Types of Bets for Horse Racing

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Types of Bets for Horse Racing

Author: American Gambler Staff | Last Updated: May 5, 2023

Horse race betting has been enjoyed for centuries. And while the thrill of watching magnificent race to the finish line can be exhilarating, betting on horse races adds another layer of excitement. Before placing a bet, it's important to understand how the odds work and what types of bets are available.

To begin with, every horse in a race is given odds that reflect their likelihood of winning. These odds will change based on factors such as track conditions and recent performances by the horse.

As with other types of sports betting, oddsmakers will list the horse racing odds as favorites or underdogs. A negative number associated with a horse signifies that horse is the favorite; a positive number is the underdog.

Here is a look at all the different types of bets for horse racing.

Straight Bets


Once you've decided which horse you want to bet on, there are several different types of bets. The most common type is a “win” bet, where you pick which horse will finish first in the race.


Another popular option when making horse racing bets includes “place” bets. Here, bettors choose a horse they expect to come in first or second place. The place isn't relevant – the only condition that matters is the horse finishing in one of the two spots.


When placing a “show” bet, bettors select the horse they think will finish in one of the top three places. As with a place bet, the goal is to see the horse among the first three to cross the finish line.

Across the Board

This wager is essentially a combination of the other three straight bets. The bettor places three wagers – one each on win, place and show – for the same horse. If the horse wins, all three bets are winners. If the horse places, the second and third parts of the wager pay. If the horse shows, then just the show payout is valid. 

Exotic Bets

Exotic bets are more specific than straight bets. In addition to making the best of the bettor's skill, a certain amount of luck comes into play. They offer potentially lucrative payouts but require significantly more skill and knowledge than simpler bets.


In an exacta bet, the bettor is predicting which two horses will finish, respectively, in first and second place. 


The quinella is an exacta that only requires that the two horses included in the wager finish in the top two places – it doesn't depend on the order. 

Box Bet

A box bet is similar to a quinella, but can be made with more than two horses. In other words, if you like three horses to finish in first and second place and can't narrow down the options, you can wager on all three in a specific order. 

As the number of horses increases, so do the combinations of possible outcomes. These conditions make the box bet pricier, but also more lucrative should it win. 

Key Bet

A key bet is a trifecta with an important twist. The bettor chooses which horse must win and then selects two more to place and show. However, the second- and third-place finishers don't have to follow any order. 


A trifecta adds a third spot to the bet, but follows the same pattern. The bettor has to correctly predict, in order, the top three finishers of the race.


As the pattern continues, a superfecta means choosing the top four horses in order. If any are out of order or one of the selected horses fails to make it in the top four spots, much like a parlay bet in football, the entire bet fails.

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Daily Double

The daily double bet in horse racing betting is a long-standing and well-liked option for horse racing bettors. It was once confined to the first two races, but now many races in different regions implement the daily double on the final pair. This makes wagering more enjoyable for the spectators and keeps them tuned in until the event is over.

In essence, a daily double involves selecting a winner from two successive horse races held on the same day. The initial form of this bet remains a favorite among those who follow horse racing, as it provides an initial high payout and the chance for customers to continue betting in the subsequent days.

The diversity the daily double bet offers is a significant contributing factor to its wide popularity. The various types of horse bets within this category appeal to bettors; however, it may pose a considerable challenge to some.

There are four types of daily doubles in horse racing betting:

  • Early Daily Double – a daily double on the first two races of a particular day
  • Late Daily Double – a daily double on the last two races of a particular day
  • Running Daily Double – a daily double that includes a wager on two consecutive races (1 and 2, 3 and 4, etc.) for an entire event
  • Multiple Daily Double – a standard daily double, but with multiple choices on each leg

Pick 3, 4, 5, and 6

The Pick 3 (Pick 4, etc.) takes the daily double one step further. The Pick 3 requires bettors to forecast the winners of three straight races. Compared to the daily double, the complexity of Pick 3 (and the other picks) is heightened, offering the potential for a larger payout.

Comparing the complexity, Pick 3 shares similarities with a trifecta wager as both demand the individual to forecast the outcome of three horses. However, Pick 3 segregates the trio of bets into three separate races and relies on picking only the first-place horses.

At most race tracks, there are two types of Pick 3 bets: Early Pick 3 and Late Pick 3. The former covers the day's first three races, whereas the latter covers the last three. 

In addition to these options, some tracks also make available a Pick 3 roll bet that covers all three races on that particular day. It's worth noting that every Pick 3 bet operates with its own unique betting pool. 

When it comes to betting, placing one successful bet on three separate horse races will earn a person three placements. This leads to Pick 3 bets yielding more profits than opting for three individual win bets on separate races.

Parlay Bets

Parlay bets on horse races aren't common in the US. However, they can be found on some sportsbooks. As with other types of sports betting, the objective is to combine different types of bets (a Win bet in one race with a trifecta in a different event) into one bet. If the bet wins, the payout is significantly higher than if the two wagers were made separately. 

Types of bets for horse racing

Proposition Bets

Prop bets have some of the highest entertainment value of all sports bets because there is almost no limit to what can be offered. A prop bet could include which jockey will have the most wins during an event, whether a horse stalls out the gate and more. However, there are two that are more common. 

Head-to-Head Prop Bet

A head-to-head prop bet challenges the bettor to determine how two jockeys will perform only against each other. In other words, if Jockey A will beat Jockey B, regardless of how they finish in the race. 


In horse race futures betting, bettors take a bigger risk. They may wager, for example, on a particular horse's performance in a race before knowing whether that horse will qualify. 

Bettors also wager on the winner of a race, such as the Kentucky Derby, before the new season begins. 

There are still a lot of variables that have to be considered when making horse racing bets, and a lot can happen between the time the bet is placed and the race occurs.

Betting Strategies

Understanding the different types of bets when making horse racing picks is crucial for any bettor. Without knowing the various bet types, one may lose a ticket even if they picked the winning horse. Understanding how each type operates and when to use them is important.

One reason it's essential to comprehend all betting options is that it maximizes your chances of making profits while minimizing losses. Each wager has unique features; some come with higher payouts but are riskier than others. By understanding these differences, you can decide which wagers offer better value based on your view of a race.

Another reason knowledge of bet types matters is that it allows you to tailor your strategy according to your experience level or goals as a gambler. For beginners, simple bets like Win, Place or Show might appeal more than exotic ones like Trifecta or Superfecta.

Always look at the horse's past performances overall, as well as at a particular track. Both will play a role in the upcoming race. It's possible to find many past races on YouTube, allowing bettors to check the replays. 

Mastering the different kinds of bets available in horse racing enables you to place smarter wagers. It gives you an advantage over other bettors who don't take this aspect seriously enough.

Box Betting

To successfully make box bets, the first step is to narrow down the selections. Choose the horses most likely to finish first and second, even if you're left with three or four (or more) choices.

Then, mix them up into the bet. For example, if you chose three horses, there are six possibilities for the bet to pay out:

  • Horse A and Horse B (win and show)
  • Horse B and Horse C
  • Horse A and Horse C
  • Horse B and Horse A
  • Horse C and Horse B
  • Horse C and Horse A

As long as one of those conditions is met in the race, the bet will win. 

Key Betting

With a key bet, the focus is more on which horse will place. Given that there are always several top candidates in any race to finish among the top three, selecting just one is a challenge, and the key bet gives greater flexibility. 

You choose Horse A as the winner, leaving Horse B and Horse C as the possibilities to place. That gives only two options for the key bet, and either scenario will pay the wager:

  • Horse A and Horse B (win and show)
  • Horse A and Horse C 

Recap Of Bet Types

There are a number of ways to get into horse race betting and they all offer their own form of entertainment. For those looking to get started, a quick list of bet types includes the following:

  • Win, Place or Show straight bets
  • Exacta, Trifecta, Superfecta and daily double exotic bets
  • Head-to-head and futures prop bets

Tips For Betting Success

The first of several horse racing tips is to do your research. Study the horses, jockeys, trainers and track conditions before betting. This will give you an idea of which contenders have the best chance of winning.

Another tip is to set a budget for yourself and stick with it. Don't get carried away by emotions or impulses when betting on races. Be disciplined and make calculated decisions based on your research.

It's also important to manage your expectations regarding winning big payouts. While it's possible to hit a huge payout occasionally, most successful horse racing bettors earn consistent profits over time by making smart wagers rather than relying on luck alone.

Consider joining a horse racing community or finding a mentor to share their knowledge with you. Learning from others' experiences can help sharpen your skills and keep up with industry trends and developments.

American Gambler Staff