Types of Horse Racing Wagers: Your Betting Options Explained
Everyone knows that you can bet on the winner of a horse race. But did you know that there are actually a variety of different horse racing wagers to choose from? Many people don’t, and they miss out on some great betting opportunities as a result.
That’s why we recommend learning about ALL the diverse types of horse racing wager available. We would even go as far as to say that it’s essential if you’re serious about trying to make money. Betting only on the winner of races can severely limit your chances of success, while using a variety of different wagers is much more likely to be profitable in the long run.
Even if you’re a casual bettor, and only bet on the major horse races, it’s still a good idea to be aware of all your options. We have found several wagers we believe to be more stimulating than just betting on the winner of the race. Not to mention, many of them offer the potential for much better payouts too.
We’ve listed all the different horse racing wagers below, and explained how each one works. You may not want to use each and every wager on a regular basis, but they can all be valuable in the right situations.
Traditional Horse Racing Wagers
The traditional horse racing wagers are also known as straight bets. Not only are these the most popular type of wagers, they are also the most straightforward. The only thing that makes them slightly more complicated is that they vary slightly in different parts of the world.
In the United States, and a few other regions, the straight bets are as follows.
Across the board
In most regions, the straight bets are as follows.
You’ll notice that the win bet and the place bet is on both lists. The win bet works in exactly the same way everywhere, while the place bet works differently in different regions. Since the win bet is a universal wager, we’ll start by explaining that one.
How the win bet works in horse racing
This doesn’t require much explanation at all really, as it’s an incredibly simple bet. All we have to do here is pick the horse that we think will win the race. We get a payout if our chosen horse is first past the post, but we lose our stake if our selection fails to win.
The payouts for successful win bets aren’t all calculated in the same way, because not everyone uses the same type of bookmaker or places their bets in the same location. Typically, payouts are calculated based on either fixed odds or the pari-mutuel system. The same can be said for most of the wagers mentioned on this page.
With fixed odds, you know exactly what the payout will be if the wager wins. The odds are fixed at the time of placing the wager, and then multiplied by your stake to determine the potential return.
The pari-mutuel system is a little more complicated. It’s a form of pool betting, where all the stake money is collected in a pool and then shared out among the winners. For more details on this topic, please check out this article listed below.
In some regions, such as the United Kingdom, for example, payouts can also be calculated based on the “starting price.” This term refers to the odds of a horse at the time that the race starts.
With the win bet explained, let’s now take a look at the other traditional wagers.
Place (US horse racing)
In the United States (and some other countries), the place bet is a wager on a horse to finish in the top two positions. We get a payout if our selection finishes in either first or second place, but lose our stake if our selection finishes third or worse. Payouts are lower than for win bets, but we obviously have a better chance of winning.
Please note that the place bet is only available in races that have at least five runners. If there are four or fewer horses in a race, the win bet is the only straight bet allowed.
Show (US horse racing)
This is similar to the place bet, but covers the top THREE positions. We get a payout if our chosen horse finishes first, second or third. Show payouts are lower than place bet payouts, as the chances of winning are even greater.
There must be at least eight runners in a race for the show bet to be available.
Across the board (US horse racing)
This wager is just an easy way to combine win, place and show bets on a single selection. It’s effectively three wagers in one, so a $2 across the board wager costs us $6. It consists of a $2 win bet, a $2 place bet and a $2 show bet. Each bet is on the same horse.
If our selected horse wins, we get payouts for all three parts of our wager. If it comes in second, we only get payouts for the place and the show. If it comes in third, we just get the show payout. If it happens to finish outside of the top three, then we lose our entire stake and get nothing in return.
Place (Rest of world horse racing)
In most countries, the place bet is a wager on a selection to finish somewhere “in the places.” The number of positions covered depends on the type of race and the number of runners. The following table shows the relevant criteria.
Type of Race
No. of Runners
Less than 5
All Except Handicap
8 or more
16 or more
As an example, let’s say we backed a horse to place in a handicap race with 18 runners. To get a payout, we’d need our selection to finish anywhere in the top four positions. If we backed a horse to place in a non-handicap race with nine runners, we’d only get a payout if our selection finished in the top three places.
When using place bets at fixed odds, payouts are calculated using a fraction of the odds for the horse to a win. It’s usually either a quarter or a fifth of the odds. So if a horse was 8/1 to win, for example, it would effectively be 2/1 to place.
The leading horse racing betting sites often offer enhanced place terms for major races. When it comes to the Grand National, for example, sites will typically pay out on horses that finish in the top five or even the top six positions. This will increase your chances of winning a place bet, and is why it’s worth taking the time to shop around for the best offers when betting on these bigger races.
Each-way (Rest of world horse racing)
An each-way bet combines the win and place bets. Betting $5 each way on a horse costs $10, as we’re putting $5 on the horse to win and $5 for it to place. If our selection does win, we get paid out for both parts of the wager. If it doesn’t win, but finishes in the places, we get paid out just for the place part of the wager. We lose our entire stake if it finishes outside the places.
Exotic Horse Racing Wagers
The wagers in this category are a little more advanced than the traditional wagers described above. They’re also harder to get right. Exotics are still popular among horse racing bettors though, primarily because they can offer some huge payouts.
Many people only bet the exotics for the thrill and excitement. Those who actually know what they are doing can be very profitable though. That’s why we encourage everyone to experiment with them and try to develop their own effective strategies.
As with the traditional wagers we explained earlier, exotic wagers vary in different parts of the world. The following are the main exotics in the United States.
Pick 3/Pick 4/Pick 6
Let’s take a look at how each of these works.
This a wager on which two horses will finish in the top two positions. To win, we have to get both horses right AND in the correct order. This is obviously harder than just picking the winner, so the potential payouts can be significantly higher than for win bets.
Here are some examples of big Exacta payouts from major races in the US over the last 20 years.
2005 Kentucky Derby – $9,814.80
2009 Kentucky Derby – $2,074.60
2002 Preakness Stakes – $327.00
2002 Belmont Stakes – $2,454.00
2011 Belmont Stakes – $928.00
1999 Breeders Cup Classic – $1,290.60
These are pretty big sums of money when you consider that they’re based on just a TWO DOLLAR stake. That’s the standard cost for an Exacta, although other staking options are available too. The payouts are then adjusted accordingly. So if we stake $1 on an Exacta, for example, we’ll only receive half the standard payout if we win.
Because Exactas are hard to get right, it’s common for bettors to place several of these wagers on a single race. This costs more money, of course, but it’s easier to win when covering multiple horses in various possible combinations.
We have a few options when placing multiple Exactas on a race. We can simply bet on each one of our preferred combinations, or we can use Exacta Boxes and Exacta Keys. These are specific types of Exacta that allow us to effectively cover multiple combinations in a single wager.
Please see the following page for a more thorough explanation of the Exacta wager, including details on how the various types work.
The Quinella exotic is very similar to the Exacta. We only have to pick which two horses will finish in the top two positions though, and NOT the exact order. This makes the Quinella easier to get right, so average payouts are a little lower.
There are some advanced options with the Quinella, including Quinella Boxes and Quinella Wheels. We provide more information on them in the following article.
Trifectas and Superfectas are even harder to get right than Exactas. With a Trifecta we have to predict the top three horses, and with a Superfecta we have to predict the top four. In both cases, we also have to select the correct order to win.
These are not wagers that you’re going to win very often, but the payoffs can be enormous when you do. The largest ever Superfecta payout was nearly a million dollars! Having the potential to win that kind of money is extremely hard to ignore and it explains why so many horse racing bettors LOVE Trifectas and Superfectas.
For more details on exactly how these wagers work, and some useful tips and advice, please take a look at the following articles.
With the Daily Double we have to correctly predict the winner in two consecutive races. This was one of the earliest exotic wagers to be introduced in American horse racing. While this wager is easy to understand, it’s not necessarily easy to get right. It’s hard enough to pick the winner of one race, never mind two!
Historically, the Daily Double was only available on the first two races at a track. These days, however, it’s usually available on any two consecutive races.
Pick 3 / Pick 4 / Pick 6
These all work in the same way as the Daily Double, but across a higher number of races. With a Pick 3, we have to pick the winner in three consecutive races. With a Pick 4, we have to pick the winner in four consecutive races. And, as you’ve probably guessed, a Pick 6 requires picking the winner in six consecutive races.
As tough as these wagers are to win, people DO win them. The payouts can be incredible and have soared past a million dollars on many occasions. These wagers typically cost just $2, so it’s easy to understand their appeal. Very few wagers offer the same opportunity to win big from such a small stake.
The exotics in other regions are similar to the ones offered in the United States, but they have different names. Here’s a list you can use to compare.
Dual Forecast (same as the Exacta)
Reverse Forecast (same as the Quinella)
Tricast (same as the Trifecta)
Scoop 6 (United Kingdom only, similar to the Pick 6)
Horse Racing Accumulators
Horse racing accumulators are widely available for fixed odds horse racing betting. They’re not very common in the United States (where they’re known as parlays), as most horse racing betting is done using the pari-mutuel system. Some bookmakers and betting sites do offer them though.
An accumulator or parlay is basically just a wager that combines multiple selections. We could pick the winner of four different races, for example, and put all those selections into an accumulator. We’d then need all four selections to be correct in order to win.
This obviously makes accumulators hard to win, but the potential payoffs can be worth the risk.
The odds for an accumulator are calculated by multiplying the odds for each individual selection. This can lead to some VERY large payouts. A great example came back in 2012, when stable lad Conor Murphy placed a five-horse accumulator at the Cheltenham Festival. All five of his selections won their races, and his wager returned a cool £1 million. Not bad for a £50 stake!
Other Horse Racing Wagers
The wagers we’ve described so far are the ones you REALLY need to know. There are a few other options too though, and these are as follows.
We’ve provided brief details for each of these wagers below.
Prop bets and specials are wagers on things that aren’t directly related to the outcome of a specific race. We can bet on which jockey will win the most races at a meeting, for example, or which trainer will have the most successful season.
Although these wagers can be fun, we don’t recommend spending a lot of time on them. They don’t offer as many options for horse racing as they do for other major sports, and it’s hard to consistently make any money from them.
Matchups ARE worth spending some time on. We really like these wagers, and they have the potential to be very profitable in the long run. They’re nice and simple too, so there’s no need to put in a huge amount of effort. Here’s how they work!
For a matchup wager, a bookmaker or betting site will put up odds for two horses running in the same race. We have to decide which of those horses will finish ahead of the other. If we pick the right horse we get a payout, regardless of whether our selection actually wins the race or not. All it needs to do is finish ahead of the other horse in the matchup.
When we lay a horse, we’re betting AGAINST it. We’re effectively taking a wager from someone else who is backing the horse to win or place. We can’t do this with traditional bookmakers or betting sites, but we can do it at a betting exchange. If you’re not familiar with how betting exchanges work, then we suggest reading through this article.
Laying horses can be very profitable with the right approach. Don’t assume it’s easy though, because it’s not. Although it’s technically easier to pick a losing horse than a winning one, it’s not quite that simple. You still have to compare the potential risk of each wager against the potential reward, which isn’t easy.
Now that we’ve covered all the different horse racing wagers, we’d like to leave you with one last useful piece of advice.
The QUALITY of your wagers is far more important than the QUANTITY.
With so many different types of wager, it can be tempting to put down lots of bets on every single race. However, this is NOT the right approach. The key to successful horse racing betting lies in making the right wagers at the right time.
This means you need to think carefully about what to bet on and when. You should try to find spots that offer genuine value, instead of placing countless wagers and just hoping for the best.
The following article offers some more useful advice for picking your selections.