Types of Bets

Horse race betting at US racetracks is performed via the Pari-mutuel system of “pool” betting. For each type of bet, the stakes are pooled together and after deductions for expenses, taxes and prize money, the pool is shared amongst the winning tickets.

Straight Bets

These are the simplest, most popular bets, especially amongst newcomers to horse race betting. They involve a single nominated runner (race card numbers are generally used in preference to horses` names) in one race.


A “win” bet is the easiest to understand, requiring a backer to forecast the race winner.


A “place” bet is easier to win, but the payout is less, as the nominated horse must finish first or second.


Wagering for a “show” requires successful selection of a runner finishing in the first 3.

Win, Place, and Show Bets

These are going to be the most popular and standard types of bets that you’ll probably place on horse racing. They are the most basic types of bets as well, and the “win” bet is pretty self-explanatory. As far as the place bet goes, this means that you are taking a specific horse to finish in either first or second place, and obviously the odds won’t pay out as well for betting on this. Showing means that the horse finishes in first, second, or third, and since this bet is a good bit easier, will feature odds that won’t pay out as well as the first two.

Across the Board

Betting “across” or “across the board” means to stake equal sums on a horse to win, place and show, so will cost 3 times the unit stake.

Most tracks accept straight bets to a stake of $2+.

Other Exotic Bets

So-called “exotic” bets are more complicated combination bets. Their attraction lies in the fact that large payouts are possible for a relatively small outlay. Some involve combinations of horses within a single race, whilst others combine horses in different races on the card. In the former group are bets such as the Quinella, Exacta, Trifecta and Superfecta. The Quinella and Exacta are similar, both requiring correct forecasting of the first two finishers in a given race, although the Exacta requires their order to be nominated, too.

Quinella and Exactas

These are two types of horse racing bets that are definitely great options. You are going to be picking two horses to finish in the top two of a race. They both mean this, but the difference between the two is that betting on a quinella means that you are choosing two horses to finish in the top two with the exact finish of the two horses not mattering. If you get the two horses right, then you win your bet. Exacta bets mean you have to be “exact” with the order of the horses. So you’ll pick two horses, and say that option one must finish in second, and option two must finish in first. If they finish in this order then you win the bet and get quite a nice payout.

Trifecta and Superfectas

Two other great options that have some big payouts are these two options above. They are definitely the toughest of the two to hit though, and you are going to be choosing the exact finishes of horses involved in the race. The idea behind trifecta bets are that you will choose the horses who are going to finish in the top three, and you must have the exact order spot on in order to win. The superfecta on the other side is the exact same thing, but you have to add a fourth horse and select the top four finishing horses in the exact order. These are obviously much harder bets to hit, so the payout can be quite huge if you are able to pull out a winning wager.

Winners of Nominated Races on Same Card

The other group of exotic bets require backers to select the winners of nominated races on the same card. Amongst these, the Daily Double and Late Double prove especially popular, the former requiring the selection of the winners of the first 2 races and the latter the winners of the last 2 races on the card. Similar bets are the “Pick 3” or “Treble” requiring selection of 3 consecutive race winners and the “Pick 6,” which requires the backer to select all 6 winners on the card. There are however, consolation payments for those picking 5 from 6 winners. At most tracks, the minimum bet on “exotics” is $1, although permutations with a unit stake of as little as 10¢ are generally accepted, if the total wagered exceeds $1.

As long as stakes are kept to a sensible (and easily affordable) level, a day at the races can be great fun. There is no thrill to rival your horse, complete with jockey sporting multi-coloured tunic and riding hat silks, hurtling down the stretch to lead home a large field of rivals.