Here's How To Bet An Exacta In Horse Racing, Because Even Beginners Can Do It

ELMONT, NY - JUNE 06: Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, with exercise rider Willie Delgado up, goes over the track in preparation for the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 6, 2014 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

The 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby is set to take place Saturday evening, and horse racing connoisseurs are already placing bets on who will be the winner of this prestigious race. But horse betting can get a little more complicated than just picking the first-place winner. So how do you bet an exacta, a common bet in the horse racing world?

The Kentucky Derby is the first — and arguably, the most famous — race of the Triple Crown competition, which also includes the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. Whichever horse wins here will be at the center of horse betting in the weeks leading up to the Preakness, as bettors will be eyeing either the next Triple Crown winner or a startling upset.

An exacta means picking the first- and second-place winners. In a straight exacta bet, these two horses must come in exact order of how you picked them. For example, if you picked favorite Nyquist as the first-place winner and long-shot Trojan Nation as the second-place winner, Nyquist must come in first place and Trojan Nation must follow in second place. If Trojan Nation pulls an upset and comes in first place, beating Nyquist, then you lose the bet.

However, you don't have to make a straight exacta bet. Horse racing includes a thing called "exacta boxes," where you can pick a combination of horses to finish in first and second place. An exacta box allows for a combination of winning horses, so you can choose both Nyquist and Trojan Nation to come in either first and second place, respectively.

If you're betting with an exacta box, you don't have to pick just two horses. You can use three horses, which would then give you six winning combinations; four horses, which would give you 12 winning combinations; five horses, which would give you 20 winning combinations, and so on. However, betting experts suggest that you don't use too many horses in your exacta box, because the betting ticket ends up being more expensive and, in some cases, the value of your win may decrease. Plus, more is not necessarily better — there's less of a possibility that the four or five horses you picked stand a chance of winning or even placing high in the race.

So, as betting goes, the biggest winning value comes from the straight exacta bet. If you're so good that you picked a long-shot horse with 72-1 odds of taking first place, then you'll see quite a large monetary return. If you bet the favorite to win first place and a long-shot to finish in second, you won't see as high of a return — because everyone will be betting on the favorite — but you'll still cash in on your ticket.

Overall, exacta betting is more efficient and worthwhile than win, place, or show wagers. If you're a first-time better, try betting an exacta box with three horses, two of which you're super confident about in their ability to place first and second. You'll have six winning combinations and an opportunity to make some money this Kentucky Derby.

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