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Trifecta Betting Explained

How to place a Trifecta bet in horse racing

If you’re looking for a more challenging and profitable type of horse betting, trifecta betting is a great place to start. Cashing a trifecta ticket involves getting the top three finishers in a race in the exact order. This is a step up from exacta betting and certainly is a tall task and a riskier type of horse betting, but one that can reap great dividends for a good (or sometimes lucky) horseplayer.

How to make a trifecta bet

A common way to play the trifecta is to box three horses, which for a $1 bet would be a $6 investment. There are now some tracks that are offering 50-cent trifecta betting. The 50-cent increment was available for the first time at the 2010 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs.

If you play a three-horse box, you must have all three of your horses hit the board in any order to cash your ticket.

Since finding the runner-up and third-place finisher can be a challenge, particularly in large fields, a better strategy is to spread out your ticket.

Bet on the 2018 belmont stakes here!

Boxing the selections is one option, but can be a pricey one:

Boxing Selections
  • $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

Using the boxing method also means you are giving all of your horses used on your ticket an equal chance of winning. A better method would be to key in on one or two horses for the top spot, and spreading in the second and third slots.

For the same $24 used to box four contenders, you could play a ticket like this:
1,2 / 1,2,3,4 / 1,2,3,4,5,6 = $24

If you get your winner home, you have more shots of picking up the third-place finisher, and if that show horse happens to be a long shot, it could be a generous score.

Ideally, when playing trifecta keys, you have a solid opinion on one or two runners in the race, and spread enough in the third position in hopes of landing a horse that could be a generous price and increase the payoff.

Handicapper Michael Dempsey on trifecta wagering:

“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.”