There are two types of horse racing wagers—straight bets, where you bet on a single horse in a single race and exotic bets, where you bet on multiple horses in the same race or a series of races.  In this guide we’ll focus on exotic bets and more specifically multiple race exotic bets.  Exotic bets are significantly more difficult to win but pay out in the hundreds or thousands—even hundred thousands—of dollars.  For example, the $2 Pick 6 in the 2017 Kentucky Derby paid a whopping $875,335.40!  Not bad for three minutes of work.  If you’re familiar with sports betting, you’ll notice a lot of similarities between exotic bets and multiple bet parlays.  Also worth noting—you’ll frequently hear multiple race exotic bets referred to as ‘vertical’ wagers and single race exotics as ‘horizontal’ wagers.

Multiple race exotic bets might seem like a fairly new addition to horse racing.  That’s not really the case—in fact, the ‘Daily Double’ bet was the sport’s first exotic wager.  It began at Canada’s Connaught Park Racetrack in the early 1930’s.  The ‘early daily double’ sought to get players to the track early while the ‘late daily double’ hoped to keep them from leaving before the race card ended.  For many years it was the only exotic until the exacta was introduced at horse race tracks.  At the time the limitations of the electro-mechanical totaliser meant that more complex exotic bets simply weren’t viable.

Technology opened the door for greater complexity in bet structure.  That facilitated the Pick 3, Pick 4 and Pick Six along with novelty variations like the ‘Rainbow 6’.


The specific bets are also very simple:

DOUBLE:  The fundamental multiple race exotic bet.  The bettor has to pick the winning horse in two consecutive races.  The term ‘daily double’ has fallen from favor in the 21st century since most tracks now offer ‘rolling doubles’ where bettors can pick winners in any two consecutive races.  ‘Daily Double’ holdovers will often have an ‘early double’ on the first two races on the card and/or a ‘late double’ on the last two races.

PICK 3:  Follows the same structure as the double, only with more races.  The Pick 3 requires the bettor to correctly pick the winner in three consecutive races.  Most tracks will have at least one and often two Pick 3’s per card.

PICK 4:  Like the Pick 3, only involving four races.  The Pick 4 requires the bettor to correctly pick the winner in four consecutive races.  Most tracks will have at least one and often two Pick 4’s per card.

PICK 6:  The Pick 6 our requires the bettor to correctly pick the winner in six consecutive races.  Most tracks will have one Pick 6 on a daily racing card.  In many cases, racetracks offer a smaller prize for bettors who select the winner in 5 of 6 races in the Pick Six.

PLACE PICK ALL:  A derivative of the Pick 3/4/6.  The bettor must pick a horse to finish first or second in every race on the card (typically 8 or 9 races).  For purposes of this bet the exact finish position doesn’t matter—just that the selected horses for each race finishes in the top two.

In many of these multiple race ‘vertical’ wagers bettors will typically select multiple options.  This can be an effective strategy but can also race the ‘risk/reward’ dynamic of making an exotic horse race bet.  For example, take a $2 Pick 6 bettor who tries to cover two horses in each race.  This would require the purchase of 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 or = 64 tickets.  At $2 a pop, the bettor would have to expend  $128 to cover two runners in each of six races.  Assuming ten horses per race, a Pick 6 wager offers a staggering number of possible combinations—10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 or which factors out to 1 million different combinations!