What Are Exotic Wagers in Horse Racing?

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A group of horses with riders coming around the bend of a race track.
BetMGM @BETMGM Sep 25, 2022, 8:59 PM

There are two types of bets for any horse race, namely, straights and exotics. Most casual bettors will be familiar with straight wagers, but exotic wagers often stump newcomers to the world of sports betting.

Even though all types of online sports betting have a variety of unique wagers, exotic bets in horse racing are fairly complex compared to most other betting types. Learning the terminology and understanding the odds are key to making the most out of your bankroll, which is why it’s so important to have a firm grasp on the fundamentals.

When you bet on horse racing, a straight bet is the least risky, although the potential payout is less than you’d get from an exotic win. This is why exotic wagers are highly popular with professional bettors. That said, to get the most bang for your buck, you’ll need a thorough knowledge of the different types of exotic wagers. 

Types of exotic wagers

Unlike straight wagers, which are bets made on one horse in any given race, exotic wagers cover multiple horses at the same time with the option of betting on several races with a single wager.

All exotic wagers can be categorized as either horizontal bets or vertical bets. Horizontal bets allow you to wager more than just one race, while vertical bets cover multiple horses participating in a single race.

Thanks to live horse racing odds, exotic wagers have become a lot easier to manage. This doesn’t mean that bets are any easier to win, but it does provide experienced punters with invaluable data which can be used to inform their betting decisions.

Both exotic betting types offer higher payouts than straight bets, but they are much harder to hit because of the increased number of variables involved. In other words, the odds of your wagers being on-the-money are much lower, but you get a much higher return when your predictions pan out.

Horizontal bets

Doubles, Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5 and Pick 6 all fall under the umbrella of horizontal bets. The number in these names refers to the number of races your bet covers, with the maximum being 6 races. 

Double bets are often referred to as ‘Daily Doubles,’ which tend to be the most common horizontal bets. On any given race day, race tracks sometimes have two doubles: the Early Double and the Late Double.

If you select a horizontal wager, you’re essentially trying to predict the winning horse for each race. You do have the option to box or key your bets, but let’s first cover vertical bets before we move on to advanced betting options.

Vertical bets

The three types of vertical bets are exactas, trifectas and superfectas. As already mentioned, vertical bets cover a single race and the three types all feature a combination of finisher predictions.

Exactas are bets that cover the first two finishers in a race, trifectas the first three finishers and superfectas the first four. The only way to win is for all the horses you chose to finish in the exact order you placed them in.

As you can imagine, this isn’t an easy task, especially considering that numerous factors beyond your control can influence every race you bet on. That said, you can use two advanced options to increase your odds of winning, both of which are covered below.

Boxing

Horse racing betting is never an exact science. However, the more you can even the odds, the better your chances of avoiding unnecessary losses. The first option is to box your bets, which means you give yourself some leeway in terms of finishing positions.

With a boxed bet, your selections don’t have to finish in a specific order. For example, let’s say you’ve picked horses #3 and #5 to finish first and second. In the case of a boxed bet, your choices can finish in any order as long as they complete the race as the first two finishers.

Boxing is extremely useful for exotic wagers. It allows you to be less accurate with your betting predictions while still providing a higher payout than straight bets. The only drawback is that boxing more than one or two horses is quite expensive, so it is a balancing act between risk tolerance and payout profit.

Keying

The second thing you can do to increase your exotic wager odds is to key your bets. Key bets allow you to pick one horse for a specific finisher position so you can select your favorite as the key and box the rest of your selection.

You can also key horses for second and third place, but if you decide to go this route, your total winnings will be less than those of a non-boxed, keyless bet. Additionally, you still have to contend with factors beyond your control.

No matter what your horse racing picks may be, any race has the potential to finish with a surprising result. Steward disqualification and dead heats are two examples that immediately come to mind – you can only do so much to counter these random elements.

From the get-go, the best horse racing betting sites make it clear that exotic wagers are made at your own risk. They can provide all the odds you need to make strategic bets, but success and failure are two sides of the same coin. You need to be prepared for both outcomes.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.