Learning how to bet the horse races can be a profitable experience, but if you really want to supercharge the wagering and take it to the next level you will have to move beyond win, place, and show betting and master the exotic bets known as the exacta, trifecta, and superfecta. These bets are the bread and butter of the professional horseplayer.

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These bets are called exotics, or gimmicks, because they differ from straight bets in a significant way. Straight bets all involve one horse. You select a single horse in a race and bet that horse to win, place, or show. Exotic bets involve two, three, or even four horses. The payoff on these bets is much higher because they are harder to win, but the risk/reward ratio is amazing!

Exacta betting

An exacta bet is a bet on any two horses in a single race to finish first and second. A straight, or ice cold, exacta means that you selected one horse to finish first and one horse to finish second. An exacta box means that you selected two or more horses to finish first and second in no particular order. The profit on a straight exacta is going to be higher because the cost of your ticket is lower. Here’s an example:

Exacta with horse 4 to finish first and horse 5 to finish second = $2 minimum bet.

Exacta box with horse 4 and horse 5 to finish first and second in any order = $4 minimum bet.

The reason the exacta box costs more is because it is actually two tickets. You have one ticket on the outcome of 4-5 and another on the outcome of 5-4. To simplify the bet, the racetrack puts these two bets on a single ticket and calls it a box.

The upside of betting an exacta box is that you only have to pick the two horses you think will finish first and second. It doesn’t matter which one is first and which one is second as long as they are the first two horses to cross the finish line. The downside of betting an exacta box is that even when you win you will still have one losing ticket, and that reduces your profit.

As a general rule, you should stick to straight exactas. Using a box usually means that you do not have a solid opinion on which horse will win, and if you don’t have a strong opinion you probably should not be betting. Occasionally, an exacta box is useful. If you like two longshots in the race, box them up and pray for the best! If you hit it, your payoff will be massive.

Trifecta betting

Trifecta betting is precisely the same as exacta betting but to win the trifecta bet you must select the first three finishers in the race. Once again, you can bet the trifecta straight or you can box the winning horses to finish in no particular order. Using a box is more popular with a trifecta bet because this bet is harder to hit than an exacta.

There is a better way to play the trifecta, however, and that is by using what is called a wheel or part-wheel. In a wheel you select the horse you think will finish first and then “wheel” or box two horses in the second and third spots. As long as your horse wins the race it doesn’t matter in what order your other two horses cross the finish line as long as they finish in second and third. The ticket will look like this:

7 with 3/5 with 3/5 = $4 minimum bet.

Once again, you actually have two tickets in this wheel. One ticket is for 7, 3, 5 to cross the finish line in that order. The other is for 7, 5, 3 to finish first, second, and third.

EZ Horse Betting Pro Play

Many racetracks and online betting parlors offer a $1 minimum bet on the trifecta. Here’s a way to bet the trifecta using four horses for $18. First, select the horse you think will win. Next, select three horses you think could finish first, second, or third. You will now construct three wheel tickets using your “key” horse (the one you chose to win) with the other three horses. Your tickets will look like this:

5 with 1, 2, 3 with 1, 2, 3

1, 2, 3 with 5 with 1, 2, 3

1, 2, 3, with 1, 2, 3, with 5

Horse number 5 is your key horse. As long as your key horse finishes first, second, or third with two of the other horses completing the trifecta, you win. This bet is a great one because sometimes your key horse will run third and two of your higher odds horses will run first and second. When that happens, get ready to get paid!

Superfecta betting

You probably already know what this. A superfecta means picking the first FOUR finishers of a race in correct order. While this bet is very hard to win consistently, the payoffs can be huge. In addition, many tracks are now offering superfecta tickets for as low as ten cents! This is one of the only bets on the racetrack where you can win thousands of dollars for a single dime.

Most players use a wheel or a box when betting the superfecta. It is just very difficult to hit a straight superfecta bet.

Calculating the Cost of your Pick 3, Pick 4, or Pick 6 Tickets

There is a simple formula for calculating the cost of a multi-race wager like the Pick 6. You simply multiply the number of horses used in each leg of the sequence and then multiply the total with the base ticket amount.
Let’s use a Pick 4 as an example:

  • Race 1: You select horses 2 and 3 as potential winners.
  • Race 2: You select horses 1 and 4 as potential winners.
  • Race 3: You select horse 5 as the winner.
  • Race 4: You select all horses in the race as potential winners.

In leg 1 you have chosen two horses. In leg 2 you have chosen two horses. In leg 3 you have chosen one horse. In the final leg you have chosen all the horses in the race and there are six of them. So, your multiplication looks like this:

  • 2 X 2 X 1 X 6 = 24

Now, multiply 24 by the base cost of one ticket. Many multi-race wagers are offered for a $1 minimum bet so we will use that for our example:

  • 24 X $1 = $24

The cost of your Pick 4 ticket is $24