4, 3-1-4-2, 3-2-1-4, 3-2-4-1, 3-4-1-2, 3-4-2-1
4-1-2-3, 4-1-3-2, 4-2-1-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2, 4-3-2-1Most racetracks and online betting sites have a minimum bet of $1 each for superfecta bets. So, with 24 possible wins, a minimum superfecta bet would be $24. Some racetracks offer minimum superfecta bets as low as $.10.The concept behind a superfecta box is to cover as many winning combinations as possible or that you think provide value. With 24 possible winning combinations, many new bettors think this is an easier bet to win than it is. A race with 8 horses has 1,680 possible combinations for the top 4 places. With 24 winning combinations, bettors are covering only a tiny percentage of the possible outcomes.As mentioned above, superfecta boxes can include up to 12 horses at some tracks. To put this in simple terms, these are bad bets to make because with every horse added to a ticket, more losing combinations are being added to the ticket – combinations that you are paying for. The idea is to get the winning combination with the fewest number of losing combinations. There’s more to it than this, but that’s the general idea. So, superfecta boxes of 5 or more horses are highly discouraged.
- Superfecta Wheel: In a superfecta wheel, the idea is to pick on horse in a key position, then other horses to fill in the top four spots. For example, you could pick the #4 horse to win, and any combination of 3+ horses to finish 2, 3, 4 in any order. Or, you could put select your key horse to place, and the remaining horses to finish 1st, 3rd and 4th.
Some online betting sites allow up to 12 horses to be put into a single superfecta wheel bet, but the odds go down (and costs go up) with every horse added to the ticket. For example, you could select a 6 horse superfecta wheel, put one of those horses in a key finishing position, then the remaining 5 horses would have to fill the other top for positions.For example, if you select the 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 horses, with the #5 horse to finish in the 2nd position, you would need any combination of the 2, 3, 7, 9, 11 horses to finish 1st, 3rd, and 4th.As mentioned above, with every horse added to a superfecta wheel, the possible combinations that would win goes up, along with the costs. Each possible combination equals one bet, and here’s the breakdown based on $1 superfecta bets.4 Horse Superfecta Wheel: 6 possible winning combinations = $6
5 Horse Superfecta Wheel: 24 possible winning combinations = $24
6 Horse Superfecta Wheel: 60 possible winning combinations = $60
7 Horse Superfecta Wheel: 120 possible winning combinations = $120
8 Horse Superfecta Wheel: 201 possible winning combinations = $201
9 Horse Superfecta Wheel: 336 possible winning combinations = $336
10 Horse Superfecta Wheel: 504 possible winning combinations = $504
11 Horse Superfecta Wheel: 720 possible winning combinations = $720
12 Horse Superfecta Wheel: 990 possible winning combinations = $990
- Daily Double Bet: Most tracks and online betting sites offer 2 daily double bets per day, on the first two races, and the final two races of the day. A punters job is to select the winners of each race in the daily double. Simply put, in the early daily double, a capper needs to pick the winners of race #1 and race #2. For the late daily double, select the winner of the final 2 races of the day.Some tracks offer a daily double in the middle of the day, or rolling daily doubles on any two consecutive races during the day.
- Pick 3 Bet: A pick three horse racing wager is the same as the Daily Double, with a third race added to the ticket. So, instead of picking two consecutive race winners, cappers need to pick three winners in a row. Since the pick 3 has it’s own betting pool, handicappers only pay one commission (takeout) to the track. The commission paid is lower, offering a better value for the pick 3 versus betting these races individually. Of course, it’s difficult to pick three winners in a row, but pick 3 odds are very good, offering a nice payday for winners.Like the Daily Double, pick 3 bets are generally offered for the first 3 races, and final 3 races of the day. On occasion, rolling pick 3’s can be found as well.
- Pick 6 Bet: The pick 6 wager is popular because it gives handicappers a chance to make huge money on a tiny wager. Part of the reason the prize pool for the pick 6 is so big is that it has a progressive jackpot. On days when the pick 6 isn’t hit (most days), a large percentage of the pool carries over to the following race day.
Pick 6 prizes can easily exceed 6 figures, even 7 figures during big races. While they’re hard to win and can be costly bets, a winning bet could buy you a house.
Other horse racing wagers include:
Triple Crown Races
Throughout the world, many countries have three major thoroughbred horse races which they call the Triple Crown. These are typically the most popular races to bet on in their respective geographical areas. Some of the Triple Crown countries include the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Uruguay, Ecuador and Macau.
Online betting sites offer wagering for many of these races, with a wide variety of betting options.
Major Horse Racing Events: