While simply picking the winner of a horse race is an accomplishment unto itself, putting together a winning exotic ticket - exactas (first and second place), trifectas (first, second and third) and superfectas (the top four places) - can provide an excellent return on investment.
In addition to exotic bets, multiple-race wagers such as daily doubles or Pick 3s and Pick 4s can also be very lucrative from a betting point of view. Here's a look at some ideas and strategies to use when putting those kinds of bets together.
Making Exotic Bets
Generally, there are two ways to make an exotic bet, either as a straight wager where you pick horse A to finish first and Horse B to finish second (in an exacta), or as a "box" where the two horses can finish in either order. Some tracks offer what is called a "quinella" bet, which is essentially the same as an exacta box with two horses, but because you get both orders-of-finish for one bet, the payout is lower than it would be for an exacta.
Cost of the Bet
When you box two horses, you are essentially making two bets and so the cost of the ticket will double. For example, a $2 exacta on horses #7 and #5 will cost $2, but a $2 exacta box on those two horses will cost $4. You can essentially box as many horses as you want in exactas, trifectas and superfectas, with the cost rising exponentially. To figure out the cost of a box ticket, you simply multiply the number of possibilities of your horses finishing first times the number of possibilities of your horses finishing second.
So say you want to box three horses in a $2 exacta. Three horses have the chance to finish first, and since one of them will be first (on a winning ticket), only two horses have the chance to finish second. So 3x2=6. Multiply that by the price of the wager ($2) and that three-horse exacta box will cost $12. To carry this out in a trifecta, where you want to play four horses, it would be 4x3x2=24. 24 x $2 = $48. Many tracks will offer a $1 exacta bet and various smaller trifectas and superfectas, from $1 down to as low as $.10 for superfectas, so in practice, you can make this kind of bet for much less money.
Now that you know how to figure out the cost, what kind of strategy do you use to make your bets? For one thing, while everyone would like the payout of a trifecta or superfecta, exactas are much more common bets, simply because it's easier to pick the top two horses in a race than the top three, let alone the top four. So it's important to manage your backroll accordingly with the general idea of spending more on exactas than tris or supers.
Since it's generally accepted that favorites win 33% of races and finish in the top three 66% of the time, you always have to consider using the favorite in your exotics. In races with a heavy favorite, you can put the favorite on top with another horse you like as either a straight bet (ie; #7 over #5) or in a box. Or, with a heavy favorite on the race, you can put the favorite on top with two other horses (ie; #7 over #5, #3) so if #7 wins and either #5 or #3 runs second, you collect. Like with a box, this would essentially be two bets, so the cost would double.
And of course, as mentioned above you can box all three of those horses together with the hope at least two of them finish 1-2. You should never really be boxing more than three horses in an exacta. If you can't narrow the field down to three possibilities for the top two places, then you need to go back and handicap the race again. Putting four or five horses into an exacta box is really just guessing, and not likely to give much, if any, return on investment considering the cost of the ticket. In fact, you could very easily lose money, even if you win. A $2 exacta box with four horses is going to cost $24, and if the race favorites run 1-2, and you have them on your ticket, the payout is likely to be lower than that.
Betting Tris and Supers
To bet trifectas and superfectas, you basically employ the same strategy, but of course, you're expanding the number of horses used in the bet. It's still a good idea to narrow the field down to two horses you think will claim the top two spots, and then use other horses underneath. In other words, for a trifecta you put #7 and #5 for the win, #7 and #5 in the second-place spots and then #3, #4 and #6 in the third place spot.
You would end up with a ticket that looks like this: 5,7/5,7/3,4,6. For a $2 trifecta, this would cost you $12.
Making Multiple Race Bets
For years - decades really - most tracks only offered one type of multi-race wager, and that was the Daily Double, whereby you'd pick the horses to win two races in a row, prior to either race being run. Usually, these were the first two races of the day with the idea, before the advent of telephone or internet wagering, to get people out to the track early. If you wanted to bet the DD, you had to be there for the first race. Eventually, tracks started offering a late DD, usually on the last two races of the day, again with the idea of keeping people at the track right to the end of the day's racing.
Gradually tracks started to expand the idea of the Daily Double to Pick 3s, Pick 4s and now you can sometimes even bet a Pick 6. Professional handicappers love multi-race wagers, partly because of the lucrative payout, but also because of "takeout". Takeout is the percent the track removes from the wagering pool as their share of the profit and is a percentage usually ranging anywhere from 15% to 25%, depending on the type of wager. If you bet the winner of four individual races as four separate bets, the track applies takeout to each of those individual bets. But if you bet the same four horses to win on a multi-race ticket, the takeout is only applied once. Professional handicappers hate the takeout, thus their fondness for the multi-race wagers.
The A-B-C Method
In order to make a sensible multi-race wager, you need to do your handicapping homework well before the races start because you have to evaluate all horses in the three or four races you want to bet. Most people employ an A-B-C method when handicapping for a multi-race wager, in that you go through each race and decide which horses have the strongest chance of winning (A horses), which horses might have a chance to win (B horses) and which have no chance (C horses). You then toss out the C horses and concentrate on narrowing down your picks from the A and B horses.
In doing so, you'll usually find that one race has more A horses than the next, and so you bet your ticket accordingly. For instance, in a Pick 4, you might decide to bet horses #2, #4 and #7 in the first race, #5 and #1 in the second race, #8 (a very heavy favorite) in the third race, and #3, #6, #7 #8 and #9 in the fourth race. To calculate the cost, you simply multiply all the horses per race (ie; 3x2x1x5=30) and then multiply that by the price of the wager. For a $2 Pick 4, this example would be a $60 bet.
Typically, unless the fourth race has a very strong favorite, you want to set up your ticket so you are covering the most horses in that race. If none of your horses win the first race, your ticket goes bust and you can simply carry on with your day. But it's a very anxious feeling to be alive in a Pick 4 going into the fourth race, and knowing you only have one possibility in a 10-horse field.