What to Bet and When: Vertical Exotics (Exacta, Trifecta, and Beyond)

A vertical exotic bet requires a player to pick multiple finishing positions in a given race.

In part two of our three part series we look at the right conditions for a vertical exotic bet. This term refers to any wager that involves picking multiple finishing positions in a given race. These include exactas, trifectas, superfectas, and super hi-fives.

For the purpose of this piece we will focus on exacta, trifecta, and superfecta as they are the most common. However, the logic used for trifectas and superfectas can easily be applied to super hi-five players as well.

With any of these wagers, players should not even consider getting involved unless they have a clear picture in their head of what the race shape will look like.

Bankroll Management

This topic was covered more extensively in part one of the series, but as a general rule players should not be using more than 5% of their bankroll on a given race. Vertical exotics will increase the number of horses you can cover to win, but will also get expensive quickly. Most people are ok sticking to a budget in the WPS wagers. However, it is vital to apply the same rules to the vertical exotics as well.

For the $100 bankroll player this means never playing an exact, trifecta, or superfecta that exceeds $5.

Find the Wager that is Right for You

Many people like playing the “gimmicks” as they were referred to upon introduction to the racing market. The advantage of these wagers is that they can create the massive payouts. Furthermore, a crafty exotic player can put horses together in combinations that allow them to use an obvious short price with something a bit more creative to get value out of a horse that was offering none in the WPS pool.


Boxing exotic wagers means that horses can come in any order. For example, a $1 exacta box with three horses costs $6. This is because you are buying a $1 ticket on every possible combination of how the horses could finish. If you are serious about being a horseplayer, boxes should largely be avoided.

To box horses with equal weight is suggesting you don’t prefer any of the horses. If you don’t have a preference for any horse, you are gambling and hoping for a lucky outcome. Horseplayers should only be looking to play where they have an edge. If you can’t distinguish one horse from the other, you should pass the race.

When to Bet the Exacta

Flipping Underlays

The exacta can be a great way to add value to a win bet. In part one of the series I mentioned the importance of establishing fair odds. This comes into play for exactas as well. If you have a horse that is an underlay in the win pool, look at what you think might happen in the race. Check to see if combinations of your top horse and likely contenders can turn that horse into an overlay.

For example, if I think the #1 horse can win, but feel fair odds are 2-1. The horse is going off at 3-2. This is an underlay and does not allow me to bet the win. However, I think the 2 best horses in the race are the #1 and #3 while the rest of the field is a cut below. The #3 horse is going off as the fourth choice and the exacta is paying $10.

In this situation a $5 win bet on the $1 would pay around $7.50. A $5 exacta #1 with #3 would pay $50. Even using a weighted box with $3 on 1/3 and $2 on 3/1 you would be guaranteed a minimum of $20. Compare that to the $7.50 you’d get on the win.

Speed + Stalk

One other situation where the exacta is a good bet choice is specifically related to the pace setup. This will be a common theme throughout the vertical plays. These wagers are infrequently filled out by the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best horses. To be successful a player must be able to figure out how the pace might be able to impact the final result.

In the speed and stalk scenario, you should be looking for your top horse to exhibit a stalking run style and a longshot that looks like a lone speed runner. When this situation arises it is reasonable to assume the lone speed will get comfortable on the lead. The better horse will allow them to set the pace knowing they can mow them down late.

In this situation it makes sense to play a weighted box with your top horse over the lone speed for a greater amount and the lone speed over your top horse for a smaller amount.

When to Bet the Trifecta or Superfecta

Trifectas and superfectas are enticing wagers. Along with offering massive payouts they have a relatively low barrier of entry often carrying $.50 and $.10 minimums. However, the degree of difficulty on these wagers is incredibly tough and usually requires a greater overall capital outlay than the exacta.

In order for a player to attack these more complicated wagers there are a couple of requirements that should be met.

The first step in betting the trifecta is finding a horse outside of the top 5 betting interests that you think has a shot to hit the board (top 3). These are the horses that will pump value into the bet and make it worthwhile. If you can’t find a qualified horse to be your long shot, pass the race.

Strong Favorite with Longshot Key

You don’t have to throw the favorite to make a profit in these wagers. If you think the favorite is the likeliest winner create 2 trifecta tickets keying the favorite on top with your key longshot underneath in both the 2nd and third positions. Fill out the remaining positions with other horses that you think can hit the board.

Trifecta Tickets

  • Ticket #1: Favorite/Longshot/1,2,3,4,5 ($2.50)
  • Ticket #2: Favorite/1,2,3,4,5/Longshot ($2.50)

Superfecta Tickets

  • Ticket #1: Favorite/Longshot/1,2,3,4,5/1,2,3,4,5,6 ($2.50)
  • Ticket #2: Favorite/1,2,3,4,5/Longshot/1,2,3,4,5,6 ($2.50)

Bad Favorite

While the previous scenario can still be an effective way to cash on a solid favorite, the best trifecta opportunities are when you think the favorite is flawed and have a key longshot.

In this situation you will key your longshot with the horses you prefer to the favorite. The number of other horses you use in this will depend on budget. If you don’t have enough money under the 5% guideline to make the bet, pass the race or shorten up to an exacta.

Trifecta Tickets

  • Ticket #1: Longshot/1,2/1,2,3 ($2)
  • Ticket #2: 1,2/Longshot/1,2,3 ($2)
  • Ticket #3: 1,2/1,2,3/Longshot ($2)

Superfecta Tickets

  • Ticket #1: Longshot/1,2/1,2,3/1,2,3,4 ($2.40)
  • Ticket #2: 1,2/Longshot/1,2,3/1,2,3,4 ($2.40)
  • Ticket #3: 1,2/1,2,3/Longshot/1,2,3,4 ($2.40)

In both cases you’ll notice that I did not use the longshot in the 4th position. It has been my experience that this position has little impact on the overall payout unless it is paired with another unexpected outcome in one of the top 3 positions.

Vertical Exotics and Betting News

Betting News provides a unique handicapping tool that can help with any exotic bet.

Betting News handicapping tools can help players build the most efficient vertical bet because of their in the money predictions.
First race analysis from Remington Park on Monday 11/29/2021/

Looking at the race above from the Betting News Handicapping Tool a player can quickly identify that the 6 is a rank outsider. While many online platforms will show you fair odds of a horse to win, Betting News provides how likely the horse is to come in 2nd and 3rd as well.

When constructing vertical tickets using this tool I like to look at horses with a good chance to hit the board that are undervalued in the wagering. In this spot I would be looking to use #3 in at least one placing on every ticket since Betting News shows him hitting the board at 6-1 in 6 out of every 10 races.

Where to Bet Vertical Exotics

Vertical wagers can be placed on site or with any online wagering platform. Betting News has reviews of both TVG and Twinspires if you are new to online wagering.

Installments 3 of What to Bet and When

With WPS and vertical exotics covered, be sure to check back to Betting News for the third installment. There we will explore when multi-race wagers are the right fit for your wagering dollar.

By Chris Adams

Chris first got introduced to horse racing in 2009 at Canterbury Park (Shakopee, MN). Along with handicapping and betting, Chris has worked as a teller at his local track and participated in ownership partnerships. He now enjoys sharing his passion with his wife and two young daughters who love going out to the track each and every summer.