A Guide to Betting on Horse Racing

Before diving into the wagering options with horse racing, did you know it is legal on a national level (with a few states as the exceptions) to bet on horse racing online? Click here for the full analysis.  For those new to horse betting or those just looking to capitalize on the legality of betting on horses online, we have partnered with TVG to offer our readers the following sign-up deal:

Horse racing has both vertical wagering and horizontal wagering. Vertical wagering is a wager in which the result is determined by one race, while horizontal wagering is a wager based on results for multiple races.


Before getting into the wager options you must first understand that horse racing is based on pari-mutuel wagering. This simply means that you are betting into a pool amongst your peers and not against a bookie. Pari-mutuel wagering is defined as a betting system in which all bets of a particular type are placed together in a pool; taxes and the “house-take” or “vigorish” are deducted, and payoff odds are calculated by sharing the pool among all winning bets.

So note that the morning line maker is simply predicting what the public is going to bet and is not a guaranteed line. Therefore, you will not know your odds until the pool you are betting into is closed. After the race, when the race goes official, you will see payouts displayed based on the final tabulations on the pari-mutuel pool.


This is the simplest way to bet in horse racing.

Win = If the horse you bet wins the race, you win money. This bet is only split among those that have bet the winner.

Place = If the horse you bet wins the race or finishes second, you cash a ticket. This bet is split among those that have bet the winner or second place finisher.

Show = If the horse you bet finishes in the top three, you cash a ticket. This bet is split among those that have bet any horse that finishes in the top three.

A common phrase used to bet all three of these wagers is called across the board. For example, if you like the #12 horse in the race you can make your wager by simply saying “I want $2 across the board on the #12 horse” (or for whatever denomination you are comfortable with).

The win, place and show pool payouts are displayed based on the $2 minimum wager.

Win, place and show bets are known as straight wagers and is the simplest way to get involved. In addition to straight wagers, horse racing offers several “exotic wagers,” which are more difficult to get correct but the payouts can be life changing in some circumstances.



The definition of an Exacta is to select the first two finishers in a horse race in exactly the right order. There are several ways to bet an exacta. The first option is a straight exacta play, which is also known as an ice cold exacta. This is when you simply chose one horse for first and one horse for second. Other options of this wager can be a bit more complex:

Exacta Box: All exactas still need to have the correct first and second horses in the correct order, but, if you box your selections, the two horses can finish in any order. This also allows you to choose more than two runners but increases the cost of your wager.

Example: If you choose three horses in an exacta box, any two of your horses need to finish first and second – but you now have six possible combinations (1x2x3), so a $1 boxed Exacta will cost you $6.

Exacta Key Box: Where you key a horse for first and/or second. This bet is common when you have a strong opinion on a particular horse and try to gain value for this opinion. However, unlike a straight wager, your ticket cost will increase for each horse you add to the bet. The cost of your ticket is based on how many combinations you have in your wager multiplied by the initial wager amount.

Example: You love the #2 horse and can’t separate the rest of the field therefore you key in on the #2 and use several (or all of the horses) to finish in the other position. Let’s say that you think the #2 will win and want to guarantee to cash a ticket if that happens. You would bet an exacta – lets say for a $2 minimum – horse #2 with all. In other words you are betting the 2 to win the race and any horse can finish second. This ticket would cost the initial $2 multiplied by combinations you have made (2x1x20 = $40).


The definition of a Trifecta is to select the first, second and third place in the exact order. Cashing a trifecta ticket is a difficult task. Trifecta betting will often give you a nice payday if you can cash a ticket. If you look at last year’s Kentucky Derby, for example, the $2 Win payoff got you a return of $7.80, a $2 Exacta payoff got you a $69.60, and a $2 Trifecta payoff got you $282.80.

For a trifecta play, there are the same options as with the exacta play. You can bet a straight Trifecta, a trifecta box, and a trifecta key.

Trifecta Box: As with an exacta box any time you add more horses to the wager you also increase how much you pay for your ticket.

-three selections in a trifecta box is six bets (wager cost multiplied by 6)

-four selections in a trifecta box is 24 bets (wager cost multiplied by 24)

-five selections in a trifecta box is 60 bets (wager cost multiplied by 60)

-six selections in a trifecta box is 120 bets (wager cost multiplied by 120)

Trifecta Key Box: Similar to an Exacta Key, a trifecta key box is when you have a strong opinion on one horse and want to cover more options for the other spots. A trifecta key (using all horses in other spots) is very costly in large field races that most seasoned horse players will choose several other horses to accompany your key horse in the other spots.


The definition of a superfecta bet is to correctly choose the horses which will finish the race first, second, third and fourth, in the correct order. A superfecta is similar to the exacta and trifecta play but adds the fourth-place finisher into the mix. As with exactas and trifectas, you can play the wager straight, boxed or keyed. But, as with exactas and trifectas, when you add more horses and combinations to your ticket the cost also goes up.

Obviously, this wager is much more difficult and can lead to life-changing scores. For example, in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, the $1 superfecta paid $276,503.20 (Note: 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner Mine that Bird won at odds of 50-1). But even last year with the favorite Justify winning the Kentucky Derby, the $1 superfecta paid $19,6118.20


For those feeling really ambitious, or lucky, or just want to take a shot at a monster score, a super hi-five is the way to go. A super hi-five is when you correctly select the first-, second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishers, in that correct order. Last year, the $1 Super Hi-Five paid $183,580.20.

Kentucky Derby 146 is right around the corner and the pools are ripe for the taking. Whether it is simply a win, place or show wager or taking a shot at the super hi-five, horse racing has a vast amount of bets that can be made and as referenced can be a life changing day for some lucky bettors. Best of luck to all of those wagering.



Stokastic +

Premium Data and Tools
Ownership Projections
Lineup Builder
Fantasy Cruncher (ADD-ON)
NHL Lineup Study
NHL Discord Server
Ownership Projections
Top Golfers Tool
PGA Tournament Models
PGA Lineup Builder
PGA Lineup Study
PGA Discord Server
Ownership Projections
Top Drivers Tool
NASCAR Discord Server
NASCAR Fantasy Cruncher
Formula 1 Projections
F1 Discord Server
USFL Projections
USFL Discord Server
Ownership Projections
Top Fighters Tool
MMA Discord Server
MMA Fantasy Cruncher
NFL Betting Tools
Stokastic Discord Server
Stokastic's team of professional dfs players and sports bettors win millions of dollars every year


Our mathematical, results-based models use millions of data points to produce superior insights. We provide the very best in fantasy sports and betting data in real time.


We provide our users with the same tools we use to win every day. From advanced derived data models like our Boom/Bust and Top Stacks tools, to all-in-one solutions like Lineup Generator, our toolbox is open.


We're proud of having the smartest, funnest, and most engaged community in the sports gaming industry. Join us today on Discord and Youtube and see what the buzz is about.

Subscribe to the Stokastic newsletter

DFS advice, exciting promos, and the best bets straight to your inbox

Stokastic.com - Daily Fantasy Sports and Sports Betting Data, Tools, & Analytics