The 2022 Kentucky Derby (G1) was one for the ages, as 80-1 Rich Strike beat out 4-1 favorite Epicenter, who placed second, resulting in an astounding $4,101.20 payout on a $2 exacta wager.
While you don’t see that kind of payoff at the racetrack every day, it’s still a good reminder of the kind of money you can win when playing exotic wagers.
A $2 win bet on Rich Strike in the Run for the Roses paid $163.60, while a $2 place bet on Epicenter paid $7.40. Combine those winnings, and you would have walked away with an extra $171, but had you boxed those two horses in an exacta, your payout would have increased by more than 2,000%!
The exacta is an excellent way to increase your earning potential without having to spend a ton at the betting window. The minimum stake for an exacta bet is usually $1, but some tracks raise the minimum to $2.
Below I’ll teach you a few tips for betting your first exacta wager and how to improve your chances of walking away a winner.
One simple way to get started when betting exactas is to pick your top three horses in a field and box them together in a three-horse exacta.
When you box an exacta, the horses in your wager can finish in any order — first or second. This gives you a bit more wiggle room, as you don’t have to predict the exact order of the horses that come in first or second. In a straight exacta bet, however, you pick just one horse to finish first and just one horse to finish second, which is a more difficult bet to hit.
While boxing your exacta will allow for some leeway in the order of finish, it will also cost you a bit more at the betting window.
If the minimum stake required for an exacta is $1, then a straight exacta wager would cost exactly $1 to bet.
A three-horse exacta box at the same track would cost $6, as you’re now betting three different horses to come in any order of first or second, which is six possible exacta combinations.
(Photo by Coady Photography/Keeneland)
An exacta box may make it easier to hit your wager, but the payoff may not be worth much if you have a heavy favorite who comes in first and the second-choice horse finishes second.
For example, in the 2015 Arkansas Derby (G1), eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah romped to an eight-length victory as the 0.10-1 favorite and 7.20-1 second choice Far Right came home second, which resulted in a $7 payoff on a $2 exacta bet.
If you had boxed three horses in an exacta with a $2 minimum for this race, you would have spent $12 on a wager that returned $7 and therefore lost money in the process.
A better strategy in a race like this — where one horse is a clear front-runner to win — is to either bet a straight exacta or key one horse on top and play one or more horses to finish second.
If you bet American Pharoah on top of your exacta and included Far Right and another runner — say, third choice Madefromlucky — you would have spent $4 on a $2 exacta wager. You would have netted a minimal profit, but it’s certainly better than losing money on an exacta box, even when you hit your bet!
While a horse like American Pharoah rarely lost in his career (he finished with an 11-9-1-0 record), a good strategy for playing exactas is to try to beat the favorite when you think they are vulnerable.
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Since horse racing wagering is pari-mutuel in nature — meaning you are betting against other horseplayers in a particular betting pool (whether the win pool, show pool, exacta pool, or trifecta pool) — you’re going to win more money when your ticket goes against the majority of other players.
If you think a favorite is likely to lose, key the horse you think can beat them on top and play the favorite, or two other horses, to finish second. If the favorite does in fact lose, you’re going to end up with a better payoff — and you’ll end up with much more of a profit than anyone who spent the extra money to box the favorite to come in first in their exacta.