Sports Betting Tips: How to Bet on Horse Racing for Beginners

Want to bet on the Kentucky Derby and not sure how to bet on horse racing? You have your invitation to the Kentucky Derby party, bought your hat, have the racing forum showing the past performances of the entrants, now what?   Sports Betting Tips: How to Bet on Horse Racing for Beginners.

The Kentucky Derby and big race days like it are the perfect opportunity to win a large sum of cash if you can find the right combination of horses, but to most people it can be pretty intimidating approaching a betting window at the track, an OTB or a sports/race book at a casino.  With terms like Exacta, Trifecta, Superfecta, Super High Five a number of people have no idea what they are even betting on, but I hope a brief introduction can get you to approach the betting window with the confidence of a seasoned horseplayer.


Unlike many forms of sports betting, when you place a wager on a horse race you are not playing against the house, but rather the other bettors who are wagering on that specific race, or range of races.  This is called pari-mutuel betting where all of the bets that have been placed go into wagering pools.  The track then takes out a cut for their expenses which is commonly referred to as takeout.  The remaining pool is then distributed to all of the winning ticket holders.

Straight Bets

The most basic bets in horse racing are Win, Place and Show and should be where you start your horse playing for the amateur gambler.  These are commonly referred to as straight bets.

A Win bet is exactly what it sounds like, a bet to select the winner of the race.  If the horse you bet to win does not win the race your ticket is worthless.

A Place bet will pay you back if the horse you select finishes first or second in the race.

A Show bet is the most conservative wager on a horse race and will return your wager if the horse finishes the race first, second or third.

You will often hear a bettor use the term Across the Board at the betting window.  This means that you are placing a Win, Place and Show bet on a particular race. If you want to bet a horse to WPS (Win, Place Show) you can tell the teller that you want $2 Across the Board on the number of the horse and you will receive a $2 Win bet, a $2 Place bet and a $2 Show bet on the same entrant for a total investment of $6.

Vertical Bets

Vertical bets are bets that are made on the same race selecting the finishers in the correct order.

The most common vertical bet is the Exacta. A winning Exacta bet selects the top two finishers in a race in the exact order of finish.  You can bet a straight Exacta for $2, and most tracks offer box or wheel bets in $1 increments.

Another type of vertical bet is the Trifecta. A winning Trifecta bettor selects the top three finishers in the race in their exact order of finish.  A majority of tracks offer a minimum bet of $0.50 on a Trifecta wager.

The Superfecta is another common vertical bet that you will hear bettors make at the track.  A winning Superfecta ticket selects the top four finishers of a race in order and usually is available at most tracks in a 10 cent increment.  Please be aware that the minimum Superfecta wager at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day is $1.

The Super High-5 is one of the more modern wagers introduced approximately 10 years ago.  In this wager, which usually has a $1 base minimum, you need to select the first five finishers in order of a particular race.  This is not a wager for amateur bettors as building a winning ticket can get very expensive.

Horizontal Bets

Horizontal bets are wagers placed across multiple races where you must select the winner of each race in the sequence.

The most common type of horizontal wager is the Daily Double.  To win this wager you need to select the winner of two consecutive races.

The following horizontal bets are self-explanatory, and all except the Pick 6 are usually available in 50 cent increments-

Pick 3– select the winner of 3 consecutive races

Pick 4– select the winner of 4 consecutive races

And for big payoffs:

Pick 5– select the winner of 5 consecutive races

Pick 6– select the winner of 6 consecutive races

Additional Betting Terms

Two common terms you will hear at the track are Box and Wheel when placing your horse wagers.

When you box a wager at the track you are playing all of the possible combinations of a group of horses. The positive is that you cover more combinations with your wager.  However the negative is you increase the cost of your ticket.  If you place a $2 Exacta box bet on the 1, 2 and 3 horses your total ticket will cost $12 and you will have $2 Exacta bets on the following combinations: 1-2, 1-3 2-1, 2-3, 3-1 and 3-2.  In essence you are making 6 straight Exacta wagers without having to state every combination.

A way to cut back the cost of your tickets is to use a wheel bet where you use multiple horses in one or more positions on your ticket.  An example of a wheeled Exacta is when you believe only two horses can win a race. This with the understanding that many horses could finish in the second position.  When placing a wheel bet you would tell the teller that you want to bet a $2 Exacta 1 and 2 with 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

By using the term with, you are telling the teller that you are selecting those entrants in the second position.  In this case you would be betting the following Exactas 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5, 2-1, 2-3, 2-4 and 2-5 for a total of $16 in $2 Exactas.  If the 1 or 2 horses win the race and either the 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 horses finish second, you would hold a winning Exacta ticket.

Placing your Bet

Many people are intimidated by the betting window.  You stand in what is often a long line and everyone is trying to get their bets in before the betting closes for a particular race.  The tellers are there to assist you, but you will make their job easier by following the following script when place your bet.

First, state the name of the track – for example Churchill Downs

Second, state the race number you would like to wager on – for example Race 12

Third, state the amount of your bet, and the type of bet – for example $2 Daily Double

Fourth state the runners you are selecting – for example 1 and 4 with 2, 6 and 8.

Have your money ready to pay the teller and before you leave the counter check your tickets for accuracy. Step to the right or left, and let the next bettor get the window, but do not leave the counter until you verify that the ticket is punched the way you want it.  If there is a discrepancy on your ticket, advise the teller and they will cancel the ticket and re-enter it for you.

Once you place your wager, grab your seat, or find a spot in front of the grandstand and watch your horse come home.  After that you can return to the teller and cash your winning ticket.

2018 Kentucky Derby Predictions and Odds (144th Annual – Saturday, May 5)

Sports Betting Tips: How to Bet on Horse Racing for Beginners

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