Horse Betting Types and Terms

Low section of horse running on sand
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Horse racing involves a somewhat boggling collection of colorful phrases and terms for putting your money down on a horse and hoping to come away with a lot more money when the horse wins. Racing can also provide a comparatively gentle way of wagering — you don't have to bet that the horse will come in first. Depending on the type of bet you place, you can sometimes win money if it finishes second or even third.

But you have to understand the lingo and how to place the appropriate wager to pull it off. 

"Straight" Bets 

Straight bets are the simplest form of thoroughbred wagering. Strictly speaking, placing a straight bet means that you're wagering on the horse to win — period. If it finishes second by a nose, you've lost. But a looser definition says a straight bet is when you wager that a horse will finish first, second or third.

That said, several terms relate to different kinds of straight bets that can increase your odds of winning a little money.

  • Across the board: This means placing three bets: one for the horse to win, one for the horse to come in second and one for the horse to come in third. If it wins, you'll be paid on all three bets. If it finishes second, you're paid on two bets — second and third. You can't collect on the first-place bet because he didn't cross the wire first. If the horse finishes third, you're paid once for that third place finish. So it's a great bet if the horse wins because you effectively collect three times, and if it comes in third, at least you haven't lost all your money. You get a little something back on your investment. 
  • In the money: A horse finishes in the money if it comes in first, second or third. 
  • On the nose: You're betting the horse to win only.
  • Place: A horse is said to place when it finishes second. You can make a place bet it you think it probably won't win but that it won't be too far behind the first-place horse. You'll win if you're right. You'll even collect the horse's second-place winnings if it comes in first, but not if it finishes third.  
  • Show: A horse that comes in third is said to show. A show bet works much the same as a place bet — you'll collect the horse's third-place winnings if it comes in first, second or third. 

A winning horse will pay the most on bets that it will finish first. It will pay a little less for place bets and even less for show bets, but it can effectively pay out in three ways — thus the allure of across-the-board bets. 

"Exotic" Wagers

As the name suggests, exotic wagers are fancier and more complicated. They involve more than one horse. This means they're harder to win, but they also pay more than straight bets. Here are a few examples of exotic bets. 

  • Boxed bet: Boxing a bet means to cover all possible combinations of finish for multiple horses. If you want to box an exacta, you would bet that Horse A wins and Horse B places, and also that Horse B wins and Horse A places. In other words, you think those two horses will finish first and second, but you're not sure in what order. Each combination represents a separate bet, so boxing a $2 exacta would cost you $4, 
  • Daily double: You're betting on two separate horses in consecutive races in a daily double, usually the first and second races of the day. Each of your horses must finish first. 
  • Exacta:  You must pick the first two finishers in a race in the exact order they finish — unless you box your bet. An exacta is called an "exactor" in Canada, short for "exact order." 
  • Pick 3: Think of this as an enhanced daily double. You would bet on the first place finishers of three consecutive races instead of two. "Pick" races can extend up to six — you'd have to select the winners of six consecutive races, which can be extremely difficult. But Pick 6's offer significant winnings and sometimes, at the discretion of the track, they might offer consolidation payouts. Extended periods of time can go by without anyone winning a Pick 6, so some racetracks will "carry over" the unclaimed winnings, moving the money forward to the next race or sometimes the next day so the pot grows and grows until someone strikes it big. 
  • Quinella: A quinella is a variation of boxing your bet. The two horses you pick must win and place, but the order in which they finish doesn't matter. This is a single bet, unlike a boxed exacta which is technically two bets. It, therefore, pays less if you win. 
  • Superfecta: This is up there with the Pick 6 when it comes to difficulty. You must select the first four horses to finish in a race in the exact order they finish. Of course, you can box a superfecta just as you would an exacta, but you're talking twice as many horses so this involves covering a lot of combinations. It can be pretty expensive, so if you're wrong — even one horse you didn't anticipate sneaks into the top four — you could lose a fair bit of money. 
  • Trifecta: Sometimes called a triple, this wager involves picking the first three finishers in a race. It's sort of a middle ground in difficulty between an exacta and a superfecta. Again, you must select the horses in the correct order unless you box your bet. 

Additional Betting Terms 

  • Bridge jumper: A bridge jumper is someone who bets an unusually large sum of money on a single horse, such as $100,000 to win. That person may be jumping off the nearest bridge if the horse finishes second by a neck. 
  • Dead heat: This term refers to an exact tie between two or more horses at the finish of the race. Track personnel will try to establish a winner by viewing the photo finish film, but this isn't always possible even with advancements in photo finish technology. The winnings and purse for the position that tied — first, second or third — are divided up between the horses.  
  • Inquiry: Something has happened during the race that requires a review by track personnel, usually that one horse has unfairly impeded the progress of another.  
  • Objection: A rider, trainer or track official can cry foul if a horse or jockey has done something that might have cost another the race. An objection results in an inquiry. 
  • Odds: This term refers to a numerical summation of how likely it is that a horse will win. Odds that are set in the morning or even the day before being called a "morning line" and are based on the opinions of official handicappers. As race time draws closer and people begin betting on the horses, the odds begin to reflect this money. When a lot of money is bet on a horse, it drives its odds down. When little or no money is bet on a horse because no one thinks it will win, this drives its odds higher. The horse is a "long shot." Long shots pay a great deal more than "odds-on" horses, those with short odds of less than even money. 

So there you have it. You're off to the track. Good luck!