An exacta bet box is a way to bet on two or more horses to finish in first and second place in a race.

Whereas the straight exacta is a wager on two particular horses to finish in first and second place in that exact order, an exacta box can include more than two horses and cover every possible combination of those horses finishing first and second.

A two-horse exacta box functions similarly to a quinella in that it covers both possible outcomes for those horses finishing in first and second place. However, exacta box bets cost more, can pay more, and can be created with more than two horses to cover even more winning combinations.

Exacta Box Example

To illustrate how an exacta box bet works, imagine a nine-horse race, and you have narrowed down horses #4, #5, and #7 as the likeliest first-second place finishers. If you’re not confident in narrowing down the results any further than that, you can place a 4-5-7 exacta box wager.

This bet would cover all six possible combinations of those horses finishing in first and second place:

  • 4-5
  • 4-7
  • 5-4
  • 5-7
  • 7-4
  • 7-5

To put it simply, any two of the three selections need to finish in first and second place for your exacta to win.

Because this wager covers six combinations, it would be six times the cost of a single bet. In this case, a $1 wager would become $6. The more horses you add to an exacta box, the faster its cost grows because the number of winning combinations also multiplies.

Exacta Box Bet Combinations and Costs

The following chart shows how the number of horses added to an exacta box changes the number of winning combinations and wager’s cost. The prices below reflect a minimum $1 base wager.

Number of HorsesCombinationsBet Size
2 Horses2$2
3 Horses6$6
4 Horses12$12
5 Horses20$20
6 Horses30$30
7 Horses42$42

Betting with the Exacta Box

Exacta box bets are attractive to bettors because they are much easier to win than straight exactas but still provide healthy payout potential. Experienced horse racing handicappers have a hard enough time identifying the two best horses in a race, let alone predicting their exact finishing order.

Newer bettors who would like to venture beyond the basic straight bets should look into boxing an exacta. The wager is not terribly expensive, even with a handful of horses, and the payouts can be quite significant. By contrast, picking the exact finishing order of two horses in a straight exacta, trifecta, or even superfecta is exceedingly difficult even for skilled handicappers.

An exacta box bet is a great starting point to play with more advanced wagers without breaking the bankroll or dealing with overly complicated bets.

The main thing new bettors should keep in mind when using box exactas is that adding too many horses can make the cost exceed the payout even if one of the combinations does hit. It is not a pleasant experience to win a bet and still lose money with it.

Keying an Exacta

Adding a key horse to an exacta box allows the bettor to emphasize their confidence in a particular horse while picking two or more horses to cover the second-place finish.

Consider another example, but this time you are seriously looking at horses #4, #5, #7, and #8. If you feel particularly confident in horse #4 winning but are not as sure about the others for the second-place spot, you can key horse #4 to take first place and cover the remaining horses to finish in second place.

This bet would cover all of the following outcomes:

  • 4-5
  • 4-7
  • 4-8

The result is a wager that wins if #4 finishes in first place and any of the other selections (#5, #7, and #8) take second place. This bet costs half as much as the three-horse exacta box and still provides a sizable payout as long as #4 comes in first.