Horse racing betting, explained: Types of bets, key terms to know and more | Sporting News

Horse racing betting, explained: Types of bets, key terms to know and more | Sporting News

Betting interest in horse racing seems poised for an explosion.

With betting on horse racing now legal in most U.S. states, many bettors could be placing their first-ever bets.

For those interested in learning more about betting on horse races, here’s a complete guide that will cover the basics and define the key terms all bettors should know before picking some horses on any of the major sportsbooks.

Let’s get right to the betting guide on horse racing, which should get you up to speed on everything you need to know before betting on any race.

Horse racing betting, explained: Types of bets, key terms


Wagering on a horse to win, place, or show is the easiest and most straightforward way to bet races. It’s very simple: you pick a horse and bet $2 or more on that horse to finish first (win), second (place), or third (show).


A win-place wager is just like a win-place-show wager, only without the show component. It’s a $4 bet on a $2 base, and you win if your horse wins or finishes second. 

Across the Board

Similar to a win-place-show, betting on a horse across the board means you win if the horse wins, places or shows. If your horse finishes third or better, you win. It’s less volatile than win-place-show but also costs more ($6 base bet as opposed to $2) and pays out less.

Exacta and Exacta Box

An exacta is a bet on the first two horses to finish the race. You can bet a “straight” exacta, and bet on the exact order in which the top two horses will finish (first or second), or you can bet a “box” exacta and you win if your horses finish in the top two regardless of order.

The box exacta costs bettors double the amount as a straight exacta, as it yields two possible winning combinations instead of one. You can put as many horses into exacta boxes as you please, but obviously, the cost of the bet goes up the more you add to the ticket.

To determine the different combos for your bet and the total cost of your ticket, multiply the total number of horses you have picked by the next-lowest number. Example: if you bet a five-horse exacta box, multiply 6 x 5 to get 30 different combinations. With a $2 base, this could cost $60.

Many bettors love five-horse and six-horse exacta boxes because they can mix in some betting favorites with some sleepers and long shots and enjoy a cash windfall if two of the five or six win or place.

Trifecta and Trifecta Box

A favorite amongst seasoned bettors, the trifecta serves as the biggest payout in horse racing but is also one of the most difficult to hit. It’s similar to the exacta but with a much harder twist.

Betting a trifecta means picking the three horses to finish first, second, and third. You can bet a “straight” trifecta 1-2-3 and the horses must finish 1-2-3 in that exact order. Or, you can bet a “box” trifecta 1-2-3, and you win as long as they finish in the top three in any order.

Just like with exacta betting, the box trifecta costs more to bet because it features more possible winning combinations than the straight. 

To calculate a trifecta’s winning combinations and determine what the bet will cost you, just multiply the number of horses to be boxed by the next lowest number multiplied by the next lowest number. For example, a five-horse trifecta box will contain 60 combinations (5x4x3). With a $2 base, a five-horse trifecta will run you $120.

Trifecta Key/Wheel

Bettors who want to hit a big payday can bet a trifecta key/wheel. To do that, “key” the horse in a couple of spots in the trifecta and fill the other two spots of the trifecta with as many different horses as you please.

Superfecta/Superfecta Box

As if a straight trifecta wasn’t difficult enough, the superfecta calls for bettors to pick the horses that finish first, second, third, and fourth. The potential payout is substantial, but the odds of hitting are very low.

Most sharps prefer betting exactas and trifectas and investing a little more money there than putting a lotto-ticket wager on a superfecta. But if you want to roll the dice, you can bet on a superfecta straight or in a box just like the exacta and trifecta.

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