Trifecta Betting Strategies – Keys to Profitable Wagering
Trifecta betting offers even modest bettors a chance at a big score for a minimum outlay of cash. Also known at some tracks as a Triactor, the Trifecta requires you to pick the first three finishers in a race in exact order. The major attraction of Trifecta betting is the possibility of huge payoffs. Every week, all across North America, there are a few five-figure Trifecta payoffs, and on racing’s biggest days these payoffs can reach six figures.
A relatively new type of wager when compared to Exactas, Trifectas are not yet well understood by the betting public. The fact that probable Trifecta payoffs are not displayed on the tote board prior to the running of a race leaves a majority of bettors guessing and over-betting combinations that have little chance of actually winning. This combined with lazy handicapping and poor Trifecta wagering strategies results in inefficiencies in the Trifecta wagering pools that can be much greater than the weaknesses found in the exacta pools.
The inefficiencies in Trifecta betting pools are exploited on a daily basis by sharp handicappers. Handicappers who know how to properly structure their Trifecta wagers based on probability and profit.
There are four different methods of betting the Trifecta: straight Trifecta betting, Trifecta wheels, Trifecta key part wheels, and Trifecta boxes. The latter Trifecta wagering strategy, Trifecta boxes, is the most inefficient yet most popular method of betting the Trifecta, and the main reason for large inefficiencies in the Trifecta wagering pools.
Bad Trifecta Wagering Strategies
Trifecta Box Betting
The simplest and most overused method of Trifecta betting, Trifecta boxes allow you to play multiple Trifecta combinations on a single ticket. Offered at most racetracks in denominations as low as $1, a $1 Trifecta box of horses 4-5-6 would include six $1 combinations at the cost of $6 and would pay off if the order of finish were 4-5-6, 4-6-5, 5-4-6, 5-6-4, 6-5-4 or 6-4-5.
Trifecta boxes can include as many horses as are in a race. You can box the whole field and play every possible Trifecta combination in a race if you like, although this would be an extremely inefficient method of Trifecta betting and would almost guarantee a loss over time. Based on the cost of $1 boxes listed below, the payoffs would never allow you to recoup your investment.
To calculate the cost of a Trifecta box, multiply the number of horses you would like to box by that number of horses minus one and by that number minus two, and then multiply it by your bet amount.
For example, the cost of a four horse $1 Trifecta box would be calculated as follows:
(4 * 3 *2) * $1 = $24 (24 $1 combinations.)
The cost of a five horse $1 Trifecta box would be calculated as follows:
(5 * 4 *3) * $1 = $60 (60 $1 combinations.)
Below are the calculated costs of $1 Trifecta boxes:
- $1 Trifecta box of 3 horses = 6 possible combinations = $6
- $1 Trifecta box of 4 horses = 24 possible combinations = $24
- $1 Trifecta box of 5 horses = 60 possible combinations = $60
- $1 Trifecta box of 6 horses = 120 possible combinations = $120
- $1 Trifecta box of 7 horses = 210 possible combinations = $210
- $1 Trifecta box of 8 horses = 336 possible combinations = $336
- $1 Trifecta box of 9 horses = 504 possible combinations = $504
- $1 Trifecta box of 10 horses = 720 possible combinations = $720
Preferred by most bettors due to their simplicity, Trifecta boxes are the most inefficient method of betting Trifectas. They do, however, require very little mental work while also offering a chance at cashing a ticket with a good payoff. The problem is that all combinations in any given Trifecta box do not have an equal chance of winning. This leaves a ton of wasted money in the Trifecta betting pools that are there to be had by smart handicappers who structure their bets properly based on probabilities.
For example, in the above scenario, let’s assume you have determined that horse 4 has about a 2-1 chance of winning while horse 5 has a 10-1 chance of winning and horse 6 has a 30-1 chance of winning. Based on your handicapping, the probability of the order of finish being 4-5-6 (2-1, 10-1, 30-1) is higher than the probability of the order of finish being 6-5-4 (30-1, 10-1, 2-1). But in a $1 Trifecta box, you are playing each of these combinations in equal amounts. Would it not be more efficient to bet more on the Trifecta combinations that have a higher probability of winning and less on the combinations that have a lower probability of winning?
Of course, it would.
Trifecta Wheel Betting Using One Horse as a Key
Slightly more efficient than Trifecta box betting, Trifecta wheel betting does have its place and can be lucrative on occasions when you believe one or more of the favorites can finish out of the money. It can also be a reasonable option when you have a strong opinion about who will win the race (especially if it is not the favorite), but can’t separate the remaining contenders for second and third. A Trifecta wheel allows you to play a horse in one position in combination with all the other horses in the field to finish in the remaining two positions.
For example, in an 8-horse field, a $1 Trifecta wheel of 3-All-All (horse three to finish first with the other 7 horses to finish second or third), would result in 42 possible $1 combinations at the cost of $42 and would pay off if horse 3 won the race and any of horses 1,2,4,5,6,7,8 finished second or third. You could also play additional Trifecta wheels with the 3 horse wheeled in second or third (All-3-All or All-All-3) for the same cost of $42 each.
To calculate the cost of wheeling one horse in one position (first, second or third) with the remainder of the field to finish in the other two positions, multiply the number of horses in the field minus 1 by the number of horses in the field minus two, and multiply that number by the denomination of your bet. For example:
To calculate what it would cost to wheel a horse in one position with ALL in the other two positions in a 6-horse field, you would multiply (5 * 4) * $1 = $20 (20 possible combinations.)
In a 7-horse field, you would multiply (6 * 5) * $1 = $30 (30 possible combinations.)
Below follows the cost of wheeling one horse in one position with ALL remaining horses in the other two positions, based on field size:
- 4 horse field $1 Trifecta wheel = (3 * 2) * $1 = $6 (6 possible combinations.)
- 5 horse field $1 Trifecta wheel = (4 * 3) * $1 = $12 (12 possible combinations.)
- 6 horse field $1 Trifecta wheel = (5 * 4) * $1 = $20 (20 possible combinations.)
- 7 horse field $1 Trifecta wheel = (6 * 5) * $1 = $30 (30 possible combinations.)
- 8 horse field $1 Trifecta wheel = (7 * 6) * $1 = $42 (42 possible combinations.)
- 9 horse field $1 Trifecta wheel = (8 * 7) * $1 = $56 (56 possible combinations.)
- 10 horse field $1 Trifecta wheel = (9 * 8) * $1 = $72 (72 possible combinations.)
- 11 horse field $1 Trifecta wheel = (10 * 9) * $1 = $90 (90 possible combinations.)
- 12 horse field $1 Trifecta wheel = (11 * 10) * $1 = $110 (110 possible combinations.)
The inherent weakness in wheeling one horse to the field is the fact that if the favorite finishes in the money it will often depress the Trifecta payoff to the point where you don’t make a profit. This is especially true with large Trifecta wheels.
Additionally, all horses in the race certainly don’t have an equal chance of finishing in the money, but the full wheel bets the same $1 amount on every combination, again resulting in inefficiencies in the Trifecta betting pools that smart players can take advantage of.
It is best to play full wheels only when you like a horse who is not the favorite to win, while also having a strong opinion that the first and second favorites will finish out of the money. But there is an even better way to use wheeling to gain a tremendous advantage over the crowd.
Exploiting Weaknesses in the Trifecta Betting Pools for Maximum Profit
Intelligent Trifecta bets should be structured to reflect, in your opinion, the most probable outcome of the race, while also covering as many combinations as possible for the smallest outlay of cash. If your opinion on the race is correct, your goal should be to cash much more than just a $1 Trifecta ticket — which is what most winning Trifecta bettors cash using inefficient and/or expensive boxes and wheels.
For example, in a 10-horse field there are 720 possible combinations, most of which have a very low probability of winning, yet a $1 box of all 10 horses at the cost of $720 basically assumes the probability of all combinations is equal and leaves the bettor with only one winning $1 Trifecta ticket regardless of whether longshots or favorites come in. If one or more of the favorites do finish in the money, the bettor is almost certain to lose money.
Playing a $1 Trifecta wheel of one horse with ALL with ALL in a 10-horse field is more efficient, providing the bettor with 72 of the 720 possible winning combinations, again, each worth only a $1 Trifecta payoff no matter who arrives at the wire second and third. This type of Trifecta wheel again assumes that the probabilities of any of the remaining horses finishing in the other two positions are equal, which they are not, and also results in money being wasted on low probability combinations.
One of the major mental blocks to get over when betting the Trifecta is thinking that you have to cash a winning Trifecta ticket no matter what. Playing large wheels and boxes that cover impossible combinations and result in huge losses just doesn’t make any sense. Do you really care if you miss cashing a Trifecta ticket if it pays $42 (and only $21 for your $1 ticket)? Not likely, and certainly not if you’ve just spent $720 or even $72 to collect $21.
The money lost by other bettors on inefficient box and wheel tickets that assume all horses have an equal chance of finishing in the top three positions is the money you want to take out of the betting pools. The most effective way to do this is to structure your Trifecta wagers using a combination of key part wheels to ensure maximum coverage of the most probable winning combinations for as little money as possible.
Trifecta Key Part Wheels and Trifecta Straight Bets
Let’s say you think five horses in a 10-horse race have a chance of finishing in the money. You could play a five-horse Trifecta box for $60 that would include 60 $1 Trifecta combinations, but as we already discussed, that would be inefficient. So consider the following scenarios.
Trifecta Key Part Wheel Scenario 1 - You like one horse to finish first or second
You like five horses, (1, 2, 4, 5, and 6) but you really think horse 2 has an excellent chance of finishing first or second. Rather than box five horses at the cost of $60 you could play the following.
- $1 Trifecta part wheel 2 WITH 1,4,5,6 WITH 1,4,5,6 = 12 $1 combinations = $12.
- $1 Trifecta part wheel 1,4,5,6 WITH 2 WITH 1,4,5,6 = 12 $1 combinations = $12.
Total Cash Outlay = $24.
Although the above tickets would not win if horse 2 finished worse than second, you have reduced your total cash outlay by $36 ($24 rather than the $60 it would have cost you for the box), and you still have a great chance of cashing a winning ticket. And if you really have a solid opinion regarding horse 2 as the winner, you could play extra $1 wheels with horse 2 on top, allowing you to cash multiple $1 Trifecta tickets, still at the cost of less than the Trifecta box.
Trifecta Key Part Wheel Scenario 2 - You like two horses to finish in the top 3 positionsL
You like five horses, (1, 2, 4, 5, and 6) but you really think horses 2 and 4 have an excellent chance of finishing in the top three positions. Rather than box five horses at the cost of $60 you could play the following.
- $1 Trifecta part wheel 2,4 WITH 2,4 WITH 1,5,6 = 6 $1 combinations = $6.
- $1 Trifecta part wheel 2,4 WITH 1,5,6 WITH 2,4 = 6 $1 combinations = $6.
- $1 Trifecta part wheel 1,5,6 WITH 2,4 WITH 2,4 = 6 $1 combinations = $6.
Total Cash Outlay = $18.
The above tickets would not win if horse 2 or 4 finished out of the money, but you have already determined based on sound handicapping that horse 2 and 4 have a very high probability of finishing in the top 3 positions. Rather than waste money betting the low probability combinations a five-horse Trifecta box would offer for $60, you could use the money you have saved (in this case $60 - $18 = $48) to play additional repeat tickets with your top choices in positions one and two and cash multiple $1 tickets if you are right about the race - while still betting less than the cost of a box.
Trifecta Key Part Wheel Scenario 3 - You like two solid favorites and three longshots
You can’t possibly see any horses getting by the top two favorites, horses 2 and 4 for the first two positions in the Trifecta. Your choices for third position, in order of preference, are horses 1, 5, 6.
Rather than box five horses at the cost of $60 you could play the following.
- $10 Trifecta part wheel 2,4 WITH 2,4 WITH 1 = 2 $10 combinations = $20.
- $5 Trifecta part wheel 2,4 WITH 2,4 WITH 5 = 2 $5 combinations = $10.
- $2 Trifecta part wheel 2,4 WITH 2,4 WITH 6 = 2 $2 combinations = $4.
Total Cash Outlay = $34.
The above tickets would not win if horse 2 or 4 finished worse than second, but you have already determined based on sound handicapping that horses 2 and 4 have a very high probability of finishing in the top two positions. You have also saved yourself $26 ($60-34) while at the same time creating the possibility of cashing a $10, $5 or $2 Trifecta.
In this case, you could use the $26 you saved to play repeats of your high probability Trifecta tickets or an exacta box of your top two choices.
Trifecta Straight Betting - Scenario 4 - You like three horses in exact order
This strategy is simple and only to be used when you are incredibly confident in the order of finish. You like three horses, 1, 2, and 4 to finish in the exact order 2-4-1. Rather than bet a $1 three horse box for $6, you could play a straight $6 Trifecta 2-4-1 and cash once again, multiple $1 Trifecta tickets - something very few bettors do. If you’re super confident, you could play a $60 straight Trifecta and plan to go out for dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town after you won.
Trifecta Wagering Summary
The only time to waste money on a Trifecta box or large Trifecta wheel is when you think the two favorites have a very good chance of finishing out of the money. Otherwise, you will lose considerable amounts of money over time with these strategies. If you are completely confused by a race and can’t separate the contenders from the non-contenders, you are better off passing the race, not playing Trifecta boxes just so you can cash a ticket at a loss.
If you have a strong opinion about a race, structuring your bets using Trifecta key part wheels that are based on probabilities turned up by your handicapping allows you to bet more on your highest probability combinations while also saving you money. Depending on your handicapping, you will likely cash fewer tickets using Trifecta key part wheels, but your profits will be much higher in the long run.
There’s no better feeling than holding a winning $10 Trifecta ticket paying $500, while everyone else in the grandstand has a $1 ticket paying $50, especially when you got your ticket for less.
Trifecta betting bragging rights baby!