What Is an Exacta?

Exacta wagers represent one of the most popular bets in the entire sport of horse racing. To win, bettors have to pick the first two in the order of finish in a particular race. If you can do that, you should be able to make a decent amount of money on a relatively small wager.

Exacta BetIn the sport of horse racing, betting has always played a major part of its allure. While betting was often considered illegal in other sports like football or basketball, horse racing and wagering have always gone hand in hand. Since the sport has been in existence for hundreds of years, the system for wagering in the sport has been honed over a long period of time.

For those who have never been involved as fans of the sport, however, that system can seem quite confusing. Not knowing how it’s done can keep you from ever trying to do it.

In actuality, betting on horse racing isn’t all that complicated once you learn the lingo. And you should be able to take advantage of all of the different types of bets to find the wagers that really fit your style. You can base it on your tolerance for risk and the amount of money that you’re hoping to win.

Why Choose Exacta Horse Betting

In the case of exacta wagers, you can find a sweet spot between safety and payoff. To win an exacta, you have to pick both the first and second-place finisher of a particular race.

You can either play an exacta straight, which means the horses have to come in first and second in the exact order you specify. Or you can box it, which means the top two can come in any order.

With an exacta, you’re looking to take advantage of the fact that you feel confident about the horses you think will finish first and second in the race. This wager usually pays off more than a straight wager, where you would be betting on just a single horse to finish either first, second, or third. And you can make it for the same amount of money that it would take to make a straight wager, so it’s a cost-effective wager as well.

The tricky part of exacta betting on horse races is that you can only win if the horses you pick do indeed finish first and second. In other words, if only one of the two comes through, you will not win the wager. As a result, the risk is a bit greater than a straight bet, and it takes a little bit more handicapping skill to make it work out for you.

In the following article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about exacta wagering in the sport of horse racing. We’ll explain how it works, how you can place this wager in person and at gambling websites, and how it will get paid off. And we’ll also talk about exacta betting strategy, as well as explaining some of the advantages and disadvantages for this particular wager compared to others.

How an Exacta Horse Racing Wager Works

Before we can talk about the good and the bad of exacta horse racing betting, we have to explain how it works. When you make an exacta wager, you try to predict the horses that come in first and second in a race.

This can work two ways. A straight exacta requires you to pick horses in the exact order they will finish.

In other words, let’s say you want to make an exacta wager using horses #4 and #6 in a particular race. You think that the #4 will finish first and #6 will finish second.

If you play that bet straight, you would need the #4 to finish in first and the #6 to finish in second. And both parts of that have to occur if you’re to win that wager. In other words, you wouldn’t win if the race ended with the #4 finishing first and the #6 finishing third.

You would also come up short if the #6 came in first and the #4 finished second. But that wouldn’t be the case if you boxed your exacta. Any time you box an exacta wager in horse racing, you will win as long as the horses included finish in any order in the top 2.

As a result, if you bet a 4-6 exacta and box it, you would win if the race ended with #4 in first and #6 in second. You would also win if the #6 came in first and the #4 in second.

In the past, many horse racing tracks had a separate name for a boxed exacta. It was known as a quinella, and it often was included in a different betting pool with separate odds from the Exacta betting pool. But the quinella wager is rarely found at horse racing tracks today.

Obviously, your chances of hitting an Exacta wager will increase the less horses in the field. For example, if there are only five or six horses in a race, you can expect to have a legitimate chance to win. But if there are 12 horses in a race and you’re trying to pick the top 2 out of that field, it can be very difficult.

You also have to realize that your chances of winning lots of money on an Exacta wager will generally be greater if the field is bigger. We’ll talk more about all of that when we get to the odds and payback section of this article. For now, let’s take a look at how to place your Exacta wagers.

How to Make an Exacta Bet

It can be tricky, especially when you’ve never wagered before, to lay down any kind of a horse racing bet. We’ll walk you through this process when it comes to making an exacta wager.

If you’re making your wager via an online gambling site, you at least have the ability to check and double-check what you’re doing with your bet. The best sites will have an intuitive horse racing gambling section that leads you through every part of your bet.

The five parts of making your bet:

  • The track
  • The race
  • The horses
  • The amount of money you’re willing to spend
  • The type of bet(s)

When you use an online gambling site, you’ll see different drop-down sections for all of these different parts. You should take your time and make your choices carefully before pressing the button to complete your wager. If you’re looking for somewhere to bet on horse racing online, go ahead and click the link below to get taken to our page on the best horse racing betting sites.

Horse Racing CTA

You’ll likely have the same kind of experience if you go to a physical horse racing betting site, such as a race track or an OTW (off-track wagering) location, and use a self-bet kiosk. Everything will be laid out for you so that you can take your time and get everything just right.

But some people don’t like the idea of dealing with technology and want to make their wager with the assistance of another human being. If that’s you, go to a betting site where there are tellers to help you out.

For those that prefer to make an exacta wager with a teller, here’s an example of what you might say:

“At Churchill Downs, Race #3, I’d like to bet a 2-5 exacta.”

That will let the teller know everything they need. They will print out a ticket in exchange for your money.

You should always check your ticket before you leave to make sure it’s correct. If you don’t check it and end up with something different from what you wanted, you won’t be able to change it once the race starts.

You might notice there’s one part of the bet that isn’t mentioned, which is the amount that you want to bet. Tellers will always assume, if you don’t mention anything different, that you want to make a $2 wager. That’s usually the minimum bet in any horse racing establishment.

If you would like to bet higher than that, you’ll have to mention that to the teller. You can generally go up as high as you want, but you usually can’t go below $2.

In addition, the teller will assume you’re making a straight exacta bet if you don’t say anything to the contrary. If you do want to box your wager, you should say so. You might then have to clarify about how much money you want to devote to the exacta box, which we’ll explain in the following section.

Odds and Expected Payouts for Exacta Wagers

When you see odds listed for horse races, you are usually seeing odds on particular horses to win. For example, if you see that a horse is listed at 3 to 1, it means that it will return you three dollars for every dollar you bet if it wins. But those odds only govern the win wagering for that horse and nothing else.

So, how will you know what your odds are for an exacta wager? Well, that can be tricky unless you’re actually at the track or have access to a closed-circuit feed from that track. If you do, you might see a screen that lists the exacta odds show up at some point before the race you’re wagering.

What you have to understand about exacta odds, or any horse racing bet for that matter, is that it is based on pari-mutuel wagering. Pari-mutuel wagering refers to the system by which odds are determined in horse racing.

Every different type of wager, from win, place, and show bets to exotic bets (bets that include more than one horse) like an exacta, is subject to its own specific pool. The exacta pool will collect all the different exacta bets on a race and separate them into the specific number combinations. Odds will be based on the amount of money bet on each number combination in each pool.

For Example

Imagine that there have been $200 bet on an exacta in a certain race. Of that $200, $10 has been bet on a 4-6 exacta. That means the odds for the 4-6 exacta will be 20-1, since 200 divided by 10 is 20.

The reason why an exacta pays off better than a win, place, or show bet, for the most part, is because there are many more combinations available to bet. That dilutes the pool and means every combination will tend to pay a little bit more.

What you have to keep in mind is that the win odds you see technically have nothing to do with an exacta payout. In most cases, they will correspond. For example, if you’re betting on two horses with short win odds in an exacta, that would probably pay less than if you were betting two horses with long shot win odds.

But it all depends on the exacta pool. In general, you can expect a decent payback on an exacta bet, more than you would from any straight bet. But it wouldn’t be as large as other exotic bets like a trifecta or superfecta, where there are more horses involved.

If you’re lucky enough to see an exacta pool page, check out the chart below.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1 x 25 10 99 40 8 5 30
2 35 x 25 70 60 12 10 45
3 12 8 x 55 65 5 15 35
4 20 10 15 x 99 30 35 60
5 50 60 70 99 x 35 25 60
6 15 30 25 75 80 x 20 50
7 12 15 8 50 65 20 x 45
8 40 20 35 60 80 25 30 x

How do you read this exacta pay page? On the left is the column for the horse that is picked to come in first. Then, on top, is the horse picked to come in second.

Imagine that you picked a 3-5 exacta. You would follow the #3 row over the #5 column and see the number 65. That means that your odds are 65 to 1 to win that exacta.

Keep in mind that these odds will keep changing right up until race time as more people wager. That is part of the pari-mutuel betting process. This puts it in opposition to fixed odds wagering, where you lock in your odds the moment you wager, and they don’t change.

If you don’t have access to this page, you’ll just have to be surprised at the payoff if you bet an exacta and end up winning. Keep in mind that it’s strictly determined by the odds and the takeout by the track.

You should be aware of how much each track charges for takeout. It will usually be represented by a percentage.

For example, a track might list a 20% takeout on their exacta odds. If there’s $2000 bet on an exacta in a particular race, the track takes out 20%, or $400. That leaves $1,600 to be divvied out among the wagers.

Ideally, you should find a track that keeps the takeout to a minimum on exacta wagers. But you also might be better served to choose your bets based on the confidence level of the horses you’re picking. In the end, takeout differences are relatively small from track to track.

Betting Different Amounts on Exactas

As we said earlier, you don’t have to only bet $2 on an exacta. You can bet as much as you want, although it’s a little easier to understand your payout if you keep going up in $2 increments.

If you’re going to bet more than $2 on an exacta, you’ll have to specify the amount if you’re exacta horse betting online. You would also have to explain it to the teller if you’re making the wager in person. A higher wager would pump your winnings up in proportion to the size of your exacta wager.

Let’s say that you wager $10 on a 4-6 exacta. The race takes place and the #4 finishes first and the #6 finishes second, making you winner.

You look at the payout listed by the track and you see that it’s $50. But that’s based on a $2 wager. Remember that you bet five times that amount, or $10.

As a result, your payout would be five times the listed amount, or $250. Minus your $10 wager, you would have made a $240 profit.

How to Box an Exacta Wager

A boxed exacta somewhat changes the economics of the wager. Think about it, it wouldn’t be fair if a person who boxed an exacta were paid at the same rate as someone who picked it straight. After all, the person who boxed it has more chances to win the bet.

As a result, think of a boxed exacta on the scale of one half of a straight exacta. If you bet the same amount, you would get paid half as much for a boxed exacta win as you would for a straight exacta. Or, if you wanted to get paid the same amount as a straight exacta, you would have to bet twice as much as you would for straight exacta.

Say that you wanted to bet only $2 but wanted to box a 3-4 exacta on a particular race. Imagine that the race came in with the #3 in first and the #4 in second, making you a winner.

Horse Racing

Let’s say that the prices come in and it shows the exacta paid off at $20. That’s the payoff for a straight exacta on a $2 bet, i.e., one that had the #3 in first and the #4 in second without any box. Since you boxed your $2 wager, you would only be receiving half of that, or $10.

The nomenclature gets a little tricky when you make these bets. Technically, even though you bet $2, your boxed bet is known as a “dollar box.” That’s because you essentially bet $1 on a straight 3-4 exacta and $1 on a 4-3 exacta to make up the box.

Now, let’s assume you wanted to box your wager but you were still hoping to get paid as a full exacta would. You would be asking then for a $2 box, which in actuality is a $4 wager.

Again, the names only come into play if you are betting in person with a teller. If you are using an online gambling site, you can usually navigate through the different bets and know how much you’re putting on each. Just remember that a boxed exacta will only pay you half as much for the same amount wagered as a straight exacta will.

Exacta Betting Strategy

Now that you know how to place an exacta wager and what exactly it entails, you should think about the ways you can make the wager work for you. Some people like betting exactas every single race that they play just because they feel that it gets them the most bang for their buck. Others are more wary of the exacta and might only employ it when the race in question sets up just right.

One of the trickiest parts of the whole exacta concept is that the best two horses in a race aren’t necessarily going to finish in first and second. That might sound odd, but you have to think about the way that a race is often run and the mindset of the jockeys (for Thoroughbred racing) or drivers (for harness racing) who are in charge of the horse.

Imagine that you have a horse you think is capable of winning the race. If that’s the case, you’re most likely going to give every effort to go all out and do what it takes to make it to the front.

But if the race doesn’t break just right for you or if your horse doesn’t have its stuff that day, chances are that effort is going to leave you struggling to stay close. And that will leave you susceptible to getting passed late by other horses in the field who might be less talented on the whole.

Now, think about a scenario where you might not have one of the most potent horses in the field. As a jockey or a driver, you might consider keeping your horse away from any battles for the lead, saving its energy in the process. That means you could conceivably sneak up late when some of the frontrunners tire and possibly secure a second-place finish.

That’s why it’s a good idea to think about how the race might be run before committing to an exacta bet and deciding on the horses that you want. Sometimes, it’s better to take a favorite in tandem with a potential longshot. It can also be more lucrative.

In terms of techniques to improve your chances of winning an exacta bet, here are a few that can work.

Boxing Multiple Horses

Let’s say that you want to bet a race that has eight horses in the field, and you want to bet an exacta. There are four horses in the field that you feel are closely matched and have a shot to be in the top 2 in the final order of finish. And there are four others that you feel have no shot.

If that’s the case, you might want to box those four horses, meaning that if any combination of two of them come in first or second you would win. For example, if you think horses #1, #3, #5, and #7 are the best and box those, you would win if 1-3 came in, or 5-1, or 7-3, or 5-7, and on and on.

Of course, you will have to pay more for a bet like this. To get the full-price exacta payoff and include four horses in a box like that, you’d need to wager $24. It would get knocked down to $12 if you wanted to do a dollar box on them all.

Keying a Horse

HorseLet’s say that you feel the same way about a different eight-horse field, in that four horses stand out and the other four, in your opinion, have no chance. But in this case, there’s one horse out of the four good ones that truly stands out and seems a lock to finish in first or second.

You can then “key” this horse when exacta betting on horse races. In other words, imagine that it’s #1 that stands out and #2, #3, #4 that make up the best of the rest. Your bet could be 1-2, 1-3, 1-4 exactas, which would cost you $6.

If you wanted to do the same key but box it as well, it would cost you $12. The key bet is a way to ensure that you get the best horse in the mix no matter which combination you play.

One Horse and All

This is also sometimes known as a wheel bet. It comes in handy when you feel that one horse stands above the rest of the field and you’re not sure about anybody other horse in the race. You could use that horse in exacta wagers with everybody else in the field.

For example, imagine there was an eight-horse field and you loved the #1 horse but didn’t have much of a preference with anybody else in the field. A bet of 1-ALL would cover every exacta in that race if the #1 is involved. You could play it straight with the #1 on top or box it for every combination.

The downside of an ALL bet is that it’s costly. For an eight-horse field, it would cost you $14 straight and $28 boxed. You run the risk of the exacta paying off less than your wager even if you hit.

But the ALL bet can be a good way to make money in a race where there is a dominant favorite. You could make a hefty profit if that favorite comes in with one of the longer shots on the board joining it in the top 2.

Test Your Skills at Exacta Horse Betting

How Much Do You Have to Bet to Box Two Horses in an Exacta and Still Make the Full Amount of the Payoff?

$4, since you would need to bet $2 on each of the two winning combinations.

Do the Win Odds on a Horse Affect How Much I’ll Get Paid for an Exacta Involving Them?

Technically, no, because the win odds come from a separate pari-mutuel pool.

What Is the Best Kind of Exacta Wager I Can Make If I Really Only Like One Horse in the Field Above All the Rest?

An ALL bet, whereby you would win a full exacta payoff if the horse you like manages to come in first no matter who comes in second.

Conclusion on Exacta Horse Racing Betting

Exacta bets represent one of the best combinations of moneymaking potential and cost effectiveness out of all the different types of horse racing wagers. You don’t have to bet that much and you can win a lot. In addition, it’s realistic that you can hit this bet on occasion, which isn’t necessarily the case with all other exotic bets.

The downside of exacta horse betting is that you need two things to happen in the race just right instead of just one. And there’s no guarantee that your payoff will be huge even if you do hit it. Still, using exacta bets wisely can be a way to really improve your horse racing gambling bottom line.