Trifecta Horse Betting Guide

Explaining Trifecta Betting Strategies You Can Use to Win Money


Trifecta betting can act as an effective tool for horse racing bettors trying to find the most value. It allows you to benefit if you can pick the first three horses in the order of finish of a race. If you can, you’ll usually be looking at a solid payback for a small wager.

In terms of horse racing betting, there are many ways you can attack a particular race. If you want to make a sizable return on your betting investment, trifecta wagering can be one of the most effective ways to do it.

It’s a wager that you can legitimately hope to hit, unlike some other exotic bets which are much more difficult, and it generally provides excellent payback.

In the following article, we’ll tell you all about trifecta betting for real money in horse racing. We’ll explain how it works, your odds of hitting it, and your potential payback. In addition, we’ll talk about the strategy you can utilize to effectively bet the trifecta and make excellent money doing so.

What Is Trifecta Betting?

If you go to your local horse racing establishment or an off-track wagering site, you’re likely to find many bettors who swear by trifecta betting as one of the most effective wagers of all. In fact, some people bet on trifectas and nothing else. In a way, it finds a sweet spot as a bet that you can legitimately hope to hit while providing major payback.

To put it simply, horse racing trifecta betting requires you to pick the first three in the order of finish in a particular race.

Keep in mind, this means the official order of finish. There are times when a horse may cross the line in the top three but is later disqualified or placed by track stewards or judges somewhere else in the official order.

In a straight trifecta, you must have the orders in the correct order as well. (We’ll talk in a bit about other ways to bet on the trifecta to modify this a bit.)

1-3-5 Trifecta Bet: You win if the #1 horse finishes first, the #3 horse finishes second, and the #5 horse finishes third.

Trifecta Horse Racing

At most horse racing tracks, the minimum for a trifecta bet is $2. If you’re using gambling websites, it’s possible you might see a different minimum.

If you choose to raise the bet, your potential winnings will rise in direct proportion. For example, if a $2 trifecta payoff is $50, then you can assume the following:

  • $4 bet = $100 payback
  • $5 bet = $150 payback
  • $6 bet = $200 payback

Best Sites for Online Trifecta Betting

There are many sites offering trifecta bets online, but some are definitely better than others. Here are the best racebooks of 2021 and some current bonus offers specifically geared toward betting on horse races:

  • BetUS – $100 Free Play Win or Lose for Betting on Weekly Horse Matchups
  • MyBookie – 8% Horse Betting Rebate
  • BetOnline – 7% Daily Track Rebate on Online Wagers
  • SportsBetting.ag – $25 Risk Free Racebook Bet

Best Online Racebooks for Specific Events

Looking to place a trifecta bet on a specific race? Learn more about how to bet on that specific horse race by following one of the links below

Why Trifecta Betting?

For many bettors, trifecta bets are the perfect blend between a bet that you can actually hope to win and one that can pay you a lot of money in return. That’s the “sweet spot” we mentioned above.

Trifecta Kentucky Derby

Here we have an example of the “trifecta” menu at Bovada.lv where you can bet on any horse to either win, place or show.

To understand why, it’s important to understand the other types of horse racing bets. First, there are the straight bets, where you’re betting on the outcome of a single horse in a single race. These bets include:

  • Win: Betting on a horse to finish first
  • Place: Betting on a horse to finish first or second
  • Show: Betting on a horse to finish first, second, or third

Then, there are exotic wagers, which require you to predict the outcomes of multiple horses in either a single race or several races. Trifecta wagers are exotic wagers. Here is the list:

  • Exacta: Betting on the first two in the order of finish in a race
  • Trifecta: Betting on the first three in the order of finish in a race
  • Superfecta: Betting on the first four in the order of finish in a race
  • Daily Double: Betting on the winners of two consecutive races
  • Pick 3, Pick 4, etc.: Betting on the winners of several consecutive races

In terms of straight bets, it is difficult to win a lot of money on a single wager. You can occasionally earn big winnings by picking a horse with high odds (also known as a long shot). But for the most part, to win a lot on a straight bet, you have to bet more than the minimum.

Exotic bets give you a little better chance of winning a lot on even a $2 bet. Exactas and Daily Doubles, can pay back well, for sure, but there are also times where they might not represent a big return. Superfectas, Pick 3s, and Pick 4s do usually pay back well, but they are extremely hard to hit.

Please Note:
You might think that hitting a Pick 3 and hitting your trifecta betting are about the same in terms of your chances. But remember that a Pick 3 requires you to pick from among an average of about eight horses for three races, equaling somewhere around 24 possibilities. With trifecta betting, you’re limited to a single race, meaning less choices.

In other words, the trifecta, while by no means an easy bet to win, is one that you can manage if you learn how to handicap and get a little lucky. Trifecta betting online also pays back very well, sometimes over $100 on a $2 wager and occasionally even more than that. Combining those two factors makes the Trifecta one of the most useful of all horse racing wagers.

How Trifectas Are Paid Back

Horse racing betting uses a much different system than most sports found on betting websites. With sports like baseball, football or soccer, you are dealing with fixed odds. That means your odds are locked in place when you bet.

But in horse racing betting, pari-mutuel wagering is utilized. For any bet you make, the odds will not be determined until everyone has made their wagers and the race begins.

For Example:
At the time you bet on a trifecta, you might think that the odds on all your horses are very long and therefore, you can be assured of a major payback. But if a lot of other people bet on the same combination, your potential payback for the bet could drop. That’s where the concept of betting pools come into play.

How Trifecta Betting Pools Work

In every race where a trifecta is involved, there will be an overall pool for trifecta betting. Then, there will be individual pools for each possible combination, like 1-2-3, or 2-4-6, or 8-3-6, or whatever.

The first thing that happens is that the track enacts their “takeout” from the overall pool. This is a percentage that is known beforehand and allows the track to make their money regardless of the outcome.

Please Note:
If you look at the website of a horse racing track or watch their broadcast, you can usually find the takeout listed for each type of wager.

After this, the odds are determined by how many people bet on each specific combination. The less people that bet on that combination, the higher the odds and the more it will pay off if it hits. More people betting on a combination means lower odds.

How to Make a Trifecta Wager

If you’re trifecta betting in person at a horse track or at an off-track betting wagering facility, remember that there are five things that you have to identify when you go up to a betting window:

  1. The name of the track you’re betting
  2. The race number at that track
  3. The amount of money you’re betting
  4. The type of bet you’re making
  5. The number of the horse (or horses) involved

You can also go up to kiosks to bet on site, using touch screens to give the necessary information. Always make sure that the betting ticket that you get, either from a teller or a kiosk, is accurate before you walk away.

As for those who plan on trifecta betting on sports wagering websites, you just have to navigate through the different screens to get where you want to go. You’ll still need all the information above. When you get to the horses involved, you’ll be able to insert them into each particular spot in the trifecta you want them to go.

Strategies for Betting Trifectas

Now that you know what trifecta betting is and how it works in terms of making the wager and getting payback, you can start to hone in on the strategies that will help you win. Two of these will be based on different betting techniques you can use. And the other will look at trifecta wagering from a handicapping angle.

Boxing Trifectas

Remember that we said above that a straight trifecta wager will be a winner only if you have the horses in the correct order? Well, boxing trifecta bets give you a way around that. If you box a trifecta, you’ll win if the horses you include in your wager finish in the top three of a race, no matter what order.

For example, let’s imagine that you like the #1, #2, and #3 horses in an eight-horse field for a particular race. But you aren’t sure which will come in first and where they all might end up in the top three.

If you box the trifecta, you’ll be covered for the following results:

  • 1-2-3
  • 1-3-2
  • 2-1-3
  • 2-3-1
  • 3-1-2
  • 3-2-1

As you can see, there are many more ways to win with this type of trifecta betting. You might be wondering why anyone would even place a trifecta bet that isn’t boxed. Well, it comes down to the size of the bet.

A boxed trifecta like the one above is essentially six different wagers, one on each of the above combinations. Since that’s the case, you have to cough up $2 for each one of those six combos. As a result, a three-horse trifecta costs $12.

Considering that a trifecta bet can pay back a significant amount, you might be willing to pay extra to get that coverage. But it means bigger losses if you don’t hit the bet.

You can also expand the box to include more than three horse’s but will raise the bet even further. Take a look:

  • 4-horse Trifecta box = $48
  • 5-horse Trifecta box = $120
  • 6-horse Trifecta box = $240
  • 7-horse Trifecta box = $420
  • 8-horse Trifecta box = $672

Trifecta bets are only wise if there are a lot of horses in the field (10 or more), which would generally mean a significant payback if it hits. Even so, you’re putting a lot at stake for a tough wager to hit. There are more efficient ways to lower your odds, as you’ll see.

Keying Horses

By keying horses, you can get a lot of the coverage of a trifecta box for a much lower price. It’s a strategy by which you emphasize certain horses in the bet.

For Example:
Let’s go back to our three-horse box above (1-2-3). Let’s say that, after handicapping more closely, you had a good feeling that horse #1 was going to win. But you were still undecided about the order of #2 and #3 coming in second and third.

You could key the #1 in first with the #2 and #3 essentially boxed for second and third. In other words, you would win if the following results occurred:

  • 1-2-3
  • 1-3-2

As you can see, that’s only two wagers instead of the six it would take for a full box. That means it’s only a $4 wager (2 bets times $2). It provides less coverage for your trifecta betting, but it can work if you feel sure about your handicapping.

There’s also no rule on how many horses you can key in a trifecta. For example, let’s say there’s an eight-horse race where you feel pretty confident that the #1 is going to win and the #2 is going to finish second. But you have no idea which of the other six horses will finish third.

You can key the #1 in first and the #2 in second with the entire field.

That means you win with the following results:

  • 1-2-3
  • 1-2-4
  • 1-2-5
  • 1-2-6
  • 1-2-7
  • 1-2-8

There’s six bets here, which means $12 total. But you have covered the entire eight-horse field for that amount. There is no limit to the different ways of trifecta betting.

You can key a horse that you think will finish third while using different combinations in first and second. Or you can key more than one horse in a certain spot in the order.

The important thing is getting good value out of what you bet. And creative keying can do that for you with the trifecta wager.

Visualizing the Race

A common mistake that novice handicappers make when trying to bet on trifectas is that they pick what they think are the best three horses in the race. The problem is that races often turn out much differently than that.

There are horses who will be legitimate contenders to win each race. But if all of these horses have a certain style, it can work to their disadvantage.

For Example:
If all the best horses in a race like to run out early, they could end up having a speed duel and tiring. Or if they all like to come from off the pace, they could end up sitting back while a lesser horse gets away with a slow pace and wins.

Knowing the styles of each horse is very important when placing trifecta bets. You should be looking not only for the best horses but also for those who might not have a chance of winning but could sneak into the top three. Doing a complete overview gives you the best chance of winning the bet.

Trifecta Betting FAQ

Most tracks insist on the $2 minimum for trifecta betting. However, you might discover tracks that allow either $1 or even 50-cent wagers. The trick here is that the minimum is still $2, but you can play a few more combinations for that amount and get a portion of the full winning price in return.

It means that there was a result that nobody in the betting pool covered. For example, if you see a trifecta paid back to those with 2-3-ALL even though the order of finish was 2-3-6, it means that nobody had the #6 finishing third with the #2 and #3 finishing first and second. You would win the amount listed as long as the #2 and #3 were in the right spots.

It does if you’re going to be making a lot of trifecta wagers. If you’re betting at a track that has a higher takeout for the trifecta than others, it will hurt your bottom line. The good news is that most horse racing tracks offer favorable takeouts for trifecta wagers to encourage bettors to try them.