Exactor Betting Strategies

by | Feb 26, 2019

What is a Exacta Bet?

Exacta betting requires you to pick the first two finishers in a race in exact order – hence the name exacta. Also known at some tracks as the exactor or perfecta, exactas are attractive betting propositions to many players because of the potential for large payoffs. Exacta wagering also offers an opportunity to make a good profit on race in which a heavy favorite makes win betting a poor value proposition.

Whereas a horse might only pay $5 to win for a $2 bet, an exacta combining that winner with a longshot could pay substantially more. Some players like to bet exactas not only because of the potential for high payoffs, but also because the tote board at most racetracks will show the probable exacta payoffs before a race runs. Being able to see what you can win before a race runs is a very appealing option to many bettors. Additionally, exacta boxes of two or more horses are an option used by many bettors when their handicapping can’t separate the winner from their top contenders.


There are basically three different exacta wagering options, some more efficient than others.

Straight Exacta Betting

The first exacta wagering option is the straight exacta bet, generally offered in minimum denominations of $2. A $2 straight exacta bet 3-4 would require that horse 3 win the race and horse 4 finish second in order for you to cash a winning ticket.

Exacta Boxes

The second and most popular exacta wagering strategy is an exacta box combining 2 or more horses to finish first or second in either order. Generally offered in a minimum denomination of $1, an exacta box of horses 3-4 would represent 2 possible combinations – 3-4 and 4-3, at a cost of $2. The cost of a $1 exacta box correlates directly to the number of horses and possible combinations in the box.

For example, a $1 exacta box of 3 horses (2-3-4) represents 6 possible $1 winning combinations that include 2-3, 2-4, 3-4, 3-2, 4-2 and 4-3. While any of these combinations would allow you to cash a ticket, keep in mind that your payout would be only half of the actual $2 straight exacta payout, because you played a $1 box.

A box can be played in any denomination of $1 or more, but the higher the denomination played, the higher the cost. A $2 exacta box of the same three horses (2-3-4) would cost $12, twice as much as a $1 exacta box, but would also offer the full $2 exacta payout as displayed on the tote board.

To determine the cost of a $1 exacta box take the number of horses you want to box and multiply that number by the number of horses in the box minus 1. A $1 exacta box of four horses would be calculated as 4 * (4-1) * $1 = $12, which equates to 12 $1 exacta bets.

Below are some additional exacta box calculations with costs:

$1 exacta box of 3 horses = 3 * (3-1) = 6 combinations * $1= $6

$1 exacta box of 4 horses = 4 * (4-1) = 12 combinations * $1 = $12

$1 exacta box of 5 horses = 5 * (5-1) = 20 combinations * $1 = $20

$1 exacta box of 6 horses = 6 * (6-1) = 30 combinations * $1 = $30

$1 exacta box of 7 horses = 7 * (7-1) = 42 combinations * $1 = $42

$1 exacta box of 8 horses = 8 * (8-1) = 56 combinations * $1 = $56

You can box as many horses as you like in an exacta, but this is not generally a wise betting strategy simply because all of the horses in the box do not have the same chance of finishing first or second.

In most, but not all cases, exacta boxes represent poor value, but because they are relatively easy to understand, mentally easier to play (you don’t have to pick the horses in exact order) and offer the greatest probability of cashing a ticket (even at a loss), they are the most popular method of playing exactas.

Because exacta boxes rate each combination in the box as having the exact same probability of winning (which is never the case) they produce inefficiencies in the exacta betting pools. It is these inefficiencies that smart bettors look for and try to take advantage of.


Exacta Wheels and Exacta Part-Wheels

The third method of playing exactas is to wheel one horse (or more than one horse) in one position with any number of horses in the other position. For example, if you were to play a $1 exacta wheel 3-with-All in an eight-horse field (3 with 1,2,4,5,6,7,8 – seven $1 combinations) it would cost you $7. The 3 horse would have to win and any of 1,2,4,5,6,7,8 would have to finish second in order for you to cash a ticket. Or, if you think the 3 horse has a better chance of finishing second, you might play a $1 exacta wheel All-with-3 (1,2,4,5,6,7,8 with 3 – again seven $1 combinations) at a cost of $7. In this case any horse in the race could win and the 3 horse would have to finish second in order for you to cash a ticket.

Exactas can also be played as part-wheels, which differs from a full wheel in that you do not use ALL the horses in one part of the wheel. For example, in an eight-horse field, you might play a $1 exacta part-wheel 3 with 2, 4, 5 (three possible winning combinations of 3-2, 3-4, 3-5) at a cost of $3. Or you might play the part-wheel the other way, 2, 4, 5 with 3 (also three possible winning combinations of 2-3, 4-3, 5-3) at a cost of $3. While exacta wheels and part-wheels are not quite as inefficient as boxes, they still leave room for improvement, which brings us to our preferred exacta betting strategy.


Preferred Exacta Betting Strategies

Let’s say you like horses 5, 6 and 7 to finish first or second in a race. Your handicapping tells you that horse 5 has a 50 percent chance of winning the race, horse 6 has a 20 percent chance of winning and horse 7 has a 10 percent chance of winning. Most bettors in this scenario would play an exactor box of 5-6-7 – six possible combinations. Other bettors might play an exactor part-wheel wheel of 5-with 6, 7 and an additional part-wheel of 6, 7 with 5 – four possible combinations. The exactor box rates each possible combination as having the same probability of winning, which according to your handicapping is not correct. The part-wheel in this case is more efficient, leaving out the less probable combinations of 6-7 and 7-6, but still rating both the 6 and 7 horses as having the same probability of winning or finishing second.

Considering you have $60 to spend and that you have rated the chances of each horse winning as follows: 5 – 50%, 6-20%, 7-10%, below are some possible betting options.


Exacta Box – Least Efficient

$10 exacta box 5-6-7 = 6 possible combinations bet in equal proportion = $60

Resulting Exacta Tickets

  • $10 exacta 5-6 = $10
  • $10 exacta 5-7 = $10
  • $10 exacta 6-5 = $10
  • $10 exacta 6-7 = $10
  • $10 exacta 7-5 = $10
  • $10 exacta 7-6 = $10

Exacta Part-Wheels – Slightly More Efficient

$15 exacta part wheel 5 with 6, 7 and 6, 7 with 5 = 4 possible combinations = $60

Resulting Exacta Tickets

  • $15 exacta 5-6 = $15
  • $15 exacta 5-7 = $15
  • $15 exacta 6-5 = $15
  • $15 exacta 7-5 = $15

Exacta Part-Wheels Correlated to Winning Probabilities as Identified by Your Handicapping – Highly Efficient

  • $30 exacta 5-6
  • $20 exacta 5-7
  • $6 exacta 6-5
  • $4 exacta 7-5

Results and Exacta Payoffs

The race ran exactly as your handicapping said it would – the 5 horse won and the 6 horse ran second. The $2 exacta 5-6 paid $20. Lucky you! Depending on how you bet.

If you had bet the first option, the exacta box:

Cost: $60 Return: $10 exacta 5-6 = $100 – $60 = $40 Profit

If you had bet the second option, the exacta part-wheels:

Cost: $60 Return: $15 exacta 5-6 = $150 – $60 = $90 Profit

If you had bet the third option – exacta part-wheels correlated to winning probabilities as identified by your handicapping:

Cost: $60 Return: $30 exacta 5-6 = $300 – $60 = $240 Profit

The final exacta wagering strategy, which places more money on the higher probability combinations as identified by your handicapping, produces the largest profit – which is the key to producing a positive return on investment over the long term. While you might cash more tickets using the inefficient exacta box method, it is unlikely that this low-profit strategy will sustain itself over the long haul.

Keeping in mind that combinations of favorites in exactas generally produce lower payoffs than they should, as do combinations of longshots, you can further increase you chances of achieving a positive return on investment by focusing your play on races in which your handicapping points to the high probability of two medium-priced horses completing the exacta. The latter scenario often results in payoffs that are larger than they should be due to inefficiencies in the exacta betting pools.

In summary, using solid handicapping fundamentals to determine your own set of probabilities, and then focusing your main exacta combinations on the most probable outcomes, rather than on boxes and wheels, is the key to making a long-term profit from exacta betting.

Ready to place some bets? Check out our review of Bovada Racebook, the best place to wager on horses on the internet!

How to Bet on Horses

Read our Race Betting Guide to get insight on all of the types of wagering options in horse racing. Dig deeper below to get tips on the most popular exotic wagers with winning strategies provided by expert Kenneth Strong.

In-Season Tracks