There are many problems associated with beating the trifecta. Punters probably don’t realise the task they are taking on when they tackle this bet.

Question 1: Can you predict the 1-2-3 finishing order?
Question 2: Can you overcome the huge tote take (say around 20 per cent)?

Most punters only concern themselves with the first question without considering the second. They bet the trifecta because it’s there, and they’ll try anything to cash a ticket with little thought as to what the likely payout will be.

There’s a simple rule from the professional exotics bettors on this matter. It’s this: bet only when you perceive some value in the race.

If your analysis of a race brings you back to the four ruling favourites, then there’s no value to be found. If your conclusions are the same as the public’s, why bother to bet?

It’s the old story. If you don’t have an edge then it’s no bet, and this applies not only to win bets but to trifectas as well. Long-term, you need to take into account what sort of return you are looking at with your bet.

What do you have to do in order to put yourself into a potentially profitable situation, not just on one race but over a whole series of bets annually? Barry Meadow, who we know is a tremendously successful punter, says the following: “Among the worst plays you can make, and among the most common, is boxing the top three favourites.

“Jim Cramer of Handicapper’s Data Warehouse surveyed 146,617 trifecta races (the largest ever undertaken) and determined that had you boxed the top three favourites you would have collected 10.5 per cent of the time and had a horrendous Return On Investment (ROI) of just 0.63c.

“This loss of 37 cents per dollar far exceeds the tote take.”

Meadow is quick to point out, though, that going nutsy in the other direction is likely to provide a worse result. In the 69,936 races of nine runners or more, boxing the 7th/8th/9th in the market yielded exactly 44 winning bets for a return of 0.33 cents per dollar.

Meadow adds: “The essential problems when studying trifectas are that no matter what combination you’re looking at, it’s going to have a low hit rate; even the combination of favourite 1st, second favourite 2nd and third choice 3rd hits less than 3 per cent of the time.

“Looking solely at the 2,323 races where the favourite won, the second choice was 2nd and the fifth choice was 3rd, the payoffs yielded from a low $8.00 to a high of $13,359.80. The standard deviation is so huge that a study of 10,000 trifecta results is just about useless.”

Meadow, of course, is referring to US trifecta payouts but I think we can pretty much assume that much the same stats would turn up in Australia.

“Structuring a ticket is crucial to success in the trifecta,” says Meadow. “Simply playing the obvious horses, or using everybody with everybody and hoping for a bomb, won’t do it. You’ll have to key, but just as an exacta with the favourite over the second choice pleases nobody, a trifecta with the obvious horses won’t get you the money.

“Generally, you’ll need to get rid of the favourite or the second choice to have a shot at a decent payoff. Jim Cramer’s large survey found that trifectas that included the favourite were bad bets.”

Meadow says: “On average, the favourite will be on two-thirds of all tickets bought while the second choice will be on half the tickets. If they both come in, chances are good you won’t be getting much of an edge. With at least one of them out, though, which happens most of the time, you’ll at least be playing against the crowd’s picks.”


While the public’s top choice wins about 33 per cent of the time, it runs 3rd only about 14 per cent of the time. For sure, says Meadow, getting the favourite home 3rd will kill what would otherwise be a decent trifecta payoff.

“Forget that 14 per cent chance for a bad payoff and use the money to include some marginal horses who can help you, or keep the cash in your pocket,” says Meadow.

Meadow, and other experts and professionals, insist you need to key (banker) at least one horse in a trifecta bet.
If you can’t, skip the race.

Meadow explains: “Whatever you do, you will normally be much better off bankering a runner instead of boxing and wheeling everything. This might mean one horse to win, or one horse for 1st/2nd, or two horses for 1st and so on.

“I have at times bankered longshots to run 3rd rather than using them in all three slots; for 2nd, I’ll play them in exactas and for 1st, I’ll bet them to win, maximising the slot where they land.”


It is precisely the possibility, says Meadow, that some no-chance plodder will skulk his way into 3rd spot that makes the trifecta such an exciting bet. He adds: “For the two-hole, you can use horses you don’t think can win, and you can use horses you don’t think can reach the exacta in the third spot. You don’t have to eliminate non-win contenders from the other spots, particularly from the 3rd spot.


Punters should always be looking to cut costs when backing trifectas. This means patience and skill when doing your form analysis. To cut costs you will need to get rid of certain horses. Barry Meadow reckons it’s always best to eliminate the favourite or the second favourite. He rarely plays the bet unless he can do this.

It’s also good, he advises, to toss out slow horses; that is, no matter how the race pans out, they don’t figure to get within six lengths of the top-rated horse. Occasionally, these “slugs” will fall in at 40/1 but for the most part you are better off concentrating on horses with a legitimate chance and not simply using any runner with legs.


Costs can escalate rapidly in the trifecta. Bankering one horse with seven others to run 2nd and 3rd will cost $42 for $1 units (1x7x6). If you wanted to chase higher multiples, one horse as banker with 10 others will set you back $90 (1x10x9).

My personal preference is ALWAYS to use a banker to win. And the banker needs to be a runner that will not start the favourite, or even the second favourite, though often this cannot be avoided if betting moves take a morning line 8/1 chance into 3/1 etc.

If I think I cannot secure 2nd and 3rd within seven other runners, I’ll give the race away as a betting proposition. I think $42 is enough to bet on a trifecta, particularly taking a long term approach.

The more you bet, the more you need to win over 12 months. If you can keep your stake down to a modest sum and still hit good divvies then that’s the way to go.

Think very carefully about the number of races you bet. Remember that you always want to chuck out the favourite. That’s your starting point, your #1 strategy, because you are seeking value returns.
Often it’s difficult to think of the favourite not running a placing, but many times they don’t, and it’s in these instances that your strategy is in a position to pay off big.

The trifecta is a tough challenge. Even in small fields it can be hard to strike a trifecta that’s worth taking. When you do bet, ensure you have SENSIBLE value on your side, not just a wild pitch at value by throwing in useless longshots. Your banker has to possess a potent winning chance. It must be at good odds, at least 4/1 in the morning market. You must be sure the favourite can be risked.

This strategy will enable you to hit some really BIG returns which then will enable you to have the chance to make long-term gains on the trifecta. It takes time and commonsense to play the strategy but it can be very rewarding.

** This article is adapted from a feature by Barry Meadow in his Racing Monthly Newsletter (February 2000).

By Mark Merrick