How to Bet an Exacta

Tips
Penelope P. Miller photo

Betting an exacta can present a challenge on several levels.

There is, of course, the primary need to analyze past performances and decide which horses are going to finish first and second.

Yet because of the inherently lower payoffs as opposed to what you’ll find in a Pick 3 or Pick 4, you’ll need to structure your wagers effectively in order to turn your selections into a profitable wager.

For starters, an exacta can be a simple wager. If you like two horses equally, you can just box them in the exacta and collect so long as they finish 1-2 in any order. If you like one of them a little more, you can then bet more on the one you prefer, say $10 on a 1-2 exacta and $5 on 2-1.

If you’re a little more uncertain, make sure you structure your bet around the size of the field and the probable payoffs.

If you like a longshot, the higher probable payoffs give you the cushion you need to wager on more combinations and still turn a nice profit.

But if you’re dealing with favorites or horses at relatively low odds, you have to wager more efficiently to preserve your profit.

In a field of six or less, you’re best to either focus on one horse or box two of them instead of boxing three or more horses because of the small payouts the bet will most likely generate.

In a field of seven, a wise strategy would be to box your top two choices and then, if you are worried about other horses, play them top and/or bottom other the other horses. For example, box 1-2, then bet 1-2 over 3-4 and 3-4 over 1-2. This way you are getting coverage on four horses without having to box them.

Once you get an eight-horse field, as long as there is not an overwhelming favorite, you can expand the number of horses you box since the payoffs will typically be higher, giving you a better opportunity to offset the inevitable array of losing tickets in a boxed wager.

One point to keep in mind about playing favorites is that cashing a ticket on the favorite over the second choice is not as simple as one would think.

Consider Kentucky Derby week at Churchill Downs, which, ironically enough, featured the top two betting choices in the run for the roses finishing 1-2.

Of the 54 races at the Louisville track from May 3-7, 23 were won by favorites, which generates an unusually high 42.6 winning percentage for the chalk.

But of those 54 races, there were only nine races, including the Derby, where the top two finishers were the betting favorite and second choice – in that order.

That adds up to cashing on that combo just 16.6 percent of the time with an average payoff of $18.70.

Granted, those numbers are hardly a national average, but they nevertheless prove that even when you’re trying to be exact, there are still reasons why you should take a chance or two.

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