Exacta Horse Betting

Updated on January 29, 2020

There is simply no sport in the world quite like horse racing. Showcasing pure power on the track, it’s no wonder why these horse and jockey combinations command the attention of millions of punters around the world every single week. But what happens on the track is only part of what makes this sport so fun, as the betting markets in the world of horse racing never fail to bring the action.

From a basic flutter and beyond, there are countless ways for you to bet on the big (and not so big) races out there. If you’ve moved beyond the win, place and show side of betting — and we’re sure that if you are reading this article you likely have — it’s time to increase the potential returns with something more exotic or “exact.”

Odds are an exacta bet is exactly what you’re looking for. The following looks at the ins and outs of exacta betting, so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before you put down any cash.

What is an exacta bet?

Exacta bets, also referred to as perfecta or exactor bets, involve a bettor choosing two horses he thinks will place in the top two positions. Unlike the popular quinella bets, exacta bets require you to select the correct finishing order of the top two horses.

If your choices win and place, but in the order other than what you specified, you win absolutely nothing at all. To guard against this possibility, exacta bets allow you to box your horses, so that all possible combinations are covered. This increases your odds of success, but it also increases the cost of placing a bet.

Types of exacta bets

Like the quinella bet, an exacta bet is anything but one-dimensional — don’t worry, we’ll be comparing those two types of bets and clearing up a few misconceptions later on. Looking strictly at exacta bets, depending on how much risk you want to face, there are various ways for you to place such a wager.

While you might have to crunch the numbers, there is nothing to fear with exacta bets; it just takes a little knowledge to get the best out of them. The following are the three main types of exacta bet, with the requirements for each explained in detail.

Straight exacta

A straight exacta is exactly what the description above says. You pick two horses and the order in which you believe they’ll win and place. If you’re right, you win. If you get the order wrong, you lose, even if they both win and place.

Exacta Box Bet

The format is as follows: You place a 3-6 exacta bet for $2. This means that you expect horse No. 3 to win, and horse No. 6 to place. If the reverse happens, you win nothing. If it sounds simple, that’s because placing a straight Exacta bet pretty much is.

Exacta box

Exacta boxes are more flexible than straight exacta bets, which carry a higher amount of risk. These bets allow you to select more horses that you think will finish first or second. Each combination counts as a $2 bet. So, say you think horses 5 and 8 will win and place. You’d place 5-8 and 8-5 bets for $2 apiece, for a total of $4.

Fortunately, you aren’t limited to just two horses — you can select as many horses as you want to. This will substantially increase the odds of getting a payout, with the downside of exponentially increasing your bet size.

Exacta Box Betting Example

This type of exacta bet won’t limit you to the number of horses, but the significantly increasing odds of success are reflected in the price scheme for placing such bets. A bet with three horses would cost you just $12, but the cost of four or more horses is significantly higher.

Here is a quick example of how the pricing scheme would work, as the cost scales exponentially with each horse you add to your betting pool:

  • 4 horses = $42 total bet
  • 5 horses = $120 total bet
  • 6 horses = $240 total bet

Since the cost does not scale linearly, it rapidly reaches the point where the cost of adding more horses onto your bet does not overcome the increased odds of winning.

In the most extreme case, betting on eight horses will net you about $30 in winnings against a cost of nearly $680. While victory is virtually guaranteed with such odds, you’ll actually lose a lot of money making such a bet. Figuring out the most effective cost-to-bet ratio is an exercise best left to veteran players who understand the math of probability and statistics inside and out.

Exacta wheel

An exacta wheel bet involves bettors picking at least one horse that they think has what it takes to win reliably. This horse will serve as a common thread in a number of bets with different combinations of horses that you think will win. As an example, say you think horse 3 is the prime choice.

You want to select horses 1, 2, 5 and 6 as well. If you were only confident in horse 3’s ability to win or place consistently, you could place your bet like this: bet a wheel with horse 3 over 1, 2, 5 and 6. These five horses would yield a total bet size of $8 rather than $40, and would contain a much wider range of winning combinations.

Exacta wheel betting example

The lower bet size coupled with greater odds for success make this a prime option for bettors looking to maximize their odds of getting a payout.

How to play the exacta key 

Exacta keys are a popular way to maximize your chances of winning. The name comes from the fact that you think one horse is “key” to winning all your races, but you aren’t so sure that the other horses are up to finishing where you would like. You might think that horse 5 is the best, but horses 2, 6 and 8 might also be good choices to place. You select horse 5 as your key, and add the other three horses to your tickets. Horse 5 is selected to win, while all the other horses can place.

Exact Key Bet Example

As you have probably guessed already, there are some similarities between an exacta box wager and playing the exacta key.

What is the difference between an exacta and exactor Bet?

Exacta and exactor bets are two names for the same type of bet. These are bets in which you select two horses that you think will finish in the top two slots. You must select the horses in the correct order, or you’ll win nothing even if they still win and place. Some people seem to feel that an exactor bet is something different entirely. Not being one to burst anybody’s bubble, but it isn’t.

How to calculate an exacta payout 

There’s no “average” payout for an exacta bet — it varies significantly depending on the race, horses, track and even the weather. If two horses who are heavily favored to compete, you’ll likely win less than $12 on a winning ticket. Larger fields will boost this to around $35. If you’re feeling lucky, you can bet on a “dark horse,” which can yield returns in excess of $1,000. We know, this is simple horse race betting 101 for the most part, but there is a little more to it than that.

Because exacta bets vary so much even between races, scoreboards will commonly display the expected payouts for different kinds of exacta wagers. This gives you a prime opportunity to inspect for possible overlaps or advantageous combinations of horses. Alternatively, you can skip combinations that are less likely to pay out, and adjust your betting strategy accordingly. Most race tracks pay out exacta bets in $2 increments, starting at the minimum of a $2 payout.

Here are the calculations you’ll be looking at should you be looking at making an exacta bet:

  • If you place a $2 exacta box with both combinations, that will cost you a total of $4, because it means that both combinations of showings can net you a payout rather than just one.
  • If you place a $2 bet on a combination of three horses, this will now set you back $12 instead of $4. In this scenario, any two of the three horses you bet on can win and place, and you’ll still get a payout. 
  • If you place a $2 exacta key bet, then you will pick one horse to win in each race, and all the others must place. This will cost you $12. If you decide to go with two horses over four horses in an exacta key bet, then you’ll still have to pay $12, with an increment of $2 thereafter.

Quinella vs. exacta box

Due to the superficial similarities between the two bets, a lot of gamblers find themselves confused as to the difference between exacta and quinella bets. On the surface, they appear to be the same — so why would a bettor choose one format over the other? One key reason is because the lowest bet you can make is fixed at different amounts. Exacta bets used to require a $5 minimum versus just $2 for quinella, but this rule has been relaxed in some places. In some places, the cost of the two has been equalized to account for the extra tickets exacta bets need to achieve the same odds of payouts as quinella bets.

Quinella bets are often appealing to punters who are new to exotic bets, because the order in which their chosen horses finish does not matter at all. If you choose horse 3 and horse 5, they can finish in either order and give you a payout, so long as they both take the top two spots. Exacta bets are less flexible and require you to specify the correct finishing order of the horses. You can box your exacta bets to neutralize the odds, but this will cost you additional money for each bet you place. After considering the differing odds between the two, the payouts typically don’t vary too much. Which one you choose often comes down to preference.

That being said, a key distinction between the two is that the quinella bet counts as a single bet, whereas the exacta bet is considered to be two bets for the same odds. Quinella and exacta tickets both cost $2, but getting the same “coverage” with exacta bets requires you to buy two tickets rather than one, effectively doubling the cost to play with the same odds. And, because the track takes part of the winnings for itself, going the exacta route means that you’ll have to pay this fee twice. While the house might vary the percentage take between the two formats, in most cases exacta winds up costing you more. 

FAQ

What exactly is an exacta bet in horse racing? 

Exacta bets are when punters select two horses that they think will win and place, as well as the order in which they do so.

What is the minimum stake on an exacta bet?

Stakes start at $1 in some places, and $2 in others. If you’re gambling online, the minimum amounts are the same as if you were betting in-person.

How do I make an exacta bet?

Good news — you don’t need to be at a major horse racing track to make exacta bets. As a matter of fact, you don’t even need to be there at all. Nowadays, exacta bets can be placed online in most jurisdictions. Keep in mind, though — this isn’t true everywhere. We highly encourage you to check your state’s laws on online gambling before you go placing bets.

How much can I win with exacta bets?

The sky’s the limit when it comes to exacta bets, and if you have a “go big or go home” attitude, you can make an exacta wager to rake in the cash. Just remember that winnings are handled by the pari-mutuel system, which governs how prize money is distributed.

Which pays more, exacta or trifecta?

The trifecta always pays much more than exacta, because the odds of victory are significantly lower. In addition, the payouts are also determined by how much money was paid into them by all the combined bettors. Because trifecta bets have such long odds, not as many people buy tickets for these kinds of bets. Exacta bets usually attract more bettors, but the risk/reward ratio of trifecta bets attracts some people who might have otherwise bet exacta on a race.

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