In many ways, handicapping a horse race is an academic pursuit. You are trying to analyze all sorts of data to come up with a theory that is more accurate than your fellow bettors’.
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve talked about when to bet to win, and what instances merit a place or show wager. Today, I look at exactas, which sound complicated, but are actually among the most simple form of exotic bets. They are a prime example of a bet that is very useful in certain instances, and often poorly utilized by the masses.
An exacta requires a bettor to pick who will finish first and second in an individual race. You must pick both correct, in the right order, to win.
Usually, $1 is the minimum wager, though 50¢ exactas are frequently permitted, too.
The track takes between 18 and 26-percent off the top of exactas. Low 20s is the norm. They are a particularly good bet in New York with its 18.5-percent rate. They’re not so wonderful in California with a nearly 23-percent rake.
Everyone. Like a win bet, exactas are easy enough to understand that many recreational players feel comfortable with them, yet they can be profitable enough that sophisticated players utilize them.
Exactas are great in big fields when you can narrow the number of true contenders down to two or three. In that case, you can – and usually should – bet several combinations. That will ensure you have a winner as long as your group of horses finishes one-two.
If you’re confident about a horse, let’s call him Buck, finishing first, you can “key” him and focusing your exacta bets with Buck “on top of” the other contenders you’ve IDed. If you’re only confident that Buck will finish top-two, then also play your secondary choices “on top of” Buck. That way, you’ll win if he finishes first or second and one of your secondary choices does likewise.
One of the biggest mistakes that bettors make is to “box” exactas. When you “box” an exacta, you pick any number of horses and you win as long as the horses in your group finish first and second.
The concept is so appealing; as long as one of your horses wins and and the other finishes second, you cash the bet.
However, the chances that you actually feel exactly equal about two horses is slim. If your budget is $10 for exactas, instead of a $5 exacta box, play the horse you like best for $7 on top of your second choice, and the second choice over the top play for $3.
The same holds true for three-horse exactas. It is better money management to play the combinations you prefer for more cash.
Exacta keys are also very popular. If you like a horse a lot, you can throw several horses “underneath him” and hope to hit a big winner. What you should really do is “tier” your second choices. Remember our favorite, Buck? Let’s bring him back for an example. Instead of throwing equal money at all the secondary horses, play a $5 exacta with Buck on top of your second favorite, a $3 exacta with Buck on top of your third favorite, and a $2 exacta with Buck on top of your fourth favorite.
Exactas tend to be poor bets in small fields because the number of betting options limits potential profit. It is also not a great bet when a race has two clear-cut best horses with short odds. There is not a strong enough ROI in that scenario.
Photo credit: Mike Boswell (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].
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