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 the exotic bets that happen within a single race.  In a subsequent article, we’ll address multi-race exotics.  and tackle exotics in a subsequent article. 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.

‘Straight bets’ are the oldest type of horse racing bet and in some form date back to the early days of the sport.  Exotic bets had their genesis in the 20th century and were created to add more of a ‘jackpot’ element to horse racing.  As the competition for gambling dollars became more intense, new exotic bets were a reaction to the popularity of state lotteries and networked progressive slot jackpots.  People clearly enjoy betting against astronomical odds with the potential of a life changing payout.  The ‘exotic’ bet targets that market though they also have appeal to the serious horse player.  In fact, many horse players prefer to bet exotics since they’re statistically a better deal than multiple straight bets.  If you win a dozen straight bets, you’ll feel the hit of the track ‘takeout’ twelve times.  With a winning exotic bet ticket you’ll take that charge only once.

You won’t necessarily find every type of wager at every track for every race.  Traditionally, the exotic payout returns are found underneath the ‘win, place’ show’ results in the Daily Racing Form or on the tote board.  In most exotic bets, you’ll be taking different combinations of horses in hopes of maximizing your chances of winning.


The specific bets are also very simple:

EXACTA:  To win an Exacta wager the bettor must pick the first and second place finishers for a specific race in order.  Depending on where you are in the world, you may hear this bet type referred to as a ‘Perfecta’ or ‘Exactor’ but in North America it’s almost always called the ‘Exacta’.

QUINELLA:  A Quinella bet is similar to the Exacta with one significant distinction—you’re still picking the first two finishers in a specific race but the order of finish doesn’t matter.  If you bet a Quinella on the 1 and 5 horses you’ll get paid the same no matter if the finish order is 1-5 or 5-1.  Since this is easier than picking the order of finish the Quinella will pay out at lower odds (usually half of what the Exacta) pays.

TRIFECTA:  Same concept as the Exacta, only with the top three finishers.  You’ll select the first, second and third place finishing horses in order for a specific race.  In some parts of the world, this bet type is called the ‘Triactor’.

SUPERFECTA:  Another ‘pick the finishers in order’ type of bet, only with the top four horses in the race.