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In Horse Racing, what is a Trifecta Bet?

L. S. Wynn
By L. S. Wynn
Updated May 23, 2024
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In horse racing, a trifecta bet is a wager that names the top three finishers in order. It's known as an "exotic" bet in many circles since it requires the identification of more than one finisher. The most traditional ticket only wins if the three named horses finish in the exact order set out by the better. There are some variations, though; people can often put a bet on three or more horses generally, meaning that if the named animals finish in the top three at all, regardless of their specific order, there’s a payout. Most of these bets are placed with what’s known as a “box” or a “wheel.” These tend to have a greater likelihood of success than a straight ticket, but are usually also less lucrative. In most cases, people only place this sort of bet in any of its forms if they’re very confident about a race’s outcome.

Basics of the Bet

Betting a trifecta requires the identification of the top three finishers before a given race begins. In horseracing the first finisher is usually said to “win”; the second finisher will “place”; and the third finisher will “show.” This terminology is important and is usually indicated on the betting ticket. A standard trifecta will name a single horse for each category, and only wins if the horses finish in exactly that order. Guessing a correct finishing order is usually challenging, and this sort of bet is hard to win. When it is won, though, the payouts can be quite large — though a lot of this depends on how many other people placed bets on the same combination.

Variations

Betting a straight ticket isn’t the only way to place this sort of wager. Many racetracks offer box and wheel betting systems, too, which typically offer a bit more flexibility. In these instances, betters can name the horses they think will win, place, and show but they don’t have to set out the precise order. This sort of ticket will win so long as the top three actually end up the top three, in any combination. Some wheels and boxes also allow for alternates or “wild card” slots that any horse can fill, but a lot of this depends both on how many horses are racing and the specific rules of the track.

Wagers and Payouts

Most tracks charge a flat fee for each trifecta placed. The least expensive ticket is usually the straight ticket. Prices can be inflated depending on the importance of the race or the rules of the track, but the cost is usually moderate; in the United States, for instance, it’s common for this sort of ticket to cost $2 USD. The price usually escalates the more possibilities there are. In a box bet that will cover any combination of three finishing horses, for instance, the cost is usually 6 times that of the original because, in essence, the person is placing bets on six separate trifectas. The odds of winning this sort of ticket are better, but the initial payment is more, too.

How much a winning ticket will be worth is hard to predict, and is usually a matter of how many other bets were placed and how many others also picked the same horses. Combinations that seem initially unlikely and thus don’t get many bets usually pay the best if they happen. On the other hand, races where the winners are more or less predictable from the outset tend to deliver less, since the pot is usually divided between many more winning tickets in these cases.

The number of horses racing can also change the payout. Large races with eight or more horses tend to be the most lucrative, since the more horses there are the harder it is to identify the top three. Most tracks won’t let people place these sorts of bets if there are six or fewer horses racing.

Common Strategies

Placing this sort of bet isn’t usually something people do as a game of chance or luck. More often, it’s the result of careful studying; betters look for inside information or look for an edge that will help them make a better guess when it comes to which horse or horses will turn out on top. People sometimes use software programs and computer algorithms to help identify likely winners and races where the payouts are likely to be the highest.

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Discussion Comments
By anon313404 — On Jan 11, 2013

How can I determine if my ticket is a winner?

By comfyshoes — On May 27, 2011

@Anon16465 - I just wanted to say that I have never bet on horses, but I did go to a Jai Ali game and bet on the players. The games are really fun and fast paced.

I remember that my mother wanted me to bet the number 6-2-4. She wanted it to be a trifecta because she felt that this would determine the best order for winning. When I placed the bet, I got confused with a trifecta and a trifecta box, but somebody there explained it to me.

Because the trifecta has higher odds the payoff is a lot higher than the trifecta box. Well, I placed the bet as a trifecta box and the numbers came in in the exact order that my mom had wanted me to bet.

Because I placed the bet as a trifecta box the payoff was only $250, but if I would have bet it as a trifecta the payoff would have been $1,000. I felt sick afterward but I learned the definition of a trifecta and will never forget it.

By anon164665 — On Apr 01, 2011

box 4 horses in a trifecta - 4*3*2=24

box 5 horses - 5*4*3=60

By nbkt8i4 — On Jan 07, 2010

if i want to bet four horses out of a possible 10 horse field and do it as a superfecta wheel what would it cost? ex. all 964 964 964 all

By gsmullis — On Jul 28, 2007

How many bets do I need to box 4 horses in a trifecta in a race? And how many to box 5 horses?

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