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Derby 101: Horse Racing Wagers

Happy Derby! 

It’s the most wonderful time in the Bluegrass. As you prepare for the fastest two minutes in sports, allow me to introduce outsiders to some things you may not know about the Kentucky Derby. The series will continue until the first Saturday in May. Until then, catch up with some oldies but goodies: CocktailsWilliam Faulkner’s Timeless Kentucky Derby Account, The Garland of RosesCelebrity Sightings


Every person has a method to their madness at the track. Whether you pick your horse based on their name, color, speed figure or sire, it doesn’t matter. However, if you know a little bit more you can win a lot more than by simply throwing down “$2 across the board.” If you’re unfamiliar, these are the names of each type of American horse racing wager:

  • Win: The horse will finish first.
  • Place: The horse will finish second.
  • Show: The horse will finish third.
  • Exacta: Pick the top two finishers.
  • Trifecta: Pick the top three finishers.
  • Superfecta: Pick the top four finishers.
  • Daily Double: Pick back-to-back winners.
  • Pick 3: Correctly pick the winners in three consecutive races. Tracks will run special pick fours, Super Hi-5s and Pick Sixes.

Like most beginners, I started my career with a simple $2 Win-Place-Show bet that costs $6 total. That’s not a bad value if you pick a long shot that finishes in the top three, but if you bet a favorite you will be lucky to get your money back.

My first money-making discovery was $1 exacta box. For only $6 you can pick three horses to be the top two finishers in any order. A two-horse $1 exacta box is only $2 and and four-horse is $12. The most important lesson: box your exotics. By adding the “box” to an extra, trifecta or superfecta, your horses can finish in any order and the bet can still be cashed. It costs a little more, but it’s worth it.

My most recent money-making venture is in Pick 3s. Since you have to pick winners in three straight raises, your potential winnings increase significantly. It’s not that expensive either. In a .50 Pick 3 you can select eight horses to win three straight races and it only costs $9. I suggest using a TVG or TwinSpires app to calculate exactly how much your bet will cost, rather than simply walking up to a ticket window. The price can vary dramatically depending on how many horses you want to bet. Losing the first leg of a Pick 3 is frustrating, but the day you hit your first big one will be an exhilarating day at the races.

Those are just a few different wagers you should consider at the racetrack. If you need to learn to read a program, that’s an entirely different beast. The good news is Keeneland has an interactive tool to help you learn, or you can just use this helpful diagram from AM Wager.

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Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

1 Comment for Derby 101: Horse Racing Wagers



  1. justaguyinthebackrow
    8:04 pm April 20, 2019 Permalink

    >winners in three straight raises

    Did we switch to poker mid article?