You have two categories of wagers to choose from when you bet on the ponies: straight wagers and exotic wagers. For a beginner, I recommend sticking with straight wagers. They are simple and cheap. You simply pick one horse to come in first, second, or third. The minimum bet at the racetracks that I recommend for a straight wager is just .50.
Exotic wagers allow you to make multiple bets on multiple horses in a single wager. Exotic wagers are generally much more difficult to win than straight wagers, require an advanced degree of skill and knowledge in horse picking, and are more expensive. However, the payoffs on exotic wagers are much greater than straight ones.
WIN– You are betting that your horse will come in first place. If your horse finishes in first, you get to collect.
PLACE– When you bet on your horse to “place,” you are betting that your horse will come in first OR second. If your horse finishes in first or second, you get to collect. Payout for a place bet is less than a win wager, but you do have the security of being able to cash in if your horse finishes in the top two spots.
SHOW– You are betting that your horse will come in first, second, OR third. Since you are hedging your bets, you have a higher chance of winning, but the payout for a show bet is substantially less than a win or place wager.
ACROSS THE BOARD– When you bet across the board, you are betting your horse to win, place, AND show. An across-the-board bet is what’s called a “combo straight wager” because it is three different bets (win, place, AND show) in one. Because it is three bets in one, an across-the-board bet is more expensive than a simple win/place/show wager. For example, a $2 across-the-board wager will cost you $6, because you are making three $2 bets. If your horse comes in first, you get the win, place, and show money. If your horse finishes second, you get place and show money. If your horse comes in third, you just get the show money. Across-the-board bets are NOT usually a good wager because they are expensive and have less profit potential.
WIN/PLACE, PLACE/SHOW– Similar to an across-the-board bet in that you are making multiple straight wagers in a single bet. In a win/place bet, you’re betting your horse to win AND place. If he wins, you collect both the win and place money. If he finishes second, you collect just the place money. In a place/show bet, you are betting that your horse will place and show. If your horse finishes second, you collect the place and show money; if he finishes third, you just get the show money. Because you are placing multiple wagers on your horse in a single bet, a win/place and place/show is more expensive. A $2 win/place bet will cost you $4 because you are betting $2 that your horse wins and $2 that your horse places.
Exotic wagers allow you to bet on multiple horses in a single bet, allowing you to increase your profit potential. But as I mentioned above, they’re much harder to win than straight bets, can get expensive if you’re not careful, and require much more skill in handicapping horses. Feel free to experiment with some exotic wagers after you’ve done a few straight bets.
EXACTA– You are betting on two horses to come in first and second in an exact order. For example, if you placed a $2 exacta on horses 3 and 5, you can only collect if horse #3 comes in first and horse #5 comes in second. Exacta bets are popular among skilled horse handicappers because the payoff can be very lucrative. You can also “box” your exacta bet which means your two horses can come in any order in the top two spots and you still win. Boxing an exacta costs twice as much as a straight exacta bet. So a $2 box exacta on horses 3 and 5 will cost you $4.
QUINELLA– With a quinella bet, you are betting on two horses to come in first and second in any order. As long as your two horses finish in the top two spots, you win. So if you placed a $2 quinella bet on horses 2 and 5, you can collect if horse #2 and horse #5 come in first and second in any order. You might be thinking, “What’s the difference between a quinella and a box exacta? Both let you win if your two horses come in first or second.” The big difference is cost: a $2 quinella bet costs $2 while a $2 box exacta bet will cost you $4. Why would someone pay more for a box exacta if it is essentially the same bet as a quinella? The payout for a box exacta is generally more than a quinella bet, that is why!
TRIFECTA– You bet that three horses will finish in first, second, and third in an exact order. If you place a $2 trifecta bet on 1-5-7, you can only collect if horse #1 comes in first, horse #5 comes in second, and horse #7 comes in third. You can also box your trifecta bet so you can win if your three horses come in first, second, and third in any order. Boxing a trifecta will significantly increase the cost of your bet because there are many combinations. So a $2 box trifecta bet will actually cost you $12 or a $1 trifecta boxed will cost you $6.
SUPERFECTA– You bet that four horses will finish, first, second, third, and fourth in an exact order. As with exactas and trifectas, you can box a superfecta at an additional cost.