What is a Trifecta in Betting? – Complete Guide to a Trifecta Bet

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A trifecta bet is one of the most popular exotic bet types. It’s most commonly linked to horse racing but can be used across multiple sports and betting sites.

We will show you everything you need to know about a trifecta, including real-world betting examples, how to place the bet, payouts, odds calculations, different types of trifecta bets, and strategies linked to the market.

What is a Trifecta Bet?

A trifecta is often referred to as one of exotic horse racing bets. It’s a betting market where punters are required to pick the first three past the post in a single race with their selections in the correct order. It’s most commonly associated with horse racing betting sites, but it can be applied to various sports, which we will discuss later.

For ease, we will link these bets in horse racing to explain how it works.

In order for a wager to win, the bettor must choose three horses from the race that will finish in the first three positions. The caveat to the trifecta in horse racing is that the horses need to be in the correct order.

For example, let’s say there is a race with eight horses:

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

We decided to place a trifecta bet, so we needed to choose three horses to finish 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Our picks are as follows:

  • 1st = Horse 6
  • 2nd = Horse 3
  • 3rd = Horse 5

The bet only wins if the result of the race is exactly as the picks we’ve made. If there is any other result or the three horses are not in the correct order as stated in the original bet, then it will be lost.

As you can imagine, the difficulty of picking three horses in the correct order is high. In fact, it’s one of the most challenging bets to win. The tradeoff is that trifecta payouts can be huge. These are calculated as part of a parimutuel pool bet, with winning stakes refunded as dividends.

Real-World Trifecta Bet Example

Now that we’ve gone through the basics, we will apply our knowledge to a real-world example using BetOnline, one of the best offshore sportsbooks for trifecta betting.

trifecta bet example

We’re going to use an upcoming race at Mahoning Valley, Ohio. The race has eight runners and runs over six furlongs, so it’s a proper sprint.

We must correctly pick three horses to finish in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. Our picks are as follows:

  • 1st = Heartfelt Karter
  • 2nd = Fox Creek
  • 3rd = Cussin N Fussin

Most betting sites will have a dedicated trifecta card, as you can see here with BetOnline. It’s then a case of picking the boxes representing the position you need to horse to finish. You’ll notice no payout information before the race this is paid out via a pool. These dividends are announced once the race is complete and the bets have been counted.

How to Place a Trifecta Bet Online

In this section, we will walk through placing the trifecta bet type. We’re using the BetOnline racebook for this guide, but the format will be similar regardless of the racebook or betting site you choose to use.

1. Open an account

BetOnline trifecta

The first part of the process is opening an account. At BetOnline, you can click the “Join” button at the top of the page, which will prompt the registration process. Work through each stage as if you were creating an online account.

2. Deposit using the cashier

cashier for betonline

Once your account has been set up, use the cashier to make a deposit. Depending on your location will depend on the payment methods accessible to you. BetOnline has a great range of cryptocurrencies to use, which are secure, free, and fast.

3. Head to the racebook

betonline racebook

Use the menu at the top of the page to find the racebook. You will see a list of the races over the next 24 hours. Next to each meeting is a countdown timer, which signifies how soon the next race is.

4. Choose your race

betonline race choice

Use the menu to pick a meeting and choose a race from that meeting. The next upcoming race will be the first on your screen, but you can use the numbers at the top of the racecard to choose future races.

5. Select “trifecta” tab

betonline trifecta tab

Also, a selection of markets and wager types to bet on will be at the top of the racecard. For this, you want to choose the “trifecta” tab. This will alter the racecard and set up for a trifecta bet.

6. Make selections

betonline trifecta racecard

Use the boxes on the racecard to choose the horse you want to include in your bet and the position for each horse. You can toggle these to get the desired result. Once happy, enter your stake in the “Bet amount” box and click “Add to betslip.” Confirm your bet with the bet slip and place the bet.

How to Calculate Trifecta Odds and Payouts

Trifecta bets are parimutuel markets, meaning stakes are entered into a pool, and a dividend is paid based on the number of winners. The amount you’ve wagered then determines your payout.

All of the best online sportsbooks make money from these markets by charging a commission. This is a percentage of the overall amount staked. The remaining balance is then paid to the winners. For example, if there was a $1,000 pot and the sportsbook took 10%, the adjusted payout would be $900 to the winners.

There’s no way of knowing the betting odds and payouts until the market has closed and the race has started.

Trifecta bets are given flexi percentages, and it depends on the number of horses in your bet, your stake, and the type of trifecta as to how much of a percentage you win.

A straight trifecta is where you bet on one possible outcome. Your stake is on that single combination as a 100% percentage. So, if the dividend for the race were $1,000, then you would win $1,000 for every $1 wagered as a trifecta payoff. If you wagered $5, your flexi percentage would be 500%, and you would be paid $5,000.

There is no way of knowing what the average trifecta payout is. It can change massively depending on the race you’re wagering on.

However, to give you an idea of potential returns and how lucrative these bets can be, at the 2022 Kentucky Derby, a lucky punter won $74,000 from a $5 trifecta bet. It included a win for Rich Strike, who went off at odds of 80-1, the second-longest odds Kentucky Derby winner ever.

trifecta betting example

To show you how this works in the real world when you bet on horse racing, we’ve included a race from Horseshoe Indianapolis (above) that shows the original race card and the results card. The results card (below) shows the dividend for the trifecta bet.

trifecta payout

As you can see, the trifecta bet pays $33.05 for every $0.50 staked. So, if you bet $10 on the correct combination, you would win $661.

Types of Trifecta Bets

We now know that a trifecta bet, in its simplest terms, is picking three selections to finish first, second, and third in the correct order. However, there are multiple variations of the classic bet type, which we’ve outlined below.

Boxed Trifecta Bets

A boxed trifecta is where you choose three horses to finish in any of the top three positions. You do not need to nominate the order, and as long as each is present in the final results, your bet wins.

The flexibility of a boxed trifecta allows bettors to add selections to the trifecta. Including as many selections as you like is possible, but the more you do, the more it will cost.

A boxed bet now means that you’ve six combinations where your trifecta pays out, as opposed to just one with a standard bet. These include:

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

The downside to these bets is that your stake will increase. If, with a standard trifecta, your bet was 100% on one combination (1-2-3), a boxed bet would require the same stake on the other five combinations for an even payout.

For example, you’re essentially betting per line. So, as there are now six lines, a $10 stake per line would result in a total stake of $60.

The more selections you add, the more your stake will increase. An easy way to work it out is by multiplying the number of selections by the next two descending numbers. It will look something like this (assuming $10 per line):

  • 3 selections = 3x2x1 = 6 = $60
  • 4 selections = 4x3x2 = 24 = $240
  • 5 selections = 5x4x3 = 60 = $600
  • 6 selections = 6x5x4 = 120 = $1,200
  • 7 selections = 7x6x5 = 210 = $2,100

As you can see, even from $10 bets, the more selections you include, the more boxed trifectas can become incredibly expensive.

Lowering your stake to manage initial costs is possible, but the trade-off for this is that you will be paid less should your bet win. Let’s use the race from Horseshoe Indianapolis above to see how our stake would adjust the payout.

We know that the bet is paying $33.05 per 0.50 dividend owned. If we had boxed this bet, our initial stake would have jumped from $10 to $60, meaning our returns would be cut from $661 to $611.

Let’s assume we make an extra pick and include an additional horse to make it a four-section boxed trifecta. At this point, our profit would be slashed from $661 to $421 because of the $240 initial stake. The bet would have barely broken even if we’d added one more selection.

It’s worth noting that with each of these bets, you can take a percentage of the dividend with your original stake, referred to as flexi betting. So, if you were to place a four-selection box bet, you could choose to flexi your stake by 25%, meaning you pay $0.25 on the dollar. Your adjusted stake would be $60, but your dividend would only pay $16.53 per $1 wagered.

How to Place a Boxed Trifecta

All horse racing betting sites can choose a box bet within the trifecta betting page. As you can see from the image, BetOnline has a box you need to tick to select the box bet.

trifecta box bet

The racecard will change from having multiple positions to choose from with a standard trifecta to just a row of boxes next to each horse. As we know, the box bet only requires us to pick the horse that will finish in any order within the top three places, so choosing each position is unnecessary.

Trifecta Key Bet

A trifecta key bet is where you lock in one result and then use combinations to fill in the rest of the field. This might occur if you’re betting on a race where you’re sure of the horse that will finish first (the “key”) but want to cover all combinations of the next two horses across the line.

The bet is flexible regarding how many horses you choose, but just like a standard trifecta bet, the more you include, the bigger the stake. This is a great bet when you find yourself confident about the horse that will win the race, but want flexibility over the next two horses regarding position.

What’s the Difference Between a Trifecta and a Superfecta Bet?

A superfecta bet is an extension of a trifecta, and instead of picking three selections to finish in the correct order, you need to pick four. The principles of the bet are the same, meaning you place a single wager and pick four selections in order.

Potential payouts are also the same, with parimutuel pool betting used for payouts. Like a trifecta, dividends are paid once the race is over and the pool of money counted. Each dividend counts toward $1 of your stake. So, if a bet was paying $50 per dividend and you wagered $50 on your superfecta, you would net a return of $500.

The same principles apply in terms of boxed bets and flexi payouts. You can create box and key box bets where you create multiple combinations, but as you’re choosing four selections to start, the more combinations you choose can quickly get expensive. Flexi betting allows you to reduce the initial stake, but dividends are paid based on the percentage of your stake.

Trifecta Bet in Sports

A trifecta is most commonly associated with horse racing. However, other sports utilize this betting market, which we’ve outlined below.

  • Horse racing – The most popular sport for the trifecta. All sportsbooks will offer coverage of this bet where possible, and most will have variations such as boxed and key bets.
  • Harness racing – Harness racing in the US is very popular, and a lot of racebooks have incorporated the sport with horse racing. The same principles apply in that you must correctly pick the first three over the line. The best gambling sites, such as BetOnline will also incorporate box and box with key bets.
  • Dog racing (greyhounds) – Dog racing is another popular option for the trifecta bet. Races can be smaller than horse racing in terms of the number of runners and amounts wagered, so the potential payouts for the bet are more erratic. Sometimes, this will work in the bettor’s favor, creating higher dividends, and other times, due to a low volume of wagers, it can work against.
  • Motorsports – Some betting sites allow you to predict the first three positions of races in motorsports betting like Formula 1, superbikes, and motocross. The name of the market isn’t always referred to as a trifecta, but the concept of the bet is very much the same.

Trifecta Betting Strategy

Trifecta bets can be very profitable if executed correctly. To do this, you need a solid trifecta betting strategy in place. Timing is key when using this betting market, and we’ve outlined areas that you can target to increase profitability.

Create an Extended Handicap

Most horse races have a handicap applied in the form of weight. Handicappers use weight to level the playing field to create as close a race as possible.

To do this, the handicapper evaluates the chance of winning for each horse. The more chance they have, the more weight they carry.

Most bettors will examine the top two or three selections to determine which horse can win. But for a trifecta bet, you need to look at the whole picture to see which horse might win and those that are going to place.

Take the time to assess the whole field to find the three strongest horses in the race. Where a race has a short-priced favorite, the next two horses could be considerably higher betting odds, given they aren’t likely to beat the favorite. However, they may still have a great chance of placing, and bets that include longshot horses that generally create larger dividends for trifecta bets

Don’t Include Too Many Selections

The more selections you include, the more expensive your bets become and this is one of the biggest betting mistakes that people make. This can work to your advantage in some scenarios, but the increased initial stake will often lower your bet’s expected value.

Many bettors use box and key bets to include multiple selections, with the tradeoff that for each pick, the stake increases. The jump from three to four selections in a boxed bet is an additional $180, assuming a $10 stake per combination.

Be smart about when to use additional selections as cover. This should be in scenarios with legitimately multiple combinations that could win or place rather than used as cover for bets you’re unsure of. In the long term, the higher the costs make this bet incredibly difficult to be profitable at.

Don’t Lose Sight of Value

If you look at a race where the top three are the best value for first, second, and third (even worse, in that order), there’s a good chance that the trifecta bet will not offer any value.

One of the main reasons for this is that most trifecta bets will be placed on this exact outcome. As you’re using a parimutuel betting pool, the number of winners reduces the dividend, and the more bettors who win, the less you get paid.

The key to success with this bet is opposing what the online sportsbook suggests will win. The biggest payouts come from combinations that avoid most, if not all, of the three favored horses for the race.

It’s imperative that you still seek value with individual picks. If you think the favorite should be opposed, given the line set by the sportsbook, then this offers value in the field. The same principles apply to picking selections for all places in a trifecta.

Avoid First and Second Favorites

It may seem shocking, but you want to avoid races where the first and second favorites have the best chance of winning the race. You’re looking to find bets where the fewest bettors have the same combination, and most trifectas will include the first and second favorite somewhere.

You must be patient and selective in terms of races you can successfully use this bet type on, and the value when the first or second favorite places drastically reduces.

It’s also worth omitting horses that have no chance of placing. A slow horse is not going to place or make the show, even if you’re hoping a 50/1 plodder can make third to get you a big payout.

Instead, target the midfield and see which horses can go well. If there are more than three selections in the midfield who can all win, you can apply box or key bets to cover multiple combinations—given that few will not include the first or second favorite, these bet types will still pay a hefty dividend when they land.

Other Types of Exotic Bets

The trifecta is one of many exotic bets. The list below includes a range of other exotic wagers that can be used across multiple sports, including horse racing.

  • Exacta: Bet on the first and second-place horses in the correct order.
  • Superfecta: Pick the first four horses in the precise order of their finish.
  • Quinella: Choose two horses to finish in the top two positions in any order.
  • Daily Double: Predict the winners of two consecutive races.
  • Pick 3, 4, 5, 6: Select the winners of consecutive races (3, 4, 5, or 6) in a row.
  • Boxed Bet: Cover multiple combinations in a single bet, increasing the chances of winning.
  • Key Bet: Choose a primary horse to win and pair it with other horses for second and third place.
  • Exacta Box: Bet on multiple combinations of horses for the first and second place.
  • Superfecta Box: Wager on multiple combinations of the top four horses in any order.
  • Wheel Bet: Select one horse to win and combine it with several others for second and third place.
  • First Four: Predict the first four horses in the correct order.
  • Quaddie (Quartet): Pick the winners of four consecutive races.
  • Swinger: Bet on two horses to finish in the top two positions in any order.
  • Parlay (Multi-Leg): Combine bets from multiple races into one, with all selections needing to win for the bet to pay out.
  • Placepot: Choose horses to place in the first six races on a card.
  • Jackpot: Pick the winners of a specific sequence of races, usually with a substantial jackpot prize.


What is a Trifecta bet?

How much does it cost to place a Trifecta bet?

Can I box a Trifecta bet?

What is a Trifecta key bet?

Are there minimum and maximum bets for Trifectas?

How are Trifecta payouts determined?

What are “Trifecta wheels” and “Trifecta boxes”?

Is it possible to place a Trifecta bet online?

Can I place Trifecta bets on races other than horse racing?

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Jonathan Askew
Sports Betting and Casino Expert
Jonathan Askew
Sports Betting and Casino Expert

Jonathan is a freelance writer working with Techopedia. He has been working within the gambling sector for over 15 years and has been fortunate enough to work with brands that include Gambling.com, CheekyPunter.com, BasketballInsiders.com and Betfair. He specializes in US and UK-based sports and casino content for Techopedia.