Some Considerations For Single Race Exotics
Level: Intermediate
By Chris Rossi, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

While the basic strategy of win, place and show plays is focused primarily on matching price with selection, strategy can get a bit more complicated in the single race exotic pools. Whether it’s an exacta, trifecta or superfecta, the large number of possible winning combinations one can construct when building a ticket can lead to much higher rewards than playing in the straight win, place or show pool.

The psychological approach to handicapping single race exotics is markedly different from that of handicapping multi-race exotics, which focuses solely on picking winners. With exactas, trifectas or superfectas, the object is to pick not only the winner, but also those finishing up immediately behind the winner.

Success with this sort of wager often does not mean picking the likeliest two or three horses that might win the race. I cannot stress that last point enough when thinking about how to construct an exacta, trifecta or superfecta ticket. For example, the top two horses might hook up in a speed duel where one goes on to win and the other packs it in early, leaving other horses at longer odds to clunk up into second, third and fourth place.

Again, price is a factor to consider: not necessarily the odds of the horse, but the cost associated with placing the wager itself. It’s also important to know what the minimum allowable wager is for the particular exotic at the track you’re playing. For instance, some tracks now allow 50 cent trifectas, and most tracks have 10 cent superfectas.

Thinking about boxing up the top four betting interests in an exacta? While you might be likely to cash that ticket, the cost of playing it versus the return of a winning payout will have you quickly rethinking that strategy. The thought here is that the more horses that are boxed in any exotic, the more it costs, and the additional cost could diminish any return should you actually cash. After all, a boxed wager is covering all possible outcomes with any group of selections. Let’s take a look at the math involved and costs associated with boxing.

A quick way to figure out the cost of any box wager, whether it’s an exacta, trifecta or superfecta, is to take the number of horses you would like to box and multiply by the descending number consecutively down to the number of placings in the wager. So let’s say we want to play to a four-horse trifecta box.

4 x 3 x 2 = 24

24 is the number of combinations that a four-horse trifecta box yields. Now take that number of combinations and multiply it by the amount that you would like to wager. If you want to bet a $2 trifecta box, then the cost of the wager is $48.

An alternate to boxing is keying. Keying is slotting each horse in a particular finishing position. In the four-horse trifecta box above, say you like one of those horses to win more than the other three. So just slot one in the win position and the other three slotted beneath in the place and show position.

The ticket looks like this:
1 with 2,3,4 with 2,3,4

The number of combinations the above ticket yields is six. The math involved here is a bit complicated, but an easy way to think about calculating the number of combinations of a keyed wager is to start by focusing on the horse you’re keying and working outward from there. In essence, we have one keyed horse on top to win with a group of three horses underneath in the place and show position.

Here’s the math:
1 with 2,3,4
1x3x(3-1) = 6 combinations

Every person uses the key and box differently. Some bettors employ boxes when they think a vulnerable favorite will finish off the board. Others might box when a group of runners will benefit from a perceived track bias or pace scenario. Some use keys to enhance a strong opinion on a particular selection. Others use keys as backups, or saver bets, to hedge if they want to cover multiple scenarios

Whatever your strategy, you consider the cost of the wager versus the potential payout should that wager win. Ideally, the lowest paying combination should at least cover the wager, if not produce a profit.

Elsewhere of Interest


  • i would like to know the why’s and wherefore’s –the reasoning and the rules —of why tampa bay downs is not allowed to accept the 10 cents superfecta when it is offered as a bet at the track where the race is held.

    i do not understand it-tampa says so and so track will not allow them to do it. it just simply does not make sense to me

    thank you so much for an answer and please send it to my email.
    peggy smith

  • Hi Peggy,

    That question is best answered by Tampa Downs as they may be beholden to some state regulation prohibiting it regardless of the track. Speaking from personal experience, my home track does take dime supers but not with tellers, so perhaps you could find out if could play the dime super via ADW or at a wagering kiosk (if you haven’t already already looked into it).

    Best of luck!

  • Your 4-horse trifecta box math is incorrect although in this case it gets the correct result. It should just be 4x3x2.

    Similarly a 5-horse trifecta box is 5x4x3 not 5x4x3x2x1. You have 5 horses available for the win, then 4 available for place, then 3 available for show.

  • What tracks offer 50 cent trifectas?

  • Hi Ryan,

    HANA keeps track of this information (and so much more!) in their annual track ratings. You can find the current information here:

  • Hi Jordan, we’ve updated that passage… thanks for pointing out the oversight!

  • ralph e. waldo, jr.

    Tomorrow we have the Belmont Stakes 2015. American Pharoah is the 3/5 favorite. He number 5. If I wanted to play a superfecta with 6 horses, how would I do it, and keep the cost at $50.00 , or less. I like the # 5, #6,#7, #8 here. What about a $1.00 superfecta part wheel ? Thanks, REW.

  • Hi REW, It looks like Belmont is offering $.10 superfectas, which gives you more options to stretch your bankroll, particularly if you want to include six horses. For example you could do a $.10 box of all your picks for $36 and then use the remainder of your money to play more structured picks. Check this post for some ideas on how to structure your wagers.

    A few $.10 wager low cost examples where the numbers represent the amount of horses included in each leg.

    1 / 3 / 5 / 5 = $3.60 (in this example you have one on top, three 2nd – 4th, and 5 in 3rd and 4th)
    2 / 4 / 6 / 6 = $7.20 (in this example you have two horses in all positions, 4 in 2nd – 4th and 2 more for a total of 6 horses in the 3rd – 4th.

    One more important note, if you’re going to be at Belmont you probably cannot place these wagers at a window and will have to use a machine. The machines are pretty easy, just go to any window and tell them you want to wager on the machines and they’ll set you up by putting your cash on a card (where you set the pin) or a paper voucher.

    Hope this helps, and good luck!

Questions? Comments? We're here to help!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *