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Exacta Bet Explained – Top 10 Exacta Betting Sites in the USA

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Horse racing is one of the most historical betting markets in America, and – to this day – it also remains one of the most popular. You’ve got a wide variety of ways to bet on the ‘sport of kings’, of course, from straight-up Race Winner picks to complex parlays. Now, it’s time to talk about one of the most intriguing options of all – the exacta bet.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about an exacta bet. We’ll tell you what these intriguing bet types are, what their appeal is, how to use them, and plenty more besides. 

What is an Exacta Bet?

As noted, you’re given quite a bit of variety in the types of horse racing bets you can choose between. Race Winner wagers are the easiest to understand and execute, but deliver comparatively small rewards (and aren’t easy to win, either). If you’re happy to try something slightly more complex, we’d recommend checking out the exacta bet. 

We’ll get into the details of an exacta bet shortly. For now, you should know that it is an ‘exotic’ multiple which involves wagering on two different horses, rather than one. You will bet on one of these horses to win the race, and the other to ‘place’ (come second).

How Does an Exacta Horse Bet Work?

There are actually a few different types of exacta bet, as we’ll see in the next section. For now though, let’s focus on how exactly a basic exacta bet works. 

While an exacta bet is technically a multiples wager, you’ll still only be focusing on one race. Within that race, you’ll be betting on two different horses within the same wager. You’ll pick one of them to win the race, and one of them to ‘place’. In this case, placing simply means coming second. 

Here’s the most important part: the horses you pick must finish in the exact order in which you bet on them. If your exacta bet involved Sandy’s Wager finishing first, and Natural Jewel coming second – and that is indeed the exact result – then you’ll win. If they finish the other way around though, then – even though you technically picked the top two horses – your wager still loses.

Horse Racing Exacta Bets Explained

After the past couple of sections, you should already have a good overview of what a basic exacta bet is. Now though, it’s time to dive into the details of not only this, but the other most popular variations on the exacta bet type. 

Basic Exacta

This is the most straightforward exacta bet type to both understand and execute. Most racebooks will allow you to place this exacta type at the very least, with our table at the top of this page listing the top 10 options. To help make things crystal clear, let’s run through a quick example of how an exacta bet works, using TwinSpires as our bookie.

To start with, you log into your account at TwinSpires, and find the race you want to bet on. In this case, it’s the 7pm race at Churchill Downs.

Using the dropdown menu, you change your bet type from ‘Win’ to ‘Exacta’. 

You then tick the ‘1st’ and ‘2nd’ boxes next to the horses which you believe will finish in those positions. 

After that, just set a stake, head over to your betslip to check that everything is in order, and hit the ‘Submit Bet’ button. If your picks finish in the exact order you chose, you’ll win. If there’s any other 1st/2nd combination at all, you’ll lose – it’s as simple as that. 

Exacta Box Bet

After the basic exacta, the exacta box is easily the most popular form of this bet type. It’s slightly more complex, and requires a higher buy-in amount, but actually increases your chances of making money overall. 

With an exacta box, you can still pick the horses you believe will finish first and second in a given race. Crucially though, because they’re ‘boxed’ together, they can actually finish in any order. Using our earlier example, it doesn’t matter if Sandy’s Wager or Natural Jewel finishes first – as long as they’re the top two horses, you win. 

The drawback for an exacta box is that it costs more to place. Your stake will be doubled in fact, since you’re basically placing two different exactas in one go. 

One of the cool things about an exacta box is that each ‘box’ can actually contain more than two runners. If you like, you can take three or four horses within the same bet, while still just requiring two of them to finish first and second. 

Adding more runners to your exacta box obviously makes it easier to win. The downside, as you can probably guess, is that your stake increases exponentially. 

Take two runners in a basic exacta with a $10 stake, and that overall stake will remain $10. Make it an exacta box with two picks, and the overall stake increases to $20. Adding a third runner takes it to $60, a fourth takes it to $120, and so on. 

Exacta Wheel

Wheels are a slightly less popular version of the exacta bet type. For some punters though, they represent a happy medium between the basic exacta and the exacta box. 

To start an exacta wheel, you pick the horse you believe will win the race. After that though, you create a ‘wheel’ around it of other runners you believe could finish second. You always need that first horse to win, but if any of your other runners do place second, you’ll get a return.  

Like the exacta box, the main downside of the wheel is its cost. These are actually cheaper to place though, as – rather than the price increasing exponentially – it grows in a linear manner as you add selections. If your starting stake is $10, for example, each additional runner will cost you $10 more. 

Why Should You Place an Exacta Bet?

Like all bet types, the exacta bet has both its good and bad points. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most important examples of each.

Pros

  • Higher Payouts

This is – by far and away – the biggest appeal of the exacta bet. They’re naturally harder to win than regular Race Winner wagers, since you’re trying to predict a more specific outcome. Your rewards for doing so correctly are vastly larger though, meaning that one good exacta can easily pay more than several successful Race Winner bets.

  • Greater Control

If you’ve got a great feel for a particular race, an exacta bet allows you to capitalise on that confidence. Within one wager you’re betting on two separate finishing positions, rather than one. For a race which you’ve really put the time into studying – like the Kentucky Derby – this can be a truly rewarding pay-off. 

  • Widely Available

Unlike some complex (or ‘exotic’) multiples, the exacta bet is extremely easy to understand. Almost every respectable sportsbook which features horse racing should allow you to place them.

Cons

  • Hard to Win

This is the most obvious drawback. As you’ll know if you’ve spent any serious time betting on the ponies, it’s difficult enough to get a Race Winner wager right. When you need to correctly predict the second-placed horse too, that difficulty ramps up significantly.

  • Additional Time Commitment

If you want to make the most out of your horse racing betting, you need to put the time into doing research. An exacta bet will require more of your time, as you’re needing to make two picks per race rather than one, and this will only ramp up further if you’re placing a box or wheel wager.

Exacta Bet Calculator 

The key to successfully using the exacta bet is balancing your risk and reward. You already know that these are tricky to win, but – if the potential rewards are high enough – they can still absolutely be worth it. 

Calculating your stakes (and thus your risk) for these wagers can be tricky, especially for exacta boxes. Not all bookies will help you here either, and – if they don’t – we’d recommend using a third-party website instead. 

There are plenty of tools which can help you here, with that provided by America’s Best Racing being our favourite right now. It’s free, easy to use, and lets you choose between regular and box exactas. 

Unfortunately, unlike with other bet types, no calculator can help you work out your actual returns. This is because exacta bets work on a pari mutuel system, meaning that every punters’ exacta stake is piled in together, and winning bettors get a slice of the pie after the race. As such, it’s impossible to calculate exactly how much you stand to win. 

Betting Strategies to Use for Exacta Betting

There are a huge number of strategies out there for horse racing betting, put together by innumerable experts over the years. Very few of these actually relate to exacta betting specifically, with these being a couple of the rare examples. 

Exploiting the Favourite

When there’s a big favourite going into a race, it’s often not even worth betting it. There’s always a good chance it won’t come through, and if the price is low enough then the risk outweighs the reward. 

Exacta bets allow you to take a heavy favourite. You’ll do so by lumping them together with a second horse in order to still give your overall odds boost, and significantly increase your potential profits. 

Bet the Field

This is the most common way in which veteran punters use exacta bets. Placing individual wagers on every runner in a race would never turn a profit, because of the vig which bookies bake into their odds. With exacta bets, though, it can genuinely be profitable.

Using an exacta wheel is the main method for pursuing this strategy. You take a big favourite in which you’re highly confident, then place every other runner into your wheel to guarantee a return. Exacta boxes can also let you cover plenty of runners, although covering the whole field may not be profitable. 

5 Key Betting Tips When Placing an Exacta Bet

We’ve already dropped a couple of juicy tidbits on how to make the most of your exacta bet during this article. Now though, let’s focus on five of the very best betting tips for turning a profit with these exotic multiples.

Tip 1 – Start Slow

If it’s your first time placing an exacta bet, don’t dive into the deep end and immediately stake $500 on a long shot. Start slow instead, either with the minimum stake allowed or simply with a much smaller stake than normal. After that, wait until you’ve really got the hang of this bet type before gradually ramping up your stakes.

Tip 2 – Measure Your Stakes

Even once you feel more comfortable with the exacta bet type, you should still be careful with your stakes, and keep them far lower than you normally would with your horse racing wagers. Remember that – by their nature – these are hard wagers to win. Even if you feel as confident as possible in an exacta bet, there’s still a decent chance that you’ll lose not just the wager, but your entire stake. 

Tip 3 – Put in the Time

As with most bet types, there’s no substitute for hard work when making your exacta picks. Put the time into studying the form, conditions, and prices before committing to any race. Get a good cross-section of expert opinions to inform your exacta bet, rather than relying on any single betting tipster. 

Tip 4 – Focus on Big Events

This is another tip we’d definitely recommend for inexperienced exacta bettors. Bigger races will see the most attention from betting tipsters by far, and many will even provide specific exacta advice for these events. Not only that, but these races often serve as good excuses for bookies to create special horse racing offers too.

Tip 5 – Mix it Up 

Remember that you’re not limited to a single exacta bet type. There are three main ones, as covered earlier in this article, and each has its own strengths. Don’t be afraid to experiment with all three with smaller stakes, and identify which you feel most comfortable with going forward. 

Best Exacta Bet Offers in the US

Special offers are one of the most effective ways to make your money go further. That’s as true with horse racing as with any other betting market. There’s only really one type of promo that’s specifically designed for exacta bets, but regular welcome offers can also prove extremely useful here.

Exacta Bet Insurance

TwinSpires is one of the few sportsbooks to provide a dedicated exacta bet special offer at the time of writing. It’s a classic insurance deal, which will refund your stake of up to $10 on a losing exacta bet if certain conditions are met. 

For starters, you must wager on an eligible racecourse, all of which are clearly displayed on the Exacta Insurance offer page. At least seven runners must start the race, and the deal will specifically kick in when your two chosen horses finish in the top three, but not in the order predicted in your wager. 

Welcome Offers

Sign up deals provided the biggest bonuses of all. Unfortunately, even if horse racing markets are eligible for any qualifying or rollover requirements, the exacta bet type specifically will often be excluded. If you can find a sign up deal promising a sizable bonus with fair T&Cs, and for which exacta bets are definitely eligible, we’d recommend pouncing immediately. 

Placing an Exacta Bet on a Mobile App

The evolution of mobile technology has been a game-changer for sports bettors. This definitely applies to horse racing betting too, and naturally to fans of the exacta bet. 

US sportsbooks actually lag a little behind those in other countries in this area. While almost every major international brand will have its own mobile apps, for example, this is still not a given for American brands. 

That said, the cupboard isn’t completely bare here, and you can see three recommended apps for exacta betting below. Elsewhere, even brands that don’t have actual apps will still provide mobile versions of their main sites, which largely contain all the same features. Most importantly for our needs, this includes an identical range of horse racing markets, and the possibility to place an exacta bet whenever and wherever you please. 

Top 3 Mobile Apps for an Exacta Bet in Horse Racing

Brand Operating Systems Size (iOS / Android) Minimum iOS Version Minimum Android Version
TwinSpires Android, iOS 77 MB / 16 MB 12.1 6.0
TVG Android, iOS 35 MB / 6 MB 12.0 Not Stated
Bovada iOS 15 MB 12.0 N/A

Is There Exacta Betting in Other Sports?

It might seem as if the format of an exacta bet could be applied to any sport in which individual entrants compete against each other – motor racing, cycling, athletics, and so on. In reality though, the exacta bet is almost entirely linked to horse racing. 

In fact, the only other sport on which you can reliably find exacta bet markets is greyhound racing. Exactas work in almost precisely the same way here – you pick a winner, then one or more other runners, all of whom must finish in the exact order you predicted. 

Final Thoughts

After reading this article, you should have a full overview of what an exacta bet is, and how it works. Not only that, but you also have a great feel for the strengths and weaknesses of this intriguing bet type, and – by extension – whether it’s suitable for your gambling or not. 

If the exacta bet does appeal to you, your next step is naturally to pick one of our recommended betting sites, get signed up, fund your account, and try an exacta bet out for yourself. Remember to start off slow and build up, and to put the time and effort into researching your picks. By doing so, you give yourself the best possible chance to have a profitable and enjoyable experience. 

FAQ

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Joe is a highly-experienced writer, with a focus on sports betting content. His specialties include sportsbook reviews and betting tips. A keen football fan, he also loves analysing and writing about the beautiful game.