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Horse Racing: How to Make an Exacta Bet

Exacta Betting Kentucky Derby

An exacta bet is a common horse racing wager that requires you to pick the top two finishers of a race in the correct order. Sometimes referred to as a perfecta bet, an exacta is a step further than a traditional win, place, show bet.

Bet on the 2019 Kentucky Derby here!

Breaking Down Exacta Bet Odds

Let’s pretend that you’re looking to bet on the Kentucky Derby. Odds for a straight exacta bet for the Derby would look something like this:

Exacta Betting
GateHorseJockeyOdds1st2nd
1Mister EdWilbur Post10/1 (+1000)x 
2Black BeautyFarmer Grey15/1 (+1500)  
3ArtaxAtreyu20/1 (+2000)  
4GunpowderIchabod Crane50/1 (+5000) x
4BoJack HorsemanDiane Nguyen30/1 (+3000)  

In horse racing a first-place finish is called a “win.” A second-place finish is called a “place.” For this fictional Kentucky Derby scenario, let’s say you select Mister Ed to finish first (win) and Gunpowder to finish second (place). If this comes true, you would win your exacta bet. If Gunpowder finishes first and Mister Ed finishes second, you would lose your racing wager because you must select the horses in the exact order. Most racebooks and horse tracks have a $2 exacta bet minimum but you can wager whatever you want.

You can use our Odds Calculator to see how much you would win based on the amount you’re betting.

Besides traditional exacta betting, you can make an exacta box bet and an exacta key bet.

Exacta Box Bet

This is a variation of a straight exacta with more options. You’re still required to pick the first and second horse in the correct order; however, you can “box” your selections. This means you can choose more than two horses. If you choose three horses, any two of them need to finish in the correct order.

Using the same fictional horses from the above Kentucky Derby betting example, you can make an exacta bet that features BoJack Horseman, Artax and Black Beauty. You now have six possible combinations that could result in a winning ticket:

  1. BoJack Horseman 1st, Artax 2nd
  2. BoJack Horseman 1st, Black Beauty 2nd
  3. Artax 1st, BoJack Horseman 2nd
  4. Artax 1st, Black Beauty 2nd
  5. Black Beauty 1st, BoJack Horseman 2nd
  6. Black Beauty 1st, Artax 2nd

Depending on the racebook or horse racing track, you could select anywhere from three to eight horses. It’s important to remember that the bigger your exacta box bet is, the higher the price will be. However, if you make an accurate pick and win your bet, your winnings will be more substantial and you could see yourself with a larger profit.

Exacta Key Box Bet

Another variation of the traditional exacta stakes, this bet requires you to choose a “key” horse that will be featured in every possible combination. If there’s one horse that is seen as the clear favorite, you would pick them as your key. For instance, if Mister Ed is favored to win the Kentucky Derby, your ticket could look something like this:

  1. Mister Ed 1st, Artax 2nd
  2. Mister Ed 1st, BoJack Horseman 2nd
  3. Mister Ed 1st, Black Beauty 2nd

You need Mister Ed to come in first in the Kentucky Derby and any of the others you’ve selected to land in second for your ticket to win.

Exacta Betting Payoffs

Payoffs can vary greatly in exacta betting. If your two contenders are the favorites in the race, it could pay less than $12, or in a larger field could return $35 or more. If you’re a more daring horse bettor, you may find a couple of long shots that both finish in the exacta, netting you a payout that could be over $1,000.

One advantage of this type of bet is that most tote boards – the scoreboard – both at the track and online, show the probable payouts of exacta wagers. Take advantage of this feature and look for potential overlays, or possible combinations that you think are paying more than they should, while skipping those that are paying short prices. Generally, racebooks and tracks pay out exactas at $2 increments.

  • A $2 exacta box with 1 and 2 horses would cost you $4. If the race comes in either 1-2 or 2-1, you win. Any other combination would render the ticket worthless.
  • A $2 wager in a three-horse exacta box would cost you $12. If two of the three horses finish first and second, the ticket is a winner.
  • A $2 exacta key bet requires you to select one horse to win and others to place, and would cost you $12. Another common exacta key would be two horses over four horses, which would also be a $12 investment on a $2 increment.

Odds Shark’s horse racing handicapper Michael Dempsey on exacta betting:

“The exacta is probably my favorite wager. The takeout rates are lower than trifectas and superfectas, and it certainly is easier to find the winner and runner-up than find the horses that will finish third or fourth. Watching the tote board for probable payoffs will also give you a good idea of what you can expect to make in profits, while you are in the dark with most of the other exotic wagers. I’m afraid of the dark.”