What is a Show Bet – Complete Guide to Show Betting in Horse Racing

Along with win and place bets, the show bet makes up one of the three main betting markets for horse racing. It’s a popular bet and, used correctly, can prove to be highly profitable.

At Techopedia, we show you how a show bet works, including real-world examples, placing a bet online, how the odds and payouts are formed, and show the best betting strategy to maximize profits.

What is a Show Bet?

A show bet is where you need to pick a single horse to finish in the first three positions of the race. The order of the finish is irrelevant, just as long as it lands in those top three positions. Payouts are equal regardless of whether the horse finishes first, second, or third, with no bonuses or perks if they get the win.

The bet is popular due to its simplicity and the fact that it covers multiple finishing positions. It’s a bet that, used properly, creates a lot of winners, but the downside is the odds are usually much lower than a win or a place, given you’re getting more places paid.

For example, let’s assume we’re betting on a race with nine horses. The horses are numbered one through nine, and we decide to place a show bet on horse number five. The race ends with the following results:

  • 1st = Horse 8
  • 2nd = Horse 3
  • 3rd = Horse 5

As you can see, our pick of horse five has finished in third position. The show bet pays the top three spots, so our bet’s a win.

Once the race is complete, the sportsbook creates a dividend based on the amount of money in the pool and the number of winners. If the dividend were $10 for every $1 wagered, a $100 stake would return $1,000.

Like the win and place bet, the show bet is paid using parimutuel betting pools. Unlike fixed odds, pool bets combine the total stakes and create dividends, essentially the odds. You don’t know these until the race is complete and the bets have been counted.

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Real-World Show Bet Example

A real-world example is the best way to see how a show bet works. This race has already been run, and we’ll use the final race card to highlight how the payout and odds are processed.

what is a show bet

We’re going to look at Race 5 from Horseshow Indianapolis racetrack. The race was run over one mile on turf, and ten horses started the race. It was one of the bigger races at the meeting that day, with a purse of $38,000 shared between the winning owners and trainers.

On the card you’ll notice that the winner of the race was Get Back Goldie, with Arturo Toscanini in second place, and Hemp Heaven in third place. Also on the card are the payouts for the win, place, and show bet.

This is an interesting card for the show bet as it highlights how payouts can change based on the horse’s chances of winning. We know that bets are paid regardless of the order but they must be in the top three positions.

What’s interesting about this card is that second place Arturo Toscanini was the lowest-paid show bet with $3.80 per $2. Get Back Goldie was second-highest paid at $5.40, and Hemp Heaven was highest at $17.60.

It’s worth noting that these numbers are the returns on a $2 wager. Most sportsbooks denote payments like this and always have, but it’s possible to wager less with the best gambling sites.

So, what does this tell us?

The key thing that returns tell us is the volume of bets on each result. The lowest returns with Arturo Toscanini state that more bets, or volume, were placed on him than the other three. Hemp Heaven shows a huge payout for a show bet, and likely saw very little action. The large payout for Hemp Heaven could also show that a heavy show favorite was beaten to boost the pot.

Even though not linked to the show bet, note the payout for bets like trifecta and superfecta bet. Dividends are huge compared to the exacta and daily double, meaning the inclusion of Hemp Heaven has really shaken this card.

How to Calculate Show Bet Odds and Payouts

With parimutuel betting systems, there is no way of knowing the exact odds and payouts before a race starts. Some racebooks provide morning line odds, which you can use as a guide to see what the rough odds are. However, payouts are inaccurate with pool betting until all bets are counted.

First, we want to note that payouts for win, place, and show bets aren’t connected. The pools are separate, so the volume of bets and dividends will differ.

We need to start by determining three key elements from the betting market:

  1. The number of runners
  2. The number of bettors
  3. Total amount wagered per horse

Let’s assume we have a betting pool with $25,000 wagered on the show bet. The three horses to show are Happy Camper, Dogs Dinner, and Old Coin.

We need to start by removing the sportsbook’s cut from the pool. This is the profit they take from each race, with dividends only worked out once this has been deducted. Let’s set this at 10%, leaving us with a net pool of $22,500.

Next, we need to determine how much was wagered for each horse to show:

  • Happy Camper = $5,000
  • Dogs Dinner = $12,500
  • Old Coin = $2,5000

This gives us a total wagered between the three show horses at $20,000. There’s $2,500 left of wagers placed on horses that didn’t show, which are losing bets. This amount gets divided equally between the winners, giving us $833.33 per horse.

We divide the total prize funds equally by the profit to create dividends.

  • Happy Camper = $833.33 / $5,000 = $0.167
  • Dogs Dinner = $833.33 / $12,500 = $0.07
  • Old Coin = $833.33 / $2,5000 = $0.33

The next step is to apply brokerage. Betting sites will round down the payouts to the nearest dime. However, in cases where this is not possible, like Dogs Dinner above, the least payout they can make is $0.05, which would be the case in this scenario.

At this point, the sportsbook doubles the amount and adds $2 to signify the payout per $2 wagered. Adjusted it would look like this:

  • Happy Camper = ($0.10 x 2) + $2 = $2.20
  • Dogs Dinner = ($0.05 x 2) + $2 = $2.10
  • Old Coin = ($0.30 x 2) + 2 = $2.60

This is the final payout for the race based on the show bet market. What’s worth noting is the amount of money lost on horses that didn’t show. For example, Dogs Dinner had over half (adjusted after sports betting VIG applied) total bets wagered on him to show. If he fails, this massively boosts the winnings divided by the other show horses.

Another thing we want to pick up on is the deductions. We mentioned that the racebook needs to pay at least five cents on the dollar for a winning wager. This is because there are occasions when more is wagered in the pool than can be paid. When this happens, it’s referred to as a minus pool, which means the sportsbook will lose money.

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How to Place a Show Bet Online

In this section, we’ll walk you through the process of placing a show bet. We’ve used BetOnline, as we rate them as one of the best online sportsbooks in the industry.

1. Open an account

betonline show bet

If you’ve not already got an account, you need to create one. Start by clicking the green “Join” button at the top of the page and fill out the forms on the screen.

2. Make a deposit

BetOnline cashier

Once the account is set up, head to the cashier to make a deposit. BetOnline has many payment options, from cryptocurrencies to Apple/ Google Pay, and more traditional methods, like credit and debit cards.

3. Choose a race

betonline horse racing market

In the sportsbook, use the top menu to find the racebook. Once here, use the left menu to find the meeting you want to bet on. Each will come with a series of races for that meeting, usually numbered from one up to however many races there are.

4. Place the show bet

betonline place a show bet

Make sure the “Straight” betting market is selected. Use the racecard to locate the show bet. This will be next to the win and place bet. Enter your stake in the box next to the horse you’re betting on and click “Add to bet slip”.

Confirm the stake and selection within the bet slip, then place the bet.

What’s the Difference Between a Show Bet, Win Bet, and a Place Bet?

The win, place, and show bets are three of the most popular for horse racing. They come under the definition of “straight” bets, meaning that you place a single wager on one possible outcome, instead of exotics, where you can increase the number of selections and places paid.

Here are brief definitions of how the win, place, and show bets differ:

  • Win: A bet placed on a horse that has to win the race. No other results will count.
  • Place: A bet on a horse to finish first, or second, in any order.
  • Show: A bet on a horse to finish first, second, or third in any order.

Most offshore gambling sites will cover all three of these bets. It’s worth noting that not all races include the show bet. This is because it’s the least popular out of the three and can expose bookmakers.

We spoke earlier about how minus pools occur where the payouts are larger than the pot. If races don’t generate enough interest, it could leave the bookmaker out of pocket with some results. Therefore, races that don’t have the betting activity needed may only have access to win and place bets.

Across the Board (ATB)

Across the board, bets cover the win, place, and show market. This is where you choose one horse to cover all three markets or, as referred to in the industry, “across the board.”

Across the Board bet

The image above offers a good example of how this works. The race is taken from a meeting at Horseshoe Indianapolis that included seven runners in total. The winner of the race was Rocket Docket, with Neoking in second place, and Eternal Bliss in third place.

To bet across the board means we need to place three bets. For ease, we will keep each bet at $2, which is the minimum amount for some bookmakers, and what the dividends you see from the race above are based on.

Our bet would look like this:

  • Rocket Docket ATB = $6 total stake = win bet @ 7.20 + place bet @ 3.40 + show bet @ 2.60 = $13.20 – $6 = 7.20 profit
  • Neoking ATB = $6 stake = win bet (lose) + place bet @ 6.80 + show bet @ 3.60 = $10.40 – $6 = $4.40 profit
  • Eternal Blues ATB = $6 stake = win (lose) + place bet (lose) + show bet @ 3.60 = $3.60 – $6 = $2.40 loss

Across the board bets provide cover and payouts from multiple finishing positions, but the initial stake is high, which means profit margins suffer. However, sometimes these bets make sense, which comes with mid-long priced horses that could improve for the race. Short-priced and even second favorites won’t pay enough to make these a viable long-term betting option for this market.

Show Bet Betting Strategy

The show bet can generate some solid profits from horse racing betting. However, you need a betting strategy in place to do this consistently. This section highlights areas you can target, and avoid, to maximize profits.

Avoid Short-Priced Favorites

The show bet isn’t designed for short-priced favorites. Placing these bets has very little value betting as the returns are so low. With parimutuel betting, you don’t get to see the starting odds for the horse, but most racebooks have a morning line price, which will indicate which to avoid.

One of the main reasons why payouts are so small is that favorites, even for the show bet, will be the most popular horse to bet on, for the most part. The more people in the pool with the same selection, the less a bet will pay.

show bet example

To highlight this example, we’ve taken a race from Delta Downs, and the image shows the racecard. You can see the morning line odds are included here, and there’s a strong favorite to win, Veterans Day, priced at 3/1. Given that this is a field of nine, odds of 3/1 are fairly short.

show bet dividends

Above is the result of the race with the favorite, Veterans Day, winning. Also included is the show price, which is 2.20. In other words, for every $2 wagered, you would have made a profit of 20c. A $100 bet would make just $10 profit. You’re taking odds of 1/10 on this bet, which is terrible.

Granted that given the horse was a strong favorite, the chances of finishing in the top three spots are high, but the payout isn’t worth it. If you placed 10 bets all at the same odds, you’d need to win all 10 to be profitable. Nine wins would break even, and eight or fewer would be a substantial loss.

Know When to Target Short-Priced Favorites

We’re not contradicting ourselves here. Sometimes, you can target a short-priced favorite for the show bet, but it’s rare.

With a show bet, the minimum to be paid is $2.10, or 10c profit for every $2 wagered. It’s not a lot, but there are times when we can use this to our advantage.

To make this work, we need to hunt out short-priced favorites. A 10c profit on a $2 wager is odds of 1/20. These odds are rare, with the shortest price ever recorded at 1/25 by Royal Forest at Ascot Racecourse in 1945.

In times when you find horses priced similarly, you may as well take the show bet if it’s going to pay the same as, or close to, the win. You may even find that people avoid it as it’s short, and the pool payout is slightly higher. It’s worth doing when you can take more places for the same price.

Target Midfield Horses Who Stay Well

If we aren’t betting on the favorites, who are we betting on?

Ideally, for the show bet you want to target midfield horses who’ll stay well. They don’t need to win the race, or even have a chance of winning, but they need to outstay their opponents to make the top three spots.

We’ll use another example from the same meeting to show how this might work. This five-furlong race is open to two-year-old fillies, many of whom are in their first competitive outing.

show bet race meeting

The card above shows the morning line prices, and we can see that they range from 5/2 up to 20/1. With 10 horses in the race, it should be quite competitive. This odds difference bodes well for show bets because the midfielders can run well.

how to place a show bet

A mid-range price is around the 10/1 mark, and it just so happens that Takeover Queen, priced at 10/1, went on to win the race. The dividends for the show bet are priced at 9.00, meaning we make $3.50 for every £1 wagered. Not bad for a horse to finish in the top three spots with only 10 runners.

The lack of experience and form makes it tough betting on a race like this. But some research on your part might’ve revealed that the trainer of Takeover Queen, K L Roberts, Sr., stated how impressed he’d been in the lead-up to the race, and how well it stayed. Trainers rarely get too excited about the potential, so this was high praise and a green light for a potential show bet.

Target Vulnerable Favorites

When the favorite fails to make the places, the payouts for show bets skyrocket. Most punters bet on favorites for most markets, including the show bet, so all those bets become losers and create a huge dividend for the rest of the field.

Breeders Cup show bet

A good example of this came from the 2023 Breeders Cup. The Turf Sprint (Race 10) was unique in that multiple horses could be classed as “favorites.” The lowest morning line price was with Live In The Dream at 9/2, and three other horses priced a shade higher at 5/1.

Breeders Cup show bet dividends

As you can see above, none of the horses made the top three spots needed for the show bet. This created payouts of $9.40, $7.80, and $7.40, respectively.

There are countless examples of races where the favorite is not fancied. You’re looking for competitive fields like the one above rather than races where the favorite is on their own. This is because if you raced with a 2/1 favorite and the next best-priced horse was 6/1, the favorite may get beat, but it’s highly unlikely it will finish outside the top three spots.

The example from the Breeders Cup has multiple favorites, all very close in price and a strong midfield. This makes the leading few vulnerable, but they’ll still take the vast majority of the bets simply because people like to bet on the favorite.

Find Consistent Horses Over Winners

For a show bet to win, we need our picks to finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in any order. We don’t need to look for winners; sometimes, picking consistent horses over winners will be more profitable.

show bet betting strategy

As an example, we’ve chosen an upcoming race from Churchill Downs. Note the morning line odds from the image above. Ryvit is a strong 6/5 favorite, with Gaslight Dancer not too far behind at 2/1. However, when we look at recent form, there might be better value than both of these horses.

The last three races for Ryvit have seen three 5th-place finishes and one fall. Gaslight Dancer hasn’t finished better than 4th in his last four races. Both have a history of winning, and Ryvit is a likely winner here, but they’re inconsistent and, at those prices, aren’t going to pay well.

Bal A Kazoo is an early 5/1 shot and, looking at their form, provides a great look for the show bet. Six of his last seven races would have paid for the show bet, and with much higher odds than the favorite, it creates a better return than wagering on the other two.

Other Types of Horse Racing Bets

The key to learning how to bet on horse racing is knowing the markets accessible to you. In this section, we’ve included a list of alternative betting markets you can use, and explain how each works.

  • Win: The win bet in horse racing is where you bet on a horse to win the race outright. This is a straight bet; only a win will count with any other result being a loss.
  • Place: The place bet is where you choose a horse to finish first or second in the race. They can be in any order, and the bet pays the same regardless of which of these top two positions they land in.
  • Show: The show bet is where you choose one horse to finish first, second, or third. Like the place bet, this can be in any order, and payouts are the same regardless of position.
  • Exacta: An exacta bet is where you pick two horses to finish first, and second in the correct order.
  • Quinella: A quinella bet requires picking two horses to finish in the first two positions in any order. The payout is the same regardless of the order of the horses.
  • Trifecta: A trifecta is where you pick three horses to finish first, second, and third in the exact order. Extensions of this bet include box and key, where you can add multiple picks and lock positions, but it costs more money to wager.
  • Superfecta: You must pick four horses to finish in the correct order in the first four positions. It’s one of the hardest exotic picks to win, but the payouts can be huge.
  • Daily Double: A daily double requires bettors to pick the winners of the first two races at a meeting. You must make both picks before the start of the first race to qualify for this market.
  • Pick 3/4/5/6: An extension of the daily double is the pick 3/4/5/6, where you pick winners of three, four, five, and six consecutive races. Again, these bets must be placed before the start of the first race.
  • Futures: Futures are bets placed on horse racing a time before the race starts. These markets have no set time limit, but anything 24 hours or more can be classed as a futures bet.

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Jonathan Askew

Jonathan is a freelance writer working with Techopedia. He has been working within the gambling sector for over 15 years and has been fortunate enough to work with brands that include Gambling.com, CheekyPunter.com, BasketballInsiders.com and Betfair. He specializes in US and UK-based sports and casino content for Techopedia.