What is a Quinella Bet in Horse Racing? – Full Guide to Quinella Betting

A quinella bet is one of a series of horse racing bets referred to as exotics. Most racebooks cater to this betting market making it one of the most popular to feature.

At Techopedia, we’ve created a guide on how the quinella bet works and included information on payouts, odds calculations, variations of the bet, and advanced betting strategies.

What is a Quinella Bet?

A quinella bet is where the bettor must pick two horses to finish the race in first and second place. The bet states that the pair can finish in any order as long as they’re the first two.

Its simplicity is one of the driving forces behind its popularity. It’s not only an easy bet to place, but the ability to choose two horses to finish in any order is a much easier task than betting on a market, such as an exacta, where you need to pick the first two across the line in the correct order.

The quinella bet is paid using a parimutuel betting system. All bets are pooled, and then dividends are rewarded based on the number of winners, the amount of money in the pot, and the stake per bettor.

Let’s run through a quick example of how the bet might work.

We’ll bet on the Kentucky Derby, which has eight runners in total. It’s our job to pick the first two in any order. We decided to bet on Horse 3 and Horse 5. Our winning combinations include:

  • 1st = Horse 3, 2nd = Horse 5
  • 1st = Horse 5, 2nd = Horse 3

Any other combination or result in the race means the bet would lose. Payouts will be announced once the race has been completed.

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Real-World Quinella Bet Example

To expand on our examples, let’s look at a real-world quinella bet to showcase how this works.

quinella bet example

We’ve chosen the bet from a race meeting at Del Mar Racecourse in California. It’s the day’s first race, and six horses are listed as runners.

The market at the top is listed as a quinella, which changes how the racecard is shown. You’ll notice two columns listed, one and two, and boxes next to each horse.

For this bet, we’ve picked Magazine for the one column and Violet Storm for the two. This may seem a little confusing given that we’ve stated how the bet only requires you to pick two horses in any order, and here, we’ve picked first and second place.

This is normal. The card is designed like this so you can place box, and box with key bets. We talk more about this later, but for now, note that a standard quinella bet pays the first two regardless of how these selections appear.

The winning combinations for our bet are:

  • 1st = Magazine, 2nd = Violet Storm
  • 1st = Violet Storm, 2nd = Magazine

At the bottom of the image you’ll see that this market has betting limits. These will vary, depending on which racebook you use. As you can see, for MyBookie they’re set at $0.05 as the minimum bet, and up to $1,000 for the maximum bet.

How to Calculate Quinella Bet Odds and Payouts

Odds and payouts are derived from the parimutuel betting system for all quinella bets in the United States. This is where you bet into a pool and then receive a dividend based on the number of winners. Given the simplicity of the quinella bet, calculating payouts is straightforward.

We need to know two key variables to work out the return dividend:

  • Total amount wagered
  • Total amount wagered per winning ticket

The next step is dividing the total wagered by the total wagered by winning tickets. This creates a winning division, which is paid on the dollar. It’s worth noting that some sites have a minimum $2 bet for this market, meaning that dividends are paid based on a $2 bet, but the concept remains the same.

It’s good to know that a quinella pool is separate from all other bets. Each selection needs to include two horses, and this then makes a single bet. So, a bet with Horse 1 and Horse 2 would be a single combination. You can create as many as you like, but they’re both single bets.

Another key thing to note is that all parimutuel betting markets have a commission charged by the racebook. This is the “take”, and the same as vigorish, or juice, charged from all the best online sportsbooks. The amount taken will vary but can be as high as 20% with some racebooks. Dividends are paid on total wagered pools once this has been dedicated.

Let’s run through a quick example.

Assume the race we’ve bet is on the Melbourne Cup, which has a total amount wagered of $30,000. The racebook’s take is 15%, which would be $4,500. Our adjusted pool that gets paid is $25,500.

In the pool is $6,000 worth of winning wagers. We need to divide the total amount wagered by the winning bets to get the dividend, which looks like this:

  • $25,500 (Total wagered and adjusted for take) / $6,000 (total sum of winning bets) = $4.25

This means that winning tickets would pay $4.25 for every dollar bet. Assuming that someone had wagered $500 on the winning combination, this would be a return of $2,125 for their quinella bet.

quinella bet payout

The image above, taken from a race at the Del Mar Racetrack, gives you a real-world look at how this works. The bottom section of the card outlines the dividends paid out for a range of exotic bets, with the quinella in there as the second one down.

You can see here that runners three and two have finished first and second. This is stated in the “runners” box of the payout section, and next to that is the amount paid, which is $39.60.

It’s important to remember that this is based on a $2 quinella bet. You can see this under the “bet type” heading, so if you were working this out based on a $1, you would simply half the payout, making a $19.80 payout per $1 wagered. A $500 bet on this race for a winning quinella would have returned $9,900.

How to Place a Quinella Bet Online

The process of placing a quinella bet is simple. In this section, we’ve outlined the steps to take using one of the best sportsbooks for horse racing, MyBookie.

1. Open an account

mybookie quinella bet

To open an account, click on the orange “Join Now” button at the top of the page. This opens up a series of sections that must be completed for your account. The process should take no longer than a minute or two.

2. Use a cashier to deposit

Mybookie cashier

Once your account is set up, log in and head to the cashier. MyBookie has one of the biggest ranges of payment methods, including Visa, Mastercard, and multiple cryptocurrencies.

3. Head to the racebook

Now that your account is set up and funded, head back to the racebook using the navigation bar at the top of the page.

4. Choose a meeting and race

mybookie racebook

The racebook will showcase all the meetings you can bet on in the left menu. Scroll down to find what you want to bet on, or use the “featured race” section at the top of the page to see what’s coming next.

5. Place a quinella bet

Mybookie quinella racecard

The racecard has a series of markets to bet on at the top. Click on the “quinella” button. Use the one and two columns to choose your horses. For a standard bet, it doesn’t matter which order you choose each of the horses. Enter your stake and then add to the bet slip.

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Different Types of Quinella Bets

It’s common for exotic horse racing bets to include multiple variations, and the quinella is no different. There are two variations in play; the box and the wheel. They both offer varying degrees of flexibility regarding which horses you can pick and how many selections you can make. Here’s how they work.

Quinella Box Bet

A quinella box bet is where you can add multiple horses to the ticket and increase the number of combinations for the bet. This starts from three, which is one more than the standard bet, and it’s possible, although not advised, to include all horses in the race.

quinella box bet

Let’s run through an example of how this works from a meeting at the Del Mar Racecourse. First, notice that we’ve selected the box bet next to the stake amount. This adjusts the card from having two columns to pick horses to just one column.

For this example, we’ve included three horses in our bet. These are Colorado Cruiser, Sand Bagger, and American Flyer. Our combinations would look like this:

  • Colorado Cruiser and Sand Bagger
  • Sand Bagger and American Flyer
  • American Flyer and Colorado Cruiser

The catch is that you need to bet on every possible combination. Where a single quinella bet would be $2 for two horses in any order, we’ve now increased the combinations to three, meaning our $2 is multiplied by that number. This gives us a new stake of $6 for this bet. The more you add, the more it costs, as stated below.

  • Three picks = $6
  • Four picks = $12
  • Five picks = $20
  • Six picks = $30
  • Seven picks = $42

Bets still all pay into the same pool. Each combination is a single ticket. So, even though you’ve bet $6 for three combinations, they’re still $2 each, meaning your dividend, if you win, would be based on a $2 bet. This means you’d lose money unless your dividend paid $6, or more, for a $2 bet.

Quinella Wheel Bet

The quinella wheel bet (often called a key bet) allows you to lock one horse in all combinations. This means you ride with one and then choose multiple others to create different bets.

quinella wheel bet

Let’s expand on the box bet example for this. Notice on the card above that we’ve changed the market from box, to box with key. As stated, a key bet is another term for the wheel.

We’ve used the number one column as the key, and the two as the wheel. Our combinations now look like this:

  • Colorado Cruiser and Bartholdy
  • Colorado Cruiser and American Flyer
  • Colorado Cruiser and Indispensable

The same concept applies to stakes in that you pay based on combinations. For this example, our bet would be $2 x three combinations, equaling a $6 total stake.

A key difference to note is that this wheel bet has four horses. Now, if we were betting with four picks for a box bet, our stake would be $12 as there’d be more combinations. We have four picks in the wheel bet, but as Colorado Cruiser has to feature in each bet, the number of combinations is reduced from six to three.

What’s the Difference Between a Quinella and Exacta Bet?

Quinella and exacta bets are both exotics and are similar but with key differences. A quinella is a bet where you pick two horses to finish first and second in any order. An exacta bet is where you pick two horses to finish first and second in the correct order.

The caveat is that an exacta offers bettors the chance to box, meaning they can choose two horses to finish in first or second and in any order, just as a quinella would. However, the downside is that to place an exacta box, you need to increase your stake as you’re betting on two combinations.

For example, an exacta box would have the following bet:

  • 1st Horse A and 2nd Horse B
  • 1st Horse B and 2nd Horse A

To place this bet, you bet per combination, just as you would with a quinella. So, a $2 stake would become $4. The quinella offers the same outcome with a single bet that includes Horses A and B in any order, meaning you wager half as much.

Of course, you can wager less on the exacta to even the stakes. You could bet $1 on each combination for $2. But this means that should your bet win, you’ve only got $1 worth of dividends, whereas, with the quinella, you have $2.

The only way an exacta bet might appeal over a quinella is if a bettor fancied one horse more than the other to win the race. This would allow them to split the initial bet to weigh an exacta in favor of the fancied horse and place a smaller bet on an exacta with the alternative combination.

For example, let’s assume they thought Horse A had a better chance to win than Horse B in the race. If they had a $100 bet, they could split the exacta to have $75 on an A-B finish, and $25 on a B-A finish. This way, both combinations are covered, but more weight is on Horse A, who’s more fancied.

Quinella Betting Strategy

After looking at what a quinella bet is, it’s time to turn our attention to making money from the bet. This section includes betting strategies you can implement to become more profitable with a quinella bet.

Oppose Favorites Where Possible

Anytime you find a race where the favorite, as priced by the racebook, has a decent chance of getting beat, you’ll find value. The quinella bet is no exception to this rule.

We’re looking to oppose the favorite because most bettors bet on them. The more people with winning tickets, the lower the dividend paid for parimutuel betting systems.

In the dream scenario, two or more favorites finish outside the top two spots. This can generate huge payouts. However, it’s tough to find.

quinella betting strategy

To highlight how well these scenarios can pay, we’ve taken a race from Del Mar that paid $58.40 for a $2 quinella bet. The card above lists the eight runners in the race (one scratched) and the morning line odds, which can be used as a guide.

We can see that Mastering at 5/2 and Devil Be Me at 3/1 were clear favorites for the race, with Eastside Cool not too far back at 4/1. It was a great day for exotic bettors when none of the three horses placed in the top three positions.

quinella betting payout

The image above shows the race result and payout. If you can find races like this where one, but ideally both of the favorites in the race look like they could be beaten, this is the dream scenario for a quinella bet.

Use Box Bets to Create Additional Combinations

Bettors unwilling to use box and wheel bets for quinella leave a lot of potential value on the table. There’s a time and a place to use these markets, but they’re vastly underused, and even when they are actually used, they’re done so incorrectly.

The quinella box bet should be used in strong, competitive fields where three or more horses have a legitimate chance of winning, not just placing. Most use the box as a cover, but we want to use it as value, adding multiple mid-long priced horses to the card for a relatively small investment.

For example, let’s say you’ve got a race with 12 runners, and you like the look of three potential winners. Instead of picking the two shortest-priced horses and placing a straight quinella, you should box to create three outcomes that each offer value.

You’ll need to increase your stake for this, as three picks in a box will cost $6, but as long as the three aren’t short-priced first, second, and third favorites, it should still generate a more than tidy return.

Avoid Larger Fields

Any race with 12+ horses regarding quinella betting should be avoided. There are so many variables in larger field races that can affect the outcome of your bet. When you need two horses to come on, it increases the chances of something happening to at least one of them.

Track position is vital in flat racing. You want to target those with favorable draws. However, this is an old strategy that many bettors apply, so it won’t always correlate with larger races.

If you bet on larger fields, it’s best to go with a box bet. This spreads the risk, and if one horse gets unlucky for whatever reason, you’ve got other combinations that can still come in.

Dividends on larger races aren’t necessarily higher than on smaller races. Bets are harder to call and don’t offer any more value in terms of returns, so for the most part, they don’t use the quinella with these races.

How to Deal with a “Dead Cert”

At least one race at every meeting features one horse that’s just nailed on to win. They’ll be a short-priced favorite for that reason, but you could put your mortgage on and be confident the horse wins the race.

Generally, these are races that you can avoid as they offer little value. But, if you must have a bet, a quinella will be as good as any.

We’re using the short-priced favorite as our key, which will appear in all combinations. Dividends won’t be huge, regardless of the other horses you use, so don’t go crazy on picks. Try to limit to four, which will cost $6 for the bet.

Ideally, bets on the field will range from 5/1 or above, but this isn’t always possible. You want to avoid morning line figures of 8/15, and then another horse at 2/1. This won’t be a profitable play long term, if ever. If you’re taking on the 8/15 horse as the key, you need something around the 5/1 mark to make this worth your time.

Other Types of Horse Racing Betting Markets

Online gambling sites have created an explosion of horse racing betting markets. Below, we’ve listed a range of the industry’s most popular horse racing bets.

  • Win bet: The win bet is the easiest and most popular market. All you do here is bet on the horse you think will win the race.
  • Place bet: With the place bet, you choose a horse you think will finish first or second. The order the horse finishes doesn’t matter, as long as it’s in the top two spots.
  • Show bet: The show bet predicts a horse finishing anywhere in the top three positions. Again, the order doesn’t matter.
  • Exacta: An exacta bet requires bettors to choose two horses to finish first and second. The bettor must choose the correct order for their picks.
  • Quinella: A quinella is where the bettor must pick two horses to finish first or second in any order.
  • Trifecta: A trifecta bet requires picking three horses to finish first, second, and third in the correct order.
  • Superfecta: One of the toughest bets to win is the superfecta, which requires the first four horses past the post in the correct order. This market has paid some of the biggest wins in horse racing history.
  • Daily Double: The Daily Double is where you bet on the first two races of a meeting and pick the winner from both races.
  • Pick 3/4/5: Pick bets are where you pick the winner from a set number of consecutive races at the same meeting. Pick 3 is three races, Pick 4 is four, and Pick 5 is five.
  • Futures: A futures bet is placed on a horse race that takes place more than 24 hours, and up to 12 months, before the start of the race.
  • Each-way bet: An each-way bet is two bets split to create a single bet. Half the stake is on the horse to win and the other to place. The place terms change based on the number of runners in the race.

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What is a quinella bet in horse racing?

How does a quinella differ from an exacta bet?

What happens if one of my chosen horses in a quinella is scratched (withdrawn)?

Can I place a quinella bet on more than two horses?

How is the payout determined in a quinella bet?

Are quinella bets available for all horse races?

Can I box my quinella bet?



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.