FAQ Riding

Exacta! Horse Betting Terminology for Rookies

Thoroughbread Racing
Written by Marie A.

Master racetrack terminology

When people think about horse racing, many focus on the horses and the large purse money. Racing isn’t just lucrative for the ones who are involved with the horses, however. It’s estimated over $150 million is won by bettors on the Kentucky Derby each year. And that’s just one race! (Losses? Don’t ask.)

If you want to try your hand at horse betting, you’ll need to know some of the jargon. Whether you’re referring to placings, running, basic bets or combination wagers, learning the lingo can help improve your odds.

Horse Placings

First up, you’ll need to know that horses’ placings have specific terms. It’s not as simple as 1st, 2nd, 3rd! Knowing these will help you decipher whether you’ve won or not.


This is the winner of the race. If you place a Win bet, the horse you pick must come in first.

Keep in mind that the winner isn’t always the first horse to cross the finish line. If there’s a disqualification, the horse that crosses first may be removed and the ‘win’ given to another horse.


This horse comes in second. If you bet on a horse to Place, and it finishes in the top two positions, you’ll get a payout.


This is the third horse to finish. If you bet on a horse to Show, and it finishes in the top three positions, you’ll get a payout.

Any ranking can be discarded if it’s determined the horse interfered with another during the race.

Also, keep in mind that until the results are official, your betting ticket isn’t valid.

Horse Running Terms

There are certain terms racetrack goers use to describe certain aspects of a horse’s race and its ability.


This refers to a horse that’s giving the race everything it’s got.


Bearing in or out means the horse isn’t maintaining a straight course during the run.

Beyer Speed

This is a system designed to rate the performance of a racehorse. Created in the early 1970s by horse racing columnist Andrew Beyer, it incorporates several factors of the race to assign a number to the win.


This term describes a bad step taken when breaking from the starting gate.

Blind Switch

A blind switch refers to a rider’s actions causing him or her to be impeded during a race.


A horse that comes up from the back of the pack to the front at the end of the race refers to a closer.


When a horse is pulled up by the jockey to avoid a collision or to readjust its position in the field, it’s being checked.

Dead Heat

Simply put, this means it’s a tie between multiple horses for a placing. Usually a photo finish can distinguish the winner.


When a horse is extended, it means it’s being forced to run at top speed.


This term refers to a horse that hasn’t run in a race.

Post Position

This is the number assigned to the horse at the starting gate. The horse will load into its designated slot in the field, and the post position number is printed on its saddlecloth to identify it.


If you hear that a horse has been scratched from a race, it means it’s been removed. Sometimes, it’s due to injury or sickness. Whatever the reason, it’s because the trainer doesn’t think the horse is ready to compete.

Thoroughbred Racing

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Betting Terms

These are the terms you’ll need to know to place your bets. They’re a unique language when you first start betting.


These are the returns you can expect to get if your horse is successful in the race. The more money a horse has placed on it, the shorter its odds are.

Straight Bets

Simply put, this term is used to describe a bet for a horse to win.

Boxed Bet

This type of bet means your selections can finish in any order.

Wheel / Part Wheel

Wheel betting is a technique that allows you to spread your bets across the field. It requires you to bet more money, but it doesn’t make you concentrate on a single horse in the field. Examples of wheel betting are exacta, trifecta, superfecta, and pick 3.

In the Money

This describes a horse that finishes in the top four places, meaning they’ll take home a bit of money from the race.

On the Nose

This is an expression used by handicappers to bet on a horse’s win. The better the odds on a horse, the higher their “on the nose” average by handicappers is.

Bridge Jumper

A bridge jumper is a person who places a large amount of money on a single horse.

Bottom Line

You may hear this term and think the person is talking about the final word, but it refers to the female side of a horse’s pedigree.


A handicap is a race where horses carry different weights to even out the field.

False Favorite

These are horses whose odds don’t accurately reflect their ability to perform well.


Lock is another term used to describe a sure thing.


Racebooks are printed cards that have the horses’ information printed out. Each race and its entrants are handy tools for bettors.

Horse racing game

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Exotic Bets or Combination Wagers

So you’ve got the basics down and want to step out into the world of exotic bets? These are a popular option where you wager on multiple horses.

Across the Board

This phrase is used when you’re putting an equal bet for a horse to win, place, or show in a race.


An exacta bet is when you select the first two finishers in a race and put them in the exact order of finish.

Exacta Box

An exacta box refers to placing an exacta bet where the horses can finish first or second in any order.


A trifecta bet is picking the top three horses to finish the race in exact order.


Just like the trifecta and exacta, this one is where you predict the first four horses in finishing order. This is probably the hardest bet to make, but it’s the most rewarding if you get it right.


The quinella bet is choosing two horses to finish in the top two. You win the bet as long as those two horses are the first two finishers.

Daily Double

This provides bettors with a unique opportunity to win big. You just have to pick the winners of two races in a row. Typically, these races are noted as part of the Daily Double races in the racetrack program.

Pick 3 (and 4, 5, 6)

This term refers to picking the winner in consecutive races.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What do you call the start of a horse race?

After the jockeys are mounted and on the track, horses go through a brief period of warming up. Then, they’re loaded into the starting gates. Once all the horses are loaded, the gates spring open and a bell rings to signal that the race has begun. This is referred to as the start.

Q: What is it called when a horse wins their first race?

Before a horse wins their first race, they’re called a maiden. When they win their first race, it’s called breaking their maiden.

Q: What are racing terms?

Horse racing for beginners can be very confusing as a lot of people have developed their language for specific things over the centuries. Because of this, specific terms have been invented. Their definitions are handy for beginners to learn.

Q: How do you place your bet at the track?

You’ll need to find the wagering counter. Once there, you’ll need specific information. It helps to write it down as you have to verbally tell the teller at the window your bet. You need to know the racetrack (because you can bet on races at tracks other than the track you are at), the race number, the dollar amount you want to bet, the type of bet, and the horse’s number.

Q: Can you bet online?

Yes, many states allow betting on horse racing online. Check your state to be sure it’s legal! There are several apps you can download for horse betting as well.

Remote betting

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Parting Thoughts

Now that you’re familiar with the basics of betting, have fun with your wagers. It’s an easy way to get really invested in the races, and it’s a great way for people who aren’t interested in horses or the traditions to get involved at the racetrack. Happy racing, and happy betting!

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About the author


Marie A.

Though I love all horses, Arabians are my all-time favorite breed! I'm raising an Arabian filly and riding and showing my gelding on the Class A Arabian Circuit. I also enjoy going to horse racing and following the latest industry news.