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Trifecta Bet - Picking the three best finishers in a horse race in the correct order

If you’re looking for a more challenging and profitable sort of horse race betting, trifecta betting provides a great starting point. Before you go ahead and place your wager, let’s first establish what trifecta means, and what defines trifecta betting.

Cashing a trifecta bet involves getting the three best finishers in a race in the exact order. This is a step up from exacta betting or a quinella bet, and comes with more risk. However, you can make a heftier profit if your chosen horses place in the correct order.

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In addition to trifecta betting, Joe Fortenbaugh fills us in how to bet on horse racing.

What Is A Trifecta Bet In Horse Racing?

In horse racing, whether you’re betting on the Kentucky Derby or any other race, a horse that finishes first is called a “win.” Second-place horses “place,” and “show” horses are ones that come in third. When you make a trifecta bet, you’re betting on three racing horses – hence the prefix “tri” – to win, place or show in the correct order.

Trifecta Box

A common way to make a trifecta bet in horse racing is to “box” three horses. For this, betting in $1 increments would be a $6 investment. There are some horse racing tracks that offer 50-cent trifecta betting.

The 50-cent trifecta box increment became available for the first time at the 2010 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs. The minimum stake for an online trifecta bet is usually either $.50 or $1 minimum.

Trifecta horse racing box betting, whether it’s for the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes or any other horse racing event, requires you to pick win, place and show combinations like you would with the traditional version of this bet. Your three selected horses must end up as the top three finishers; however, they can finish in any combination. By boxing the bet, you are giving yourself more opportunities to win, as you have allowed for multiple sequences of your chosen horses to place.

For example, if you selected horses 3, 7 and 12 for your trifecta box, you would win with the following placement combinations:

  • • 3-7-12
  • • 3-12-7
  • • 7-3-12
  • • 7-12-3
  • • 12-3-7
  • • 12-7-3


However, if horse 3 won, with horse 5 placing, and horse 7 showing, you wouldn’t win, as your selection did not fill the trifecta. As long as your chosen horses fill the first three places (win, place, show), they can finish in any order.

This is great for horse racing bettors since you may be able to correctly predict the top three horses without their exact placing. Below you’ll find a more in-depth breakdown of possible combinations, similar to a trifecta box calculator, and what the cost of each trifecta payoff would be using $1 increments.

  • • $1 trifecta box using 3 horses = $6
  • • $1 trifecta box using 4 horses = $24
  • • $1 trifecta box using 5 horses = $60
  • • $1 trifecta box using 6 horses = $120

Trifecta Wheel

If there’s a standout horse that you believe is a racing phenom and will finish first, but you’re unsure about the other horses, you can make a trifecta wheel bet. This type of bet on horse racing involves you correctly picking a horse to win but your other chosen horses don’t have to finish the race in the correct order.

Let’s say you choose Bucephalus to finish first with Northern Dancer and Big Brown to place second or third. (We’re aware that these horses will never race together.) Possible combinations for trifecta wheel betting would look like this:

  • • Bucephalus 1st, Northern Dancer 2nd, Big Brown 3rd
  • • Bucephalus 1st, Big Brown 2nd, Northern Dancer 3rd

In order for your trifecta bet to hit, you would need one of those betting combinations to come true.

Trifecta Box Payout

Your trifecta key box payout will vary depending on how much you bet and what the trifecta odds are at the racebook or betting track. If you play a three-horse box, you must have all three of your horses hit the board in any order to win big on your horse racing wager.

Since finding the runner-up and third-place finisher can be a challenge, particularly in major derbies, a good betting strategy is to spread out your trifecta bet.

For this example, let’s pretend these six horses are racing: Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Ruffian, Affirmed, Trigger and Eclipse. For the same $24 used to box four contenders, you could play your trifecta ticket with these possible combinations:

  • • Secretariat, Seabiscuit
  • • Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Ruffian, Affirmed
  • • Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Ruffian, Affirmed, Trigger, Eclipse

If you get your winner home (in this case Secretariat), you have more shots of picking up the third-place finisher. Plus, if that show horse (third place) happens to be a long shot, you could see yourself with a nice trifecta box payout.

Ideally, when making a trifecta bet, you can pick one or two horses in the race that you believe have the best chance of winning.

Odds Shark’s handicapper had this to say on trifecta betting:

“I like to key a horse on top followed by three or four horses over five or six horses for the third spot. I don’t play trifectas in short fields or when I think the favorite and second choice are likely to land in the top two spots. Maiden and turf races with large fields are my favorite types of races to hit the trifecta pool. I sometimes drown in those races, so I suggest you wear a life vest before jumping in.”

Trifecta Betting FAQ

What Is A Trifecta Bet In Horse Racing?

A trifecta bet in horse racing is when you make a wager on the three horses that you believe will finish the horse race in first, second and third place, in a specific order. If the three horses you chose finish the race in the correct order, you win your bet.

How Does Win, Place, Show Betting Work In Horse Racing?

Win, place, show betting in horse racing is ideal for beginners. A win wager is simple. You bet on the horse you think will win the race. If you bet on a horse to place, your horse has to finish in first or second. Betting on a horse to show means your chosen horse has to finish in first, second or third.

What Is The Minimum Stake On A Trifecta Bet?

The minimum stake on a trifecta bet is typically either $.50 or $1. Online racebook trifecta wagers are normally available on just about all horse racing events across the world, and they cover all breeds of racing including trifecta bets on thoroughbred racing, as well as trifecta bets on harness racing.