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Whenever I bring new friends to the racetrack for their first time I always notice two things. They are confused and intimidated by the huge menu of betting options available to them, but they are equally put off by the relatively small payouts on their win, place and show bets.

There are so many ways to bet a horse race today; each bet with its own strange and obscure name: trifectas, superfectas, exactas, quinellas, doubles, etc. Much easier to understand is the age-old and simple win, place and show bet.

But a bet on a favorite to win, let alone show, returns so little on the investment. Meanwhile people who somehow figure out the exact order the horses finish are cashing tickets for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars.

How can a neophyte horseplayer get in on that action without reading the latest Davidowitz book?

I always share this simple exacta strategy with my friends I introduce to horse racing. I find it to be simple and elegant and, if you’re lucky, can nab you a big payoff.

The Exacta Wheel

I don’t typically enjoy playing most of the exotics offered at the track, but not so much because I find the structure of the bets confusing. I tend to play multi-race bets because it allows me to just pick horses to win and not worry about how the horses finish beyond first place. I also enjoy playing a horse to win or “across the board” when I have a strong feeling about a horse that I feel is an overlay – a larger price than it deserves.

If your inclination is just to play horses to win, but you’re disappointed with the small return on your investment, pay attention to the exacta will-pays on the tote board at the track. If you had $20 to bet on your favorite horse to win, perhaps you would do better to wheel it on the top of an exacta.

In an 11-horse field it would cost you that same $20 to bet your horse in an exacta with every other horse in the field to come in second.

Ten $2 exactas. If there are fewer horses it costs less. If there are more it costs $2 more per horse over 11.

If you pay attention to the will-pays, you will see that some of these combinations pay less than what a straight win bet would pay. But some of them will pay considerably more, depending on the odds of the horse that gets up for second in your exacta. It may be worth it to you to be alive to a big exacta payoff even if it means giving up some potential winnings when the chalk horses finish second.

The exacta pools are independent of the win, place and show pools that determine a horse’s odds. The fewer people that bet a particular exacta combination, the more it pays and vice versa. Sometimes you will find that NONE of the exacta combinations with your chosen horse pay less than the win price. In those instances it is a no-brainer how to spend that twenty dollars.

It isn’t sophisticated, but it’s fun. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen friends rake in a few hundred bucks on an exacta after hitting the ALL button on my advice and seeing some long bomb get up for second. And the times when they cash a ticket for a few bucks less than what they stood to make from their win bet, they rarely complain. Which is wise. Nobody at the track wants to hear anyone in line to cash a winning ticket bellyaching about how they wish they would have won more. Shut up and buy the next round. There’s another race in twenty minutes!


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David Hill

David Hill is a writer, an agitator, a comedian and a gambler. He grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas near the Oaklawn Park. Today he lives in New York City. Further reading at

Image Description

David Hill

David Hill is a writer, an agitator, a comedian and a gambler. He grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas near the Oaklawn Park. Today he lives in New York City. Further reading at

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