What is a Show Bet in Horse Racing? Wager on Top-3 Finish in the Breeders’ Cup

A show bet in horse racing is one of the lowest-risk ways to make wagers in horse racing, making it a popular bet for newcomers. If your horse finishes first, second, or third, your show bet is a winner.

While the payout is usually lower, betting a horse to show gives you more opportunities to cash a wager since your horse only needs to finish anywhere in the top three. Show betting is one way to get down some action on the Triple Crown series and other races.

Show Betting: An Overview

A show bet is one of the traditional basic wagers in horse betting, the other two being a win bet (where you pick a horse to finish first) and a place wager (where you bet a horse to finish either first or second). You can pair all three wagers together and make a bet “across the board” which means you bet a horse to win, place, and show. If the horse wins, the bettor collects all three payouts. If the horse is second, you win place and show money. If third, you collect the show money alone.

If your horse finishes outside the top three, you do not win. In horse racing, though, you always get another shot to hit a bet!

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What is the Minimum I Need to Wager for a Show Bet?

Typically, the minimum amount you need to bet at most tracks is $2. Some tracks offer lower minimums, but most of those involve more exotic wagers like 50-cent Trifectas or a $1 Exacta Box.

When is a Show Bet a Good Idea?

In addition to being a low-risk way to place a wager, a show bet can be a good option if you like a horse that is a longshot on the odds board — meaning they are not considered among the favorites to win the race — but you have confidence that race circumstances and their running style may allow them to finish in that top three.

A show bet can also offer a bettor a way to earn more money in a race when there is a horse in the race that is considered an overwhelming favorite on paper and, thus, offers very little in the way of value. For instance, when American Pharoah capped off his career with a victory in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic, he paid just $3.40 to win. If you had a show wager on the race’s second-place finisher Effinex, you would have collected $6.60 on your $2 investment.

Show Betting in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

The Breeders’ Cup Classic has an average win payout of $23.50, second-highest average payout of any current Breeders’ Cup race. Still, there have been instances where a crafty show bet has provided solid returns as well in the $6 million test. 

When Accelerate won the 2018 edition of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he paid $7.40 to win – a respectable return for a betting favorite. However, a show bet on runner-up Gunnevera, who was sent off at odds of 30-to-1, paid out $11.80. Similarly, those who backed third-placed Thunder Snow (IRE) at 14-to-1 odds that day with a show wager won $8. 

One of the best returns of a show bet in Breeders’ Cup Classic history came during the 1999 running of the 10-furlong race. While Cat Thief upset the field at odds of 19-to-1 and returned $41.20 for the win, Golden Missile outran his odds 75-to-1 to get up for third, which yielded $30.20 for show.

When Should You Not Use a Show Bet?

Because show bets offer the best probability of cashing, they offer the lowest payouts. Hence, if you have a horse who is already considered a very short price on the odds board — such as a 1-to-9 favorite — betting it for third place may only yield a few dimes of profit.

The 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic was a prime example of this. Sent off as the 2-to-5 favorite, Flightline lived up to his billing by posting a record-breaking 8 1/4-length victory in the Classic. Those who backed him, though, were better off saving the ticket a souvenir than cashing it as he paid just $2.88 to win and $2.30 to show. 

About the Author
Alicia Hughes

Alicia Hughes

Senior Writer
Alicia Hughes is a senior writer and award-winning horse racing journalist at Gaming Today. She previously served as a digital content editor for TVG and racing editor for The Blood-Horse following 12 years at the Lexington Herald-Leader. A graduate of Pace University in New York and a diehard New Jersey Devils fan, Hughes is a past president of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association.

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