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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Bourbon

Bet You Didn't Know: Basics of Horse Racing Bets

With the Kentucky Derby right around the corner, you might want a mint julep in one hand and a betting ticket in the other hand. Wagering on horse racing can be intimidating, but here’s some information to help you sort through the dizzying array of betting options.

DISCLOSURE: Always wager responsibly. If you or someone you know needs help for a gambling problem, call today. 1 -800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537). Help is available 24 hours every day.


The basic or “straight” wagers that many may be familiar with are Win, Place and Show. Traditionally these required a minimum bet of $2, but today, you may find them for a minimum of $1.

WIN: Requires that your horse & rider combination finish first. Most tracks place all of the wagers into a pool and then remove approximately 15-20% to cover expenses. The remainder is then spread among those that hold Win tickets.

PLACE: Requires your horse & rider combination to finish first or second. While it’s easier to “win” part of the pool, payouts are generally smaller than those selecting WIN.

SHOW: Requires your horse & rider combination to finish in first, second, or third. This type of bet pays progressively less than Win or Place. Oftentimes, you may receive only $1 for every $2 bet.


Now that you’re getting the hang of it, you may be ready to move up to more exotic bets. These require a fair amount of skill to wager successfully, unless you have some incredible beginners luck.

EXACTA: Pick the first two finishers in one race in the exact order.

QUINELLA: Pick the first two finishers in one race in either order.

DOUBLE: Pick the winner of two consecutive races.


Got a group of friends coming together for a Derby Party? Here’s a way to have a little fun as a group.

SHOW PARLAY: 4 couples decide to invest $10 each ($40) to Show. If your horse & rider finish in the top 3 and it pays $4 to show, you now have $80 to invest in the next race’s Show pool. Continue rebetting your winnings until you’re unsuccessful. The most you’ll lose is your original $10 wager. Continue wagering or voluntarily take some money off the table. While there’s luck involved, this can also serve the risk-averse, allowing a novice to get a taste of wagering without risking a significant portion of your wallet.


One thing to note is that most horse wagering in the United States is pari-mutuel, meaning you’re predominately betting against other bettors instead of against the house (as in typical casino wagers).

So, as you watch the telecasts and toteboards, you’ll see the odds on particular horses change as wagers are placed. Understanding how other people bet can provide as much of an edge as understanding the horses, jockeys, and track.

As betters place their wagers, the odds are not fixed and are determined by the betters themselves and how much they bet on each horse.


Just as the announcer at Churchill Downs announces “riders up” and jockeys swing into the saddle, add some excitement and entertainment to your Derby (or Triple Crown) party this racing season and consider placing a bet or two with friends for added entertainment.

Pick your favorite trainer, jockey, racing silk, or horse color (chestnut, bay, grey, etc.). Whether you win or lose, celebrate with America’s native spirit.

As always, wager responsibly. Win, place, or show, bourbon is a definite winner!

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