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The Basics of Betting on Horse Racing

by Dave Schwab

For centuries, horse racing has been one of the most popular sports to bet on, and given just how accessible it still is to wager on horses both in the United States and around the globe, it's no wonder that it remains near the top of the list with today’s betting public as well.

The other main attraction when it comes to betting on horses is the multitude of ways you can create action on the races. From basic straight bets to any number of exotics, there is never a dull moment when you spend the day at the track or the local turf club.

Straight Bets

There are three basic ways you can make a straight bet on a horse. You can bet them to win, place (finish second) or show (finish third). The fourth way you can make a straight bet is called “across the board” and in this wager your horse will still pay off as long as they finish in the Top 3.

To cash-in on a win bet, your horse must win the race. If you bet a horse to place, then you would win if they finish first or second, but you would only collect the place money on that horse. A show bet will pay off if your horse finishes either first, second or third but once again you would only receive the show money on that horse.

You can cash-in on all three bets with an across the board bet if your horse wins. You would collect the place and show money for a second-place finish and the show money if he finishes third. Keep in mind that to bet a horse across the board you have to triple the amount of the minimum wager.

Exotic Bets on Single Races

One of the most popular ways to bet on horses is to try and pick the top two finishers in an “exacta bet” or the first three in a “trifecta bet”. You have to pick the horses in the exact order of finish so betting odds on hitting these types of exotic bets are higher.

The attractive part of these types of bets is the higher payouts they offer depending on the closing odds of the horses you picked. The payouts can be quite lucrative if you are successful at working one or two longshots into your final two or three-horse mix.

A slight variation on an exacta bet is a “quinnella bet”. A quinnella is when you pick the top two horses in the race, but they can finish in either order. This can also be referred to as a “boxed exacta”.

Some race tracks will offer “superfecta betting” in which you have to pick the top four horses in a particular race. You also have the option to “wheel“ a horse with a group of other horses, which can sometimes be a much more efficient use of your betting bankroll considering just how hard it is to pick trifectas and superfectas. An example of a wheel bet would be to pick the winner and then add two more horses to the mix. To cash in on this type of exotic bet, the horse you pick to place first has to win, but the other horses can finish in any order as long as they round-out the top three.

Exotic Bets on Multiple Races

If you are the type of bettor that is only interested in picking winners, then the Daily Double, Pick 3, Pick 4 and the Pick 6 in horse racing should appeal to your betting style. This bet requires you to pick the winner in consecutive races starting at two for the Daily Double all the way up to six races for the Pick 6.

There is a high degree of difficulty in picking winners across multiple races, but if you are right even with just two races in the Daily Double the payouts can be steep depending on how much money was bet into each pool. Obviously, the money that you would win if you are correct with all of your winning picks goes up dramatically with each additional race you add to the mix, to the point where it is not uncommon to see six-figure payouts for a correct Pick 6 ticket.

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