The Kentucky Derby is far and away the biggest race of the year for horse racing bettors both serious and casual. Interestingly, it’s also the hardest race of the year to bet on successfully because of the massive amounts of public money, the size of the field, their inexperience, the challenging distance, and the total chaos caused by the massive crowd. Because the challenge of making winning picks in this leg of the Triple Crown is so immense in this race, it is important for bettors to find ways to maximize their potential returns, and the obvious way to do that is to use exotic bets. There are two basic types of exotic bets. Inter-race exotics include the results of several consecutive races, and include bets like the pick six, pick three and daily double. We’ll look at those later on. Here we are going to look at the four main types of intra-race exotics, and how they can be used effectively by smart race handicappers in the Kentucky Derby.
Quinella – The object here is to pick the two horses that are going to finish first and second in the race. The order that they finish in doesn’t matter – if you bet a quinella with horses 2 and 3 then you win if they finish 2-3 or 3-2. This is the easiest of the intra-race exotics to win, so it pays the lowest return on your investment. Since each bet includes two winning possibilities it can pay little, and is not seen as an attractive bet by many serious bettors. The potential quinella payouts are also harder to determine in advance than other possibilities, so it can be too easy to make a bet that doesn’t make as much sense as it seemed to. For those reasons the quinella is far less attractive than its close cousin the exacta.
Exacta – The exacta is like the quinella, except you must pick the horses in the correct order. That means is you bet a 2-3 exacta and the horses finish 3-2 then you get nothing. The bet is obviously more difficult, so it pays more than the quinella – often more than twice as much. Exactas can be played on just one combination of horses, but bettors will typically play a few combinations in the same race to give themselves a better chance at success. There are several ways to do this, but the most popular are the box and the wheel. In a box you are betting all combinations of the horses you pick. For example, a 2-3 box would pay off if the results are 2-3 or 3-2, and a 1-2-3 box would pay off for 1-2, 1-3, 2-1, 2-3, 3-1, or 3-2. You can box as many horses as you want in a race, but you have to remember that you are paying for each combination, so a $2 exacta box of 2-3 would cost $4 and the same bet for 1-2-3 would cost $12. A wheel is like a box except you don’t choose to bet every combination. You might think that one horse is likely to win, and one of three horses is likely to finish second. In that case you would bet a $2 wheel of 1 over 2,3,4 which would cost you $6 and would pay off is the results are 1-2, 1-3, or 1-4. An exacta is a powerful tool because it can produce a generous payout in some situations. It can be useful, for example, with a heavy favorite. The favorite likely won’t pay much to win, but you could get a better return by betting that horse in a box or a wheel. In the Kentucky Derby you have to be very careful when you are using exactas. Because there are so many horses in the field there are probably going to be several you think stand a chance of finishing in the top two. If you aren’t paying close attention to the potential payouts then it can be easy to place so many exacta bets that you lose money even if you pick the winning combination. If you like a lot of horses in the field then you may be able to get a better potential ROI with less risk just from betting the horses to win unless they are heavy favorites.
Trifecta – The trifecta works exactly like the exacta except you have to pick the top three finishers in the right order. You can box a trifecta, and you can wheel a single horse or any number of horses in any of the three positions. The trifecta is obviously harder to win than the exacta because of the added position you have to pick correctly, but the payoffs are often high enough to compensate for that added challenge. Like the exacta, though, it can be easy to invest more than you are likely to win back if you aren’t careful. One of the big mistakes bettors make with the trifecta in big races like the Derby is boxing too many horses. A $2, five horse trifecta box, for example, costs $120. One way to get around this is to spend more time looking at the horses you are boxing and their chances. For example, of the five horses you are boxing you might feel that two of them are much more likely to win than the others. By just wheeling those two on top of the other five you can reduce your bet cost down to $48 and avoid paying for a lot of combinations that you don’t think are particularly likely anyway. It’s important when using these bets to think of all the combinations you are betting and eliminate the ones in which the cost is higher than the value.
Superfecta – The superfecta is like an exacta or trifecta except you have to pick the top four thoroughbreds in order. Obviously everything we have talked about up to this point is even more important here – the costs can be high, but so can the potential payoff, and you need to make sure that you are keeping the costs under control when crafting your bets. The more positions you have to pick in a bet, though, the more combinations you can afford to play because the potential for a large payoff is higher – especially if a longshot or two wind up in the top four. In the Derby it’s important to be creative if you are making this bet. It’s very unlikely that the four favorites will sweep the top four spots, and even if they did it wouldn’t pay much. You need to intelligently use longshots – or at least longer shots – in these bets to maximize your potential return. With a higher cost, higher potential return bet like this you also need to keep an important thing in mind if you are going to use them on the Derby. Bets with high returns have those high returns because they are hard to hit. Even the most successful superfecta bettors will show a long term profit despite frequently having losing streaks of several races and a win percentage that could be quite low. If you choose to bet these bets on the Derby and you do it well then you need to be prepared for the fact that you could lose for several years in a row even if you are profitable over the long term. You need both the bankroll and the mental stamina to survive that reality.