Step-by-step: Building an exacta ticket

July 30th, 2019

The exacta requires bettors to select the top two finishers of a race in the correct order.

As one of the oldest exotic wagers in horse racing, the exacta is practically as recognizable as the traditional win/place/show wagers the sport has long been known for.

The exacta challenge is a little harder than it sounds—an eight-horse field contains 56 possible exacta outcomes—but by employing sound betting strategies, you can increase your chances of hitting this straightforward and often lucrative wager.

These three simple steps can help you improve your exacta plays.

Step 1: Choose an ideal race

Unless you’re fond of hunch betting names that strike your fancy (not a strategy we recommend), the first step is to find a race in which you have an opinion on the probable outcome. And by “opinion,” we don’t necessarily mean a strong view of the most likely winner.

While it’s helpful to have a top choice, it’s just as useful to have a negative opinion of a short-priced favorite. If you’re correct and the vulnerable favorite finishes out of the top two, the rewards can be enticing. Or perhaps you’re not sure who will win, but you feel two or three runners tower above their rivals. With so few contenders to consider, the exacta beckons as a way to boost your profits on the race.

Once you’ve chosen a race, it’s time to formulate your betting strategy.

Step 2: Design your ticket

The exacta is a straightforward wager, but there are a few different strategies you can employ, depending on your opinion of the race.

  • If you think one horse is certain to win (say, #4), and another seems clearly second-best (perhaps #8), you can play a straight exacta reflecting your opinion—4 with 8.
  • If two horses stand out as clearly best, but you’re uncertain which will prevail, you can “box” them (play them both in first and second place). If they finish 1-2, either order, you’re a winner. If you like #5 and #6, you bet a 5,6 box—5,6 with 5,6.
  • If you like one runner, but can’t separate the remaining contenders, you can key your top choice in an exacta wheel, betting it on top with all other runners underneath and vice versa. If you like #3, you can bet 3 with ALL, and then ALL with 3. Of course, these tickets can quickly grow expensive and are most effective when the horse you’re keying is a longshot, guaranteeing a large payoff if you hit.
  • Maybe a few of the “all others” are such hopeless longshots you feel fine excluding them from your tickets and saving some money. You can still key #3 with the runners you do like—for example, 3 with 1,2,5,7 and 1,2,5,7 with 3.
  • Maybe your opinion is a little more complicated—perhaps you think #1 or #4 will win, but you also believe #7 could sneak into second place. An exacta part-wheel can cover for this possibility—just play 1,4 with 1,4,7.

Step 3: Budget accordingly

You probably have a good idea of how much you want to spend on any given exacta play, but make sure your investment accurately reflects your opinion. Most of the time it doesn’t make sense to wheel an even-money favorite with “all others” in a large field. If the favorite is #1 and there are ten other runners, a pair of $1 tickets (1 with ALL and ALL with 1) will cost you $20. But if the favorite wins and another low-priced runner finishes second, you might be looking at a return of $10, a loss on a winning ticket.

You should avoid playing lots of horses in the exacta, unless you’re confident a big longshot will crack the top two. Even $1 exacta boxes quickly grow expensive as you add more horses, as the numbers below clearly illustrate.

A $1 exacta box using X horses costs…

  • 2 horses: $2
  • 3 horses: $6
  • 4 horses: $12
  • 5 horses: $20
  • 6 horses: $30

Particularly if there’s one runner you strongly prefer, you should always ask yourself if you’d be better off betting the horse to win, rather than playing with three or four others in the exacta.

Also consider the possibility of playing multiple exactas for different base amounts. Let’s say you plan to box #3 (an 8-5 favorite) with #7 (an 8-1 longshot). Rather than play them equally in a $5 box (costing $10), consider spending $7 on the 3 with 7 ticket and $3 on the 7 with 3 combination. Since the ticket with the favorite on top will generate a smaller payoff, spending more on the lower-paying combination will help balance the prospective payoffs.

Along those same lines, be sure to check out the “exacta probables” available through online wagering platforms and racetrack simulcast feeds. A glance at the chart will reveal the probable payoffs for any given exacta outcome, allowing you to see in advance of your tickets are worth playing.

Good luck with your bets!