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Trifecta Betting Strategy - Horse Racing
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Learn to play trifectas

Trifecta betting in horse racing, using trifecta boxes and wheels as a betting strategy. How to figure the cost of trifecta boxes and wheels and how to use Trifectas when betting on horses. Get the KENTUCKY DERBY TRIFECTA now!

How To Bet trifectas

How to bet trifectas
The Trifecta or triple is a bet made in horse racing to pick the first, second, and third place horses in a race.  The trifecta is the second most popular "exotic" bet in horse racing behind the exacta.  The payouts for hitting the trifecta can be astronomical.  The trifecta in the 2005 Kentucky Derby (Giacomo - Closing Argument - Afleet Alex) paid a whopping $133,000 on a $2 bet. More recently the trifectas in the Derby have paid (2012 - $3065 and 2011 - $3952), both of those trifectas were correctly picked by the Trifecta Super System.

There are three types of trifecta bets; the straight trifecta, the trifecta box, and the trifecta wheel.  In a straight trifecta you are picking the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers in a race and they must finish in exactly that order.  An example of a straight trifecta bet would be a $2 trifecta ( 3-5-8).  This means that the 3 horse must finish first, the 5 horse must finish second, and the 8 horse must finish in third - any other result and you can tear up your ticket.  It takes a bold and confident handicapper to make a straight trifecta wager.  In the Trifecta box you are covering all possible combinations of your 3 or more horses.  A $2 trifecta box using (3,5,8) would cost $12 because there are 6 combinations of (3,5,8) coming in - 3,5,8 / 3,8,5 / 5,3,8 / 5,8,3 / 8,3,5 / 8,5,3.  If you add another horse to your trifecta box (3,5,8,1) you will have 24 combinations and your $2 box will cost $48 ($2 X 24 combinations).  A quick way to figure out the cost of a trifecta box is to take the number of horses you wish to include, for example 5, and multiply 5x4x3 which would be 60, and then multiply that by the type of bet you want to make - $2 x 60 = $120.  For 6 horses the cost would be 6x5x4 which would be 120 combinations x $2 or a $240 bet.  As you can see, the more horses you add to your box, the higher the cost.  You do not want to spend $240 boxing the top 6 favorites and have the trifecta pay $22.50 with an even money favorite in first and an 8:5 second choice in the place spot. 

Cost of Trifecta Boxes  - Trifecta Calculator

Number of Horses Cost of $2 Trifecta Box

Unlike exactas, there is not a trifecta payout screen shown to you before the race - there are too many combinations for the racetrack to show. So there is not a fool proof way of knowing what your trifecta will pay if it hits.  Common sense will tell you that if the top 3 betting choices hit the board the trifecta payout will be small.  Trifectas are best played when you have a negative opinion on a short priced favorite, or when there is no clear cut favorite in the race.  It is also best to play trifectas in races with at least 8 horses.  Racetracks will not offer a trifecta bet in races with fewer than 6 horses.  In a race with 8 or more horses the trifecta payouts can get LARGE - even if a favorite hits the board. 
A trifecta wheel is similar to the exacta wheel in that you are most commonly using one horse with several others.  For example, you love the 9 horse and think that the 3 or 5 are almost certain to finish second.  You could construct your trifecta wheel in this fashion: 9/3,5/3,5  For your bet to win the 9 would have to finish first and the 3 and 5 finish 2nd and 3rd.  That bet would cost $4 because there are only two outcomes 9-3-5 or 9-5-3.  Not much room for error. By also wheeling the 9 in the second spot you would ask for a 3,5/9/3,5 too.  This would cover you if the 9 ran second and the 5 and 3 ran first and 3rd.  The proper way to place a trifecta wheel bet is to say to the teller:  "8th race, Churchill Downs, $2 Trifecta wheel 9 with 3,5 with 3,5".  Most trifecta wheels involve betting more than a few horses in each spot, and are used by handicappers to create bets that cover several possible outcomes.  If you do not have a strong enough opinion about one horse in the race you should not play a trifecta.  Doing so would be similar to buying a lottery ticket - and we all know most of those are losers.  The key to making a successful trifecta bet is to find a race in which you can find a horse that you would be willing to bet to win and place.  If your handicapping leads you to believe that your horse has a better than average chance of hitting the board then you can consider maximizing your payouts by using that horse in trifectas.  If you think the 6 horse is a certainty to finish first or second and his odds are 3:1, and the rest of the horses seem to be evenly matched with a slight edge to the 5 and 1 you may consider betting a wheel that looks like this 6/5,1/ALL.  If there are 8 horses in the race your trifecta wheel would cost $24 because the 6/5/ALL has 6 combinations as does the 6/1/ALL.  Using the ALL key can get expensive, but can also yield huge payouts when a 30:1 shot fills out your trifecta.  Use the Trifecta Calculator to figure the costs of boxes and wheels.

How to hit Trifecta bets
The key to being a succesful trifecta player is picking the right races. Races where the fields are big enough to produce a big payoff, and only playing races where you know you have an edge. Picking races with large fields is easy, but how do you find a horse that provides you with an edge? The way to do that is by using a method that ranks horses based on factors that consistently produces winners. When you do that you can pinpoint which races offer true betting value and will give you a better than average shot of hitting the trifecta.

To show you how this can be done, take a look at the screen below. This handicapping program has ranked the horses in this race, and provided a point total for each horse.

Trifecta betting screen

The top ranked horse is #5 Auston Got Even. He has 87.9 points and has over 20 points more than the second ranked horse, which makes him a very strong play. He would be a great win bet on his own, and certainly the kind of horse you want to build a trifecta around. Another thing to look at are his morning line odds. As you can see from the screen above, his ML odds were 3:1. We do not want to use a key horse that has odds of 8:5 or lower in building a bet. If the horse is a huge favorite the trifecta will not pay much.

The second ranked horse in our screen is #9 Clobber. His ML odds are 8:1, which should provide some value in the trifecta payout.

In this case we would create a trifecta bet with our key horse (#5) and use the 4 horses ranked underneath him in the trifecta bet.

Our bet would look like this 5/9,3,8,1/9,3,8,1. When making that trifecta bet at the window we would say "$2 Trifecta wheel, 5 with 9,3,8,1 with 9,3,8,1" That bet would cost $24 since there are 12 combinations. If you made the bet for $1 it would cost $12, and for .50 cents it would cost $6.

Since the #5 horse is such a strong play you probably would not want to put the horse in 2nd and third, which you could do with a bet like 9,3,8,1 with 5 with 9,3,8,1. You certainly should avoid boxing the top 5 horses.

The race came in almost exactly the way the computer predicted it would:

Trifecta Results

The trifecta paid $279.00 for a $2 bet, and since we put $24 into our trifecta wheel that actual profit was $254.10. We could have gone deeper and played the Superfecta which paid $1,550.80!

Hitting trifectas requires that you have the right race conditions and a solid opinion about a few of the horses in the race. You can use your normal handicapping methods or you can make the process much easier by using handicapping software. We use Betmix, which offers a free race every day and provides a library of mixes that you can use to handicap races. The mix that we used in our example is called the dirtblend, and provides a very solid approach to handicapping dirt races. That mix and many more are available to BetMix subscribers in their MixLibrary.

If you are not comfortable with making your own handicapping mixes and are looking for a very reliable tool that will give you numeric rankings, all you have to do is use the RANKINGS feature at Betmix. The handicapping software there takes into account every data point and then ranks the horses very accurately.

Just click the rankings button and all of the handicapping work is done for you!

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