What Is A Horse Racing Quinella Wager?

You’ve got cash in your pocket or account, and you’re ready to play the ponies. Odds are you’ve placed the basic bets before — win, show, place and all the usual suspects — but now you want a bit more, something to add a bit of extra thrill as the horses charge down the track.

Hold on to your hats, as you’ve come to the right place to learn about bet types that are a little more exotic than normal.

Throwing you into the action, it’s time to take a long-needed look at the quinella bet, something that has likely caught your eye in the past.

This article answers all the hot questions, including how you can place a quinella, what you can win and what other types of bets are comparable. 

What is a quinella bet?

Quinella is a type of bet that involves selecting the top two finishers in a race, regardless of their actual order. So, as a quick example, suppose you placed a $5 quinella bet of 4-5. If the first two finishers of the race are either 5-4 or 4-5, the bet pays off. If one of the two horses doesn’t manage to win or place, then you lose everything.

Quinella bets are typically a minimum of $2, but have no maximum, so you can really ramp up the payout. Quinella bets typically appeal to gamblers who prefer to bet upon multiple horses without necessarily having to do exacta betting.

As an added bonus, quinella bets are typically cheaper, which might just give it an edge over an exacta punt.

This superiority is especially evident when comparing the two types of bets side-by-side. A quinella bet of 4-5 for $2 will pay for both 5-4 and 4-5 finishes.

By contrast, an exacta bet for the same set of winning combinations would be $4, because only one combination can win per bet using the exacta model. To counter this, a lot of horse racing tracks are letting bettors place $1 exacta bets. 

In theory, placing two $1 exacta bets for the 5-4 and 4-5 finishes is identical to placing a $2 quinella. But because each ticket costs only one dollar instead of two, the payout will be scaled down by half to reflect the lower cost of the ticket. This is why most gamblers seeking exotic bets stick with quinella, as it just seems to bring slightly more to the table. 

Types of quinella bets

Quinella betting is now in your crosshairs, but what type of quinella bet is going to suit you? It certainly helps to understand the options in front of you. Once again, we’re here to push you in the right direction.

The following are the three major forms of quinella wagers, with each providing different odds, difficulty and all-around bang for your buck.

 Straight quinella

In straight quinella betting, bettors are required to choose between two horses that they think will win. The order in which they finish doesn’t matter, so long as they take the top two spots.

One example is if a punter places a 5-8 $2 bet. This means that the bettor has bet on horses 5 and 8 to take the win and place (first and second) positions in the race. The horses can finish as 8-5 or 5-8, and the bettor will still collect. If one horse takes win or place but the other doesn’t, the bettor receives nothing at all. 

Example of a straight quinella bet

The payout of quinella bets is a direct function of how much money you wagered upon the horses you selected.

Exacta bets function the same way. When certain horses are selected more than others, they are said to be “favored” to win or place. This reduces the payout, because the odds of victory are higher.

By contrast, selecting a horse with less favorable odds will increase your payout due to the higher risk involved in betting on them. On average, quinella bets pay 50% less than exacta bets for the same horses. 

Quinella box

Box quinella bets allow the punter to choose more than two horses. Any combination of these horses taking win and place will pay out. This significantly reduces the odds of losing your bet, while reducing the amount you win by a proportional amount. Each additional horse you bet upon requires an additional $2.

As an example, say you decide to place a $2 quinella bet on horses 3, 5 and 8. These are three bets total — one on 5-8, another on 5-3 and another on 8-3 — each for $2 a time. Due to the number of winning combinations increasing factorially, the cost of betting on more horses scales exponentially:

  • 4 horses = $12 total bet
  • 5 horses = $20 total bet
  • 6 horses = $30 total bet

The math behind the changing odds is a bit complicated, but it might be worth the increased bet cost and reduced payout to select additional horses. The cost of adding horses is $2 + the cost of the previous bet, so at some point it isn’t worth adding more horses to your box.

Quinella wheel

The quinella wheel is a lot like the quinella box, except that bettors select a single horse to be in all the bets that they make. Other horses are combined in different ways, with one horse being the common denominator among all of them. This is an ideal betting pattern when only one horse is favored to win or place.

Quinella Wheel Bet Example

Quinella wheels let you cover all of your bases, so to speak, but do involve a more complex betting strategy.

For example, say a punter believes that horse No. 4 is most favored to win, but he doesn’t feel as sure about the other options. He may think that horses 2, 6 and 7 are also good choices.

In a quinella wheel bet, the bettor would make a $2 quinella bet as 2-6-7. The total bet size would be $6: 4-2 and 2-4, 4-6 and 6-4, and 4-7 and 7-4 are all winning combinations.

How does a quinella bet work in horse racing?

While there are certainly a few different forms of quinella bet, as you’ve seen from the above, all quinella bets do require you to select at least two competing horses. Two of your picks must win and place, or you win nothing. This type of bet is especially popular among punters, due to the advantageously priced dividends. The payout might be less, but a win is still a win in their eyes.

What is the difference between a quinella bet and boxed quinella bet?

Every race in which there are at least three runners allows you to place quinella bets. In quinella bets, you specify the maximum spend you want to make. For any combination of horses you pick, your minimum investment has to be at least 1%, and your spend per ticket must always be in whole dollar amounts. In most cases, your lowest spend is $3. The only exception to this is if your investment for each combination is 100%.

When calculating your potential winnings, the total amount is rounded to the nearest dollar. In box quinella, you can pick as many runners as you’d like; just make sure that two of your picks win and place. Increasing the number of picks increases the odds that you’ll win, but this also reduces your payout. Selecting fewer options increases the odds of failure, while also increasing the payout should your two picks win.

How to calculate quinella bets

 In every quinella bet that you make, you are required to select the two horses that you think will finish first or second. The order doesn’t matter, so long as both horses win and place. Exacta bets function the same way, except exacta bets care about the order of finish as well.

In principle, a $2 quinella bet should pay out as much as an equivalent $1 exacta bet. But due to the way in which handicaps work, this isn’t always the case. More experienced players will know how to compare the expected payoffs between the exacta and quinella bets to determine if it is more advantageous to bet one type over the other. 

In some cases, exacta bets pay far more than quinella bets if a favored horse doesn’t win. When calculating the payout of a quinella bet, use the same method as the exacta bet, then divide the amount you get by two. In some cases, you might find that there’s a significant difference between the two.

Quinella vs. exacta box

It’s common for novice gamblers to be confused over the differences between exacta and quinella bets. Because they are superficially the same type of bet, why should it matter which one you choose? For a long time, it was a matter of policy to set the bet floor to $5 for exacta bets, while quinella bets only required you to bet $2.

For gamblers on a budget, quinella bets were a great way to maximize how many bets they could make for the same amount of money. In recent years, many tracks have changed this, so now exacta bets cost the same amount as quinella bets. Since that change, the two have become less differentiated, with quinella bets certainly receiving a boost in popularity as a result.

We’ve said it several times over, but with quinella bets, the bettor is required to select two horses in a race. For the bettor to win, the horses must finish first and second. The order of the horses does not matter, so long as they both finish in the two top spots.

Exacts bets are much more rigid, demanding that the bettor also place the horses in the correct placing order. In order to maximize their exposure, bettors had to place two exacta bets to achieve the same coverage as a single quinella bet, and frequently at a higher price, too. Despite the enhanced risk, exacta bets don’t always pay out twice the winnings for the same bet.

The most significant part of quinella bets is that they are a single bet. The exacta box is always two bets for the same level of exposure. For $2 tickets apiece, exacta charges double for the same kind of bet. While the odds are the same, the prize pool between the two types of bets isn’t. Consider that when evaluating which of the two bets might be better if you win.

Furthermore, the track always takes a small cut out of the winnings. Because an exacta box requires two tickets, you are effectively forfeiting twice as much of your winnings to the house as you would if you just went straight quinella. 


What exactly is a quinella bet?

Quinella bets are easy enough to understand — they are a type of bet in which you select two horses you think will finish in the top two positions. Should the horses both finish in the top two, you win — regardless of what order they came in. It’s a near identical bet as an exacta box, but the prize pools are not the same — make sure to evaluate payouts for winning before you put down your money.

What is the minimum bet on a quinella wager?

Some horse tracks require a minimum $1 bet for quinella, although more traditional tracks still stick with the original $2 pricing model. If you’re betting online, the quinella bets have more or less the same minimum bet rate and stakes as if you were betting in-person.

How much can I win when I place a quinella wager?

There’s no limit on what you can win in a quinella bet. However, winnings are set by the pari-mutuel system; this is a system that makes all tickets share a portion of the winnings after the house’s share has been accounted for. Because quinella and exacta bets are so much alike, novice gamblers can easily be confused about how the payouts and odds are different. If you’re not sure as to the difference between the two types of wagers, we recommend that you read this entire guide once again before placing your first bet.

Aren’t quinella and exacta wagers practically the same?

Not quite, although they are somewhat similar. Quinella bets are more flexible because your picks can finish in any order while still paying out. In exacta bets, the order of the horses matters when determining if you’ve won. Just think of a quinella bet as a more flexible version of an exacta bet.

Which pays more, a quinella or exacta bet?

Once again, this really does come down to how much cash you are willing to bet. But, if you were going to speak strictly in a black and white fashion on the matter, exacta bets do tend to pay out more, as you’re betting on a specific first-place, second-place finish for the horses selected, in that order, rather than a finish in any order, which is the requirements of a quinella wager.

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