The best way to decide and create a show bet

January 18th, 2023

As strange as it might sound, the horse racing wager that's easiest to hit is one of the trickiest to understand on a technical level.

We're referring to the show bet, which simply requires a bettor to choose a horse that finishes in the top three. Whether your horse finishes first, second, or third, you cash a winning payoff.

How does the show bet work?

Barring a dead-heat for third place, a typical horse race produces three show payoffs: one for the winner, one for the runner-up, and one for the third-place finisher. Payoffs are determined in pari-mutuel fashion, with all wagering dollars (minus takeout) pooled together and split among bettors who wagered on any of the top three finishers.

The fact the pool is split among the backers of three different horses means show payoffs tend to be small. This is especially true when the favorite finishes in the top three, since the favorite draws the most betting support of all.

How to choose a show bet

When betting a race in which a heavy favorite appears formidable, you'll probably want to avoid betting to show. A heavy favorite won't pay much to show (perhaps only $2.10 or $2.20 for every $2 win bet), and the show payoffs for the other top-three finishers will likewise be small.

A better strategy is to seek large fields without clear favorites. In races like these, show payoffs can be quite respectable. If you can accurately select a high percentage of horses who finish in the top three, you can make a profit playing show bets. In the 2010 Kentucky Derby (G1), which featured 20 starters and a tenuous 6-1 favorite, the show payoffs for the top three finishers (all respected horses starting at 12-1 or less) were $6.00, $8.00, and $7.40.

When to bet (or bet against) heavy favorites in the show pool

There are a couple of possible exceptions to the "avoid heavy favorites" strategy. If you were planning to bet the heavy favorite to win, switching gears and betting to show might be a sounder strategy. The minimum payoff in U.S. pari-mutuel wagering is $2.10, so if a horse is going to pay $2.10 to win, you might as well bet to show and receive the same $2.10 payoff with less risk.

Show bets can also be a good approach if you believe a heavy favorite is vulnerable to defeat. Favorites tend to attract large percentages of the show pool, and when they finish out of the top three, huge show payoffs can ensue. When Twirling Candy finished fifth as the 1-2 favorite in the 2011 Santa Anita H. (G1), the show payoffs were $14.40, $25.00, and $48.20.

How to place a show bet

Placing a show bet on TwinSpires is easy. Simply select “Show” from the list of wagering options, choose the horse and dollar amount you wish to bet, and submit your wager. Good luck!