Oh, those trifectas! How lovely they are ... how frustrating they are! How on earth can we get the better of them?

I suppose all greyhound punters have asked themselves the same question. On the surface, dog racing offers the punter the best chance of scoring the tri. There are only eight runners in a race, so that means the total combinations are limited.

If you can steer yourself away from straight 'box' combinations, arid throw out some phoney favourites, there's a very good chance you can make some useful profits. But it takes some common sense and lots of courage.

What I am suggesting is to find the 'key' dog in a race. This is not so easy. There are many punters who would rather run a n-tile than be pressured into selecting a 'key' dog to link with the other seven runners.

I've seen the problem defined as a 'virtual obstruction, a major difficulty, a great hindrance, a large stumbling block' and so on. Boiled down, the problem is one of personal confidence. You have it or you don't.

But once you have overcome this awkward problem of the mind you can start to wrest some value from trifecta betting. I know many very serious dog punters who make spectacular profits by keying a single selection (never the favourite!) with the field (\$42 for \$1 units, \$21 for 50c units).

Naturally, there will be occasions when your key bet fails and a box bet would have struck, but it's been my experience that overall the greyhound you like best will return you the greater profits when linked with other runners.

The beauty of a 'key' selection is that you arrange to have it finish in any of the 1, 2 or 3 positions. What I mean is this: You can arrange your key in the following ways:

KEY to win with FIELD for 2nd and 3rd.

FIELD to win with KEY to run 2nd and FIELD to run 3rd.

FIELD to win with FIELD to run 2nd and KEY to run 3rd.

You won't want to bet all three areas, or even two, but the fact is you do have the choice. Myself, I always go for the key as the winner. But I bet on only a couple of races a night with this angle, and I always wait for the right race.

With a 10-race card, the average punter cannot afford to go off half-cocked at \$42 a race - that's \$420 for the program and, quite frankly, it means going to the well too many times.

As you will realise, with 'key' betting you are operating at a higher level of skill than the punter who just picks out four dogs and boxes them together for \$24, or picks out three for \$6, or five for \$60. You need to be precise, because you are selecting a single greyhound to carry the race for you.

You do not have to key with the entire field. In any greyhound race, there is usually one dog, sometimes two, which appear to have very little chance. It's not too difficult a task to isolate such dogs. Their times will not measure up to the best in the race, their form will be poor etc.

Also, they are likely to have been competently tagged by the person drawing up the pre-race betting market in publications like the Greyhound Recorder (for Wentworth Park meetings) and in those newspapers still carrying dog fields and betting.

You can 'key' your selection with just two dogs, or with three, or four or five and so on. It depends on how confident you are about paring down the field to a sensible bunch of contenders. After all, it's a case of throwing money away if you blindly throw in dogs which have no real chance of getting into the placings.

Instead, why not increase your unit stake on other combinations? For example, let's say you reduce the field to six, including your 'key' dog. You now have to link the 'key' with five other dogs which, for \$1 units, is \$20. Because you anticipated spending \$42 for the field, you can now DOUBLE your investment to \$2 per trifecta and still be up for only \$40.

And, of course, if you strike the trifecta you'll be getting it twice. That gives a significant boost to your profit level.

The more times you can whittle the field down the better chance you have of lifting your squeeze from the game. Over a year, you might be able to strike a lot of \$2 trifectas. There's a big difference in returns. For example:

KEY to win with FIELD: \$42 bet pays \$90.

KEY to win with five others for \$2 each: \$40 bet pays \$180.

On the first bet your profit is \$48. On the second bet, for less outlay, the profit is \$140. Same bet - save for two no-hoper dogs taken out of the contest.

Pick your races carefully, look for value and never bet the favourite this is the way to go when you 'key' the tri. I have ruled out the favourite - long-term results will be hard to stand up due to the low-paying tri's that result from too many people all backing the same dog.

By George 'Barker' Bellfield

PRACTICAL PUNTING - APRIL 1995