How to Bet on Horse Racing

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With the entire sports world pretty much shutting down due to the COVID-19 outbreak, gamblers are left with very few options to satisfy the cravings in the world of betting.

The NBA has gone dark for at least 30 days. So has the NHL, PGA Tour, ATP/WTA tennis tours and all top-flight professional soccer leagues.

Major League Baseball won’t start its season on time. Perhaps the most disappointing news was the cancellation of the always-popular men’s and women’s Division I college basketball tournaments.

However, horse racing will continue across North America during this global pandemic and it looks like it will be one of the only sports you can get action on for quite some time.

Racetracks are shutting out spectators and functioning behind closed doors, but that won’t stop the thoroughbreds from running as usual and giving sports bettors a ray of light in the gaming world.

That said, it’s important we give you some basic information on standard (and more exotic) wagers you can make at various racetracks and sports books/sites during this hiatus.

Take a look at some of the types of wagers you can make on the ponies, in hopes of heading back to the window with that winning ticket.

Examples of Common Wagers


As simple as it sounds. You are placing money on your horse to win the race.


The wager you make if you believe your horse is going to finish first or second in a race.


You would make this wager and win if your horse finishes in first, second or third place.

What I sometimes like to do is pick a horse to win the race and bet him/her “across the board,” meaning I am putting a certain dollar amount on that horse to finish either first, second or third. That way, you cover everything. If the horse wins, you are going to collect the payouts on all three positions. If they finish second, you collect the place and show spots. A third-place finish will get you just the show money.


This is where you pick two horses and they have to finish in the exact order you place them on your ticket. For example, say you like the No. 3 horse in a race at Gulfstream Park in Florida to win and also think the No. 9 horse will finish second. You would put the wager in as a 3-9 exacta in that order for the play.

If you like both or horses, think they’re going to go 1-2 in the race, but don’t know who’s going to finish first, you have the option of “boxing" the horses together. That way, you have both horses covered on the order of finish. You have to double your wager amount to make this play, so it’s more costly but worth the risk.

Personally, I like the exacta play second only to the wager I will discuss next. You can go many routes with the exacta play, usually via the two ways I mentioned above. Or, in some cases where I think there is a likely winner, I will key a single horse on top of several others in a particular race in an attempt to cover a larger group of potential runner-up finishers.


This is my favorite wager in horse racing. For me, there is no better play among the exotic wagers. This is where you correctly predict the exact order of finish for first, second and third place in a single race. Example: You like the No. 2 horse to win; the No. 5 for place; the No. 8 for show; and, you would like to make a $1 wager on trifecta. You would then place the bet as a $1 trifecta 2/5/8. Simple as that.

Where this wager gets better and more lucrative is when you build a trifecta ticket using multiple horses in a race. I like to pick two horses that I think will finish either first, second or third as my main horses, then tack on horses I think are just outside the top two in a given race and put them underneath in the place and show positions.

So, say I like the No. 1 and No. 3 as the most likely winners, but I also like the No. 5 and No. 7 to finish in the money. So I would play a $1 trifecta 1/3 — 1/3/5/7 — 1/3/5/7. That means, Nos. 1 or 3 can win the race and the one that does not cross the finish line first can finish in either second or third, along with Nos. 5 and 7, to be a winning ticket.

I like to go even deeper on the trifecta wagers, using multiple horses (including long shots in show position) in hopes of catching some big numbers and payouts with some luck. It’s the vertical wager I have had the most success with in horse racing and enjoy putting these kinds of tickets together.


This wager is like the trifecta, with the only difference being you have to correctly pick the exact order of finish for the top four runners in a particular race. This wager is geared more toward the experienced and veteran players. However, many tracks offer $0.10 superfecta wagering that make it more attractive for the novice or casual player to get involved in this kind of exotic play at a reasonable cost. Sometimes you can get lucky and catch a nice payout even on a smaller wager.

Other Exotic Wagers

Daily Double

This wager is offered across North American tracks, so you will be able to find it at pretty much any sportsbook or legal online gaming site. This wager is where you try to come up with the winner in two consecutive races. The minimum wager is $1 pretty much everywhere, but you can increase your play if you’re feeling confident. Daily doubles are not offered every race, but the majority of tracks have several of those wagers available on any given card.

Pick 3 and Pick 4

This is another vertical wager that plays exactly like it sounds. This is where a player attempts to correctly pick winners of either three or four consecutive races. Obviously, this is much harder and more costly, but the payouts can be large if you can catch the right horses in the wager. Many tracks offer this in various minimum wagering amounts, including $0.10 Pick 3 and Pick 4 plays.

Several tracks across North America also offer Pick 5 and Pick 6 wagers, which can lead to massive payouts. It isn’t uncommon to see winning tickets get into the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars in payouts when the right combination of horses connect over a stretch of races. Obviously, to hit something of that magnitude, you are going to have to connect on some long shots along the way on that winning ticket.

However, in horse racing, anything is possible.

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