It never ceases to surprise me how many punters love betting on trifectas - but don't really know the best ways to couple up their selections.

Trifecta betting is popular because it has the capacity to deliver big dividends. Sometimes, if your selections fill the three placings at outside odds, it can be like winning a lottery when the trifecta divvy is posted.

PPM readers have written to me quite often seeking advice on how best to make money from trifecta betting. They say they can't afford to spend too much on the trifectas, yet they realise that if only they can 'harness' their selections, they stand to make big profits. This is true. Multiple trifecta betting can result in huge wins; the problem is that few punters can afford to couple up too many horses (or dogs).

As we all know, or should know, a trifecta means you must select the first three place-getters in the correct order. If you wish to couple three horses only in what is known as a 'box', it will cost you $6, using $1 units (in some States, like Victoria, you can bet in 50c units). The more horses you add to be boxed, the more chance you have of winning but the more money you have to fork out. Catch 22!!

A box of four runners costs $24, five runners is $60, six runners costs $120, seven costs $210, eight runners is $336, while nine runners in a box will set you back $504. Only big professional punters are likely to consider taking boxes of six or more runners.

The best method for small punters to use to beat the trifecta is the 'banker bet' approach. By employing this method, you will find yourself able to strike any number of good paying trifectas, as long as you are on the ball with your banker selection.

What happens is that you select the horse you think will win the race, and then take it as a 'one out' selection to anchor the trifecta, with a number of horses chosen to fill 2nd and 3rd placings. You might take number 1 to win the race, and select 3, 4 and 5 to run 2nd and 3rd. This will cost you only $6. If you take four horses to fill the placings, you will pay $10. Taking five horses with a banker will cost $20, six will cost $30 and seven will be $42.

You can also take your banker to run 2nd and 3rd. You place all your other selections to run 1 st, your banker to run 2nd, and all the other horses to fill 3rd place. Then you take all the other horses to run lst and 2nd, and your banker to run 3rd.

If you were taking three other horses with your banker, your total bet - with your banker placed l st, 2nd or 3rd would cost $18. If you did the same thing with four horses and a banker, you would be up for $30.

There is also the 'double banker' method - which means that you select two banker bets and take them to run 1st and 2nd, with a number of other horses to fill 3rd spot. The idea is to take, say, 1 to beat 2, with six others runners to fill 3rd, a cost of $6. Then you take 2 to beat 1, with the other six to run 3rd, costing another $6.

You could also switch things around again, and have the six horses to run 1 st, with your bankers to run 2nd and 3rd. This method is okay, and quite cheap, but the problem is to find the banker bets that will safely fill the required placings. It's a tougher task than it might seem at first glance.

When tackling trifecta betting, you must select your races carefully, and always try to ensure that you can obtain value for money. A very well fancied horse, say at odds-on in the market, may well stifle trifecta betting Even if you get a couple of roughies into the placings, the divvy may well be a small one, particularly in a field of 10 or less.

Big races - like Epsoms and Doncasters and Melbourne Cups - offer enormous value for shrewd trifecta punters. There is so much loose money bet on races like these that the pool is inflated. You will find that most trifectas in big races tend to pay very well indeed. Usually, they attract capacity fields, so the trifecta money is well spread around.

One professional punter in Melbourne makes his annual living by betting solely on major races and coupling up trifecta boxes. His bonus race for the year, he told me recently, is the Melbourne Cup. He hasn't missed a Cup trifecta for many years. He usually couples eight or nine chances.

"The Cup trifecta dividends are tremendous," he says. "Last year, I thought it was a pretty tough race, so I coupled up 10 horses for $720, and I got the trifecta which paid almost $5,500."

The same punter will travel anywhere in Australia to play his trifecta boxes on major races. He can often be found in Sydney, playing up big on the Epsom, Doncaster, and so on.

If you pick your races carefully, you will be able to make trifecta betting pay, and without having to spend a fortune. The best method, I think, is the banker bet for small punters. Find that horse that stands out - in the price range of 5-2 to 8-1 - and make it your anchor. Take at least four other runners to fill 2nd and 3rd.

One important thing to remember about the trifecta pool, is that it invariably is full of 'fool's gold' - in other words, the money of those punters who have simply picked out three horses and bet on them in a box, or in single trifectas. The odds of them actually hitting a trifecta dividend are remote, indeed. The punters who try to pick a trifecta in one go - not even boxing their selections - are virtually throwing money away. For them, winning would be like winning the lottery.

Statistics show that trifectas can provide nice value when you have a banker bet that is over 12-1. The higher the better. You must, however, couple it all ways with the other key prospects in the race. If you coupled five other chances with your banker, you would be up for $60. If your banker bet is at long odds-say from 8-1 upwards-it is a wise move to back it straight out as well. There is nothing worse than getting a nice winner up and then having your other fancies fail to fill the placings to secure the trifecta.

The problem, naturally, with this approach, is that few punters would be prepared to risk a great deal of money on a 12-1, 14-1, 16-1 or 20-1 chance, particularly in a trifecta. After all, how often can you find such a value bet?

We get back to the question of nerve, daring and control. If you are working along in a controlled betting environment, you may well come across value chances at 8-1 upwards and, because you are not hurling cash around on every race on every card, you will have the discipline to bet properly. You will have enough faith in yourself to follow that value banker, and couple the right horses with it for the trifecta.

Working out what trifectas might pay is a difficult mathematical exercise. Don Scott tells you how to do it in his excellent book, Winning More, which you can purchase through Equestrian Publishing Pty Ltd, publishers of PPM.

Don talks in detail about betting to prices with trifectas. He says that punters end up outlaying disproportionate amounts on each combination when they box selections. His view is that you must back the combinations by taking into account their true prospects of winning. Following this method, you would have varying amounts on each combination, depending on the prices of the horses involved.

Small punters probably will not want to bother with involved calculations. That's why I contend that the Banker Bet trifectas are the best for them. They are simple to operate and do not require the outlay of vast sums of money.

If you concentrate on trifecta betting, to the exclusion of everything else, you should be able to refine your approach and, if your selections are sound, make profits over a period of time. That's what sensible, cautious and cool punting is all about.

By Martin Dowling