How to Bet a Trifecta

Whether you consider yourself a newcomer to horse race betting or a veteran with years of experience, everyone should have a basic understanding when it comes to placing a trifecta.

Even though trifecta betting is not the easiest wager type in the world, it remains an extremely popular choice among horse racing enthusiasts as it can potentially lead to enormously profits. In fact, it’s considered one of the best horsing bet types if you’re interested in winning big without risking too much of your own hard-earned money.

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A trifecta bet will usually cost you a mere $2, and the potential returns you can make on such a small bet can be extraordinary.

For instance, during the Kentucky Derby in 2005, Giacomo had a 72/1 chance of winning. After he shocked the world with his victory, the trifecta payout was a whopping $133,134.80. It’s nearly impossible to find anything else that will pay this well from such a small bet amount.

Obviously, the payouts are not always this impressive when it comes to trifecta betting. The average payout of a trifecta is usually around $7,000 during the Kentucky Derby. However, that amount drops significantly once you start looking at other races from around the world.

It’s still worth mentioning, however, that you will only spend $2 on a trifecta bet.

So, even if your winnings are only a couple of hundred dollars, you will still make a sizable profit. For that reason, trifecta betting is not only popular with serious handicappers, but with casual bettors as well.

So, for an in-depth look at trifecta betting, read on. After explaining what trifecta betting is, we will walk you through how trifecta betting works and what the differences are between trifecta and boxed trifecta.

We will also help you to calculate trifecta bets and payouts and explain the differences between trifecta, superfecta, and exacta. Keep reading for some frequently asked questions surrounding this popular form of horse race betting, too.

What is a Trifecta?

A trifecta in horse racing is basically an exotic bet where you’ll be required to predict the first three horses to finish the race. You will also need to predict the finishers in the correct order before you will qualify for a payout.

If you are unable to correctly predict the first three finishers in the race, or you simply get the order wrong, you won’t win anything from your bet. As you can see, this is not a simplistic bet to make, which is why the payouts for this bet type can be astonishing.

The typical bet amount for a trifecta is around $2. However, you will find several horse racing events which will allow bets at a reduced cost.  For instance, there’s a handful of horse racing events that will offer a $1 trifecta, or even a $0.50 trifecta. However, do remember that the potential payouts will also be reduced once the initial bet amount is reduced.

Now that you have a better understanding of what a trifecta is, let’s expand your knowledge even further by taking a look at the different types of trifecta bets.

Types of Trifecta Bets

You will essentially come across five different types of trifecta betting opportunities in horse race betting. This includes straight trifecta, boxed trifecta, trifecta key, trifecta boxed key and trifecta wheel. Let’s take a closer look at each of these trifecta betting types and explain them in more detail.

Straight Trifecta

This is the most simplistic type of trifecta bet. All you need to do is select three different horses and decide in which order they will finish the race. This can only be first place, second place or third place.

Example: Let’s say you select horse #4 to win the race, horse #6 to place second and horse #2 to place third. This means your betting slip will look similar to this: $2 Trifecta (4-6-2).

Example of a Trifecta Straight Bet

Boxed Trifecta

The boxed trifecta gives you more flexibility when compared to a straight trifecta. You will still need to select three or more horses to finish a race. However, you don’t have to predict the exact order in which they will finish, as long as the selected horses finish in the top three positions.

A boxed trifecta will cost you more than a straight trifecta, as you will need to pay for every combination. Even though the minimum bet for a boxed trifecta is only $1, you will need to pay a minimum of $6 if you select three horses.

Example: Let’s say you select horse #8, #6, and #3 to finish in any order with a boxed trifecta bet. You will need to pay $6 as the three horses can finish in six different combinations.

Example of a Trifecta Box Bet

The more horses you select, the more combinations will be formed and the more you will need to pay.

For instance, a 7-horse trifecta box will come with 210 different combinations, which means you will need to pay $210 to cover your minimum bet.

Trifecta Key

This trifecta bet will require the ‘key’ horse to finish in first position, while the remaining horses you selected can finish in any combination to cover second and third place.

Example: Let’s say you select horse #8 as the key followed by horse #3, #5, and #4. At a minimum bet of $1, you will need to pay $6 to cover your bet. Your Key horse will need to finish in first place, while two of your other selected horses will be required to finish in second and third place before you can consider yourself a winner.

Example of a Trifecta Key Bet

Trifecta Boxed Key

This trifecta bet will include all possible combinations where your key horse will be combined with all non-key horses in a single box bet.

Example: Let’s say you place a $1 Trifecta Boxed Key bet and you make your Key horse #8 along with horse #2 and #6. This means your total bet amount would be $6, as it will create a total of 6 combinations.

An Example of a Trifecta Key Box Bet

Trifecta Wheel

This trifecta betting type can either be a full trifecta wheel, or a part trifecta wheel. The easiest trifecta wheel will be the full trifecta wheel where you will need to select a single horse to finish the race in a specific position, while backing all possible combinations with all the other horses in the field.

Example: Let’s say you select horse #3 to win the race. However, you are struggling to predict which of the remaining horses will be able to finish in second or third position.

When this occurs, you simply place a full trifecta wheel bet that will look like this: 3-All-All.

This will basically cover all combinations with horse #3 in first position.

Example of a Trifecta Wheel Bet

How Does Trifecta Betting Work in Horse Racing

Trifecta betting in horse racing is when you select three horses from a single racing event and predict which of the three horses will finish in first, second, and third position.

Please keep in mind, however, that your prediction needs to correct in both horse selection and the order in which they finish the race.

If your three selected horses finish in first, second and third (in the order you predicted), you will win. If one of your selected horses is not in the top three, or one of your selected horses doesn’t finish in the position your predicted, you will lose your bet.

What is the Difference between Trifecta and Boxed Trifecta

With a trifecta bet, you merely need to select three horses from a single event and ensure they finish in the top three positions in the exact order you predicted.

However, with boxed trifecta, there is no need to predict in what order the three horses will finish. You merely need to select three horses that you think will finish in the top three positions.

Boxed trifecta does give you more freedom and flexibility, but it will cost you more as you need to cover more combinations as opposed to only covering one combination with a standard trifecta bet.

How to Calculate Trifecta Bets and Payouts

Trifectas form part of the pari-mutuel betting system. This basically means the payouts for trifectas are not calculated using odds, but are instead shared among players in a betting pool.

For each horse racing event, a new betting pool is created, and all the bets from trifecta tickets will be accumulated in the betting pool. The betting pool will then be shared with all winners at the end of the horse racing event.

Let’s take a look at a simple example to show you how this works:

  • 100,000 trifecta tickets are sold for a horse racing event at $2 per ticket.
  • The betting pool is worth $200,000 ($2 x 100,000 tickets)
  • 100 bettors manage to correctly predict the top three finishers in the exact order.
  • Each of the 100 tickets provides a payout of $2,000 ($200,000 ÷ 100)

Obviously, the breakdown of the above-mentioned trifecta bet will not be this straightforward in reality. Online betting sites will obviously take their cut and you will notice that not all trifecta tickets will come with a standard price of $2. But the above example does give you an indication of how trifecta bets are calculated and how the payouts are distributed towards winners.

Trifecta vs. Superfecta vs. Exacta

The main difference between an exacta, trifecta and superfecta is the amount of horses you’ll be required to bet on during a single horse racing event.

With an exacta, you will need to select two horses to finish in first and second position, in that exact order as well. With a trifecta, you will need to include three horses in your selection to finish in first, second, and third position, in that exact order.

A superfecta bet is considered the most difficult, as you will need to include four horses in your selection to finish in the top 4 positions, in the exact order as well.

Origins of the Trifecta Bet

The trifecta bet type was first introduced during the early 1970s and was derived from the bet type perfecta. A perfecta bet type, also known as an exacta, requires you to select two horses to finish in first and second place, in the exact order you predict.

The term trifecta was introduced for bettors who wanted to select three horses to place in the top three positions, hence the term ‘tri’, which means three. The trifecta bet type was first used in the United States during 1971 at Arlington Park. In 1977, it was introduced in Australia at the New South Wales Tab, and in 1983 it was introduced in New Zealand.


A trifecta bet in horse racing is an exotic bet type that requires you to select three horses from a single event to finish in the top three positions. You will also need to predict the exact order in which the three horses will finish.

This will greatly depend on the horse racing event and where you decide to place your bet. In most cases, the minimum bet for a trifecta is often $2. However, there are a handful of online sports betting sites that will go as low as $1 or even $0.50.

This will depend on the horse racing event and how many trifecta tickets were sold into the betting pool. The more tickets sold, the higher the betting pool will grow, and the more money you can win from the event.

They are similar, but not exactly the same. They differ in one key aspect. A trifecta bet will require three horse selections in a single event, while a superfecta will require four horse selections in a single event. Both bet types will require that you predict the exact order in which the horses finish the race.

Due to the fact that a superfecta bet requires an additional horse to be selected, it’s safe to say that the superfecta bet will pay more when all your selections are correct.

The superfecta bet type will provide the biggest odds, when compared to a trifecta. You will need to get more selections in the exact order with a superfecta bet, making it far more difficult to get right.

The biggest trifecta payout occurred during the 2009 Kentucky Derby when Mine That Bird had a 50/1 chance and won the race, followed by Pioneer of the Nile with a 5/1 chance in second place, and Musket Man with a 18/1 chance in third place.

A $2 Trifecta ticket produced an incredible $41,500.

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