Welcome back to my Betting 101 series on horse racing wagers. We have already covered win bets, place and show wagering, and exactas. Today, it’s time to get a little more complicated with trifectas; but don’t be scared away. While the trifecta ups the level of difficulty, it also increases the potential take-home.
You have to know what you’re doing though, and trifectas remain one of the most poorly thought through wagers by average bettors. Don’t be one of them. Let’s walk through how they work and when to try them.
You must select who will finish first, second, and third in a given race. You only win if you pick the top-three finishers in the correct order.
Depending on the track, the minimum can be as low as 10¢ per combination, while 50¢ and $1 are also frequent options.
Tracks take anywhere from 19-percent to a ridiculous 30-percent of the pot. The most frequent rake is around 23, 24, or 25-percent.
A mixed bag. Trifectas pay enough that professionals play them in a sophisticated manner; the uninitiated use them as pseudo-lottery tickets.
When you can ID a small group of horses that is clearly the class of a field. It’s also a decent option if you think a certain pair of horses is likely to finish top-three, or you think a longshot has a good chance to do so (but not a great shot to win).
Ideally, you will have a strong opinion on at least two horses. That will allow you to key them in first and second in your trifecta and spread a few options in third. Trifecta keys are effective because they cut down on cost. I often play trifectas as follows: I pick one horse to finish first and key him with two horses to finish second and six horses to finish third. If I don’t have a firm opinion on the best horse in the race, I might pick two horses to finish first, and key them with two horses to finish second, and four or five to finish third. This is a reasonable approach because you are narrowing down who you like to win and then opening yourself up for a score on the back end.
Like exactas, trifecta boxes are bad gambling. If you can’t decide which horses you like better than others, don’t throw darts. Say you like three horses – let’s call them Andy, Bob, and Chris – to finish one-two-three. Form an opinion about which one is the best (in this case you land on Andy) and play the trifecta with Andy on top for more money; play the combinations with Andy in third for less.
If you can only find one horse in the field that you really like, don’t play the tri. You will wind up playing too many combinations to have a decent ROI.
If you only like the favorites, again there is not a positive margin to be had.
It’s incredibly difficult to choose the exact order of finish for the top-three horses. When you don’t have a strong grasp on the best horses in a race, the odds on lucking into a trifecta winner get even longer. As with all bet types, save trifectas for the right situation.
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