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How to Place a Trifecta Bet in Horse Racing: Box, Wheel, Payouts

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. 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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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 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 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 finish in the top three; 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 and what the cost of each trifecta box 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 horse racing bet involves you correctly picking a horse to win but your other chosen horses don’t have to finish in the right 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 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 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 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 Michael Dempsey 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.”