Horse Racing Betting Terms
May 17, 2020

Types Of Horse Racing Bets

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May 17, 2020

So, you’re just getting into horse racing in the US? Good job. US horse racing is one of the biggest spectator sports in the States. There are quite literally dozens of racetracks throughout the US, which offer varying tests for jockeys and horses based on race surface, distance and the inclusion or exclusion of obstacles.

Whichever US race meeting you choose to watch, it’s important to know how the betting system works if you fancy a flutter. Discover the most popular types of horse bets you can make on US horse racing and the most interesting ‘exotic’ bets too!

How does horse betting work?

In the US, the most common way to bet on a horse to win a race is via the tote. The tote is a form of pool betting, also known as pari-mutuel betting, whereby all bets of specific types are pooled together in a single pot by the racetrack. It differs slightly from fixed odds betting. That’s because the final price you get with the Tote isn’t finalized until the racetrack has stopped taking wagers before a race.

The main thing to remember when you place a bet on the tote is that all payouts displayed by US racetracks are made to a $2 bet. In order to calculate your returns from a winning bet, you’ll have to divide the payout displayed by two and then multiply it by the size of your own stake. You won’t need to multiply it if you wagered $2 yourself, of course!

Here’s an example:

Once the official race result is displayed, the payout of the winning horse is set at 12.0. Let’s say you placed a $10 bet on the horse:

12.0/2 = 6.0 x 10 = $60 return

What are the most popular horse racing bets in the US?

There are three bet types that are particularly common when it comes to tote betting on US horse racing:

Win Only

The Win Only tote is the only available pool on races with between two and four runners. Obviously, this means that bettors can only wager on a winning horse, they cannot speculate on a horse placing due to the small field of runners. The Win Only payout will be displayed on the winning horse, with all other losing bets taken by the racetrack.

Place Pool

Aside from the Win Only pool, there is also a Place Pool where you can bet on your chosen horse to finish first or second. The Place Pool is only available on races with at least five runners. The Place Pool payout will be displayed in the same way as the Win Only payout, with all other losing bets taken by the racetrack.

Show Pool

In races with at least eight runners, there will also be a Show Pool as well as a Win Only and Place Pool. If you bet on a horse to show, you are predicting it will finish either first, second or third. The odds of a Show wager are much lower than a Win Only or Place Pool payout, understandably so given that you have three bites of the cherry to win the bet. The Show Pool payout will be displayed alongside the Win Only and Place Pool payouts, with all other losing bets taken by the racetrack.

What are exotic types of horse bets?

If the idea of betting on win, place and show pools doesn’t rev your engine, you could always look to the growing number of exotic bets available on US horse races. Exotic wagers are designed to be much harder to win, but when you do the payoff is much more significant. That’s why many people tend to stake small to try and win big.

Below are three of the most common exotic types of horse bets you can place at a US racetrack:


An Exacta bet requires you to select the first two horses to finish in a race, in that exact order – hence the name. Exacta bets tend to be the easiest exotic horse bet to make, as the other exotics listed require you to correctly predict the finishing positions of more than two horses. It’s also possible to ‘box’ an Exacta bet, which means you can bet on two horses to finish first and second in either order, opening up more possibilities. Be mindful that an Exacta box bet pays out half a normal Exacta bet.


As you might be able to guess with the word ‘tri’ in the name, a Trifecta bet requires you to correctly predict the first three horses across the finish line. Again, you can choose to ‘box’ your Trifecta bet, allowing the three horses you select to finish in the top three in any order for half the payout of a normal Trifecta bet.


The trickiest exotic bet of them all, the Superfecta bet requires you to predict no less than the first four horses to cross the finish line. Even the world’s toughest US horse racing handicappers find Superfecta bets tricky, which is why these types of bets pay off in the thousands. You can ‘box’ a Superfecta bet, allowing the four horses you select to finish in the top four in any order for half the payout of a normal Superfecta bet.

How do you bet on a pick 5?

Most US racetracks will allow racegoers to place Pick 5 bets, which is another type of exotic bet that offers a massive payoff at the end. Put simply a Pick 5 bet requires you to select the winner of five consecutive races as part of a racecard.

Some tracks will even provide a guaranteed prize pool for Pick 5 bets, such is the rarity of these exotic bets coming off. Others will also allow the Pick 5 pool to carry over to their next race meeting providing it hasn’t been hit.

Can I bet on a daily double on US horse racing?

Yes, absolutely. A Daily Double is an easier exotic bet than a Pick 5 – providing you know the right horses to bet on, of course!

A Daily Double requires you to pick the winner of two consecutive races as part of a racecard. Most US racetracks will offer Daily Double bets on the first two races of their card or the last two races.

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