How to Play the Trifecta Like an Exacta

March 20th, 2018

Races in which two horses appear clearly better

When playing trifectas, one of my favorite strategies is to look for races in which two horses appear clearly better than the rest of the field.

In these situations, playing the two standout horses in the first and second positions can allow you to spread a little bit underneath—perhaps trying to catch a longshot—while still keeping the cost of the ticket in a reasonable range.

One of my favorite examples occurred in the 2010 PTHA President’s Cup Stakes at Parx Racing. Although the race featured just seven starters, it nevertheless appeared to be a wide-open event, with four horses starting at odds between 2.30-1 and 3.70-1.

However, I saw the race a bit differently. The favorite was Just as Well, but while he was a consistent competitor in Grade 1 races, he was also seven years old at that point and hadn’t won a race in more than a year. The lightly-raced War Hoot, trained by Chad Brown, was also well regarded following an allowance optional claiming victory at Saratoga, but he had yet to run in a stakes race and was stepping up sharply in class.

That left Rahy’s Attorney and Violon Sacre as the horses to beat. Rahy’s Attorney was the most accomplished horse in the race, having won the Woodbine Mile (gr. I) two years earlier, and he entered the President’s Cup Stakes off of a win in Woodbine’s With Approval Stakes one month earlier. Violon Sacre also boasted excellent form, with his previous run yielding a strong runner-up effort in the Oceanport Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth, a race in which he was compromised by a slow pace but still rallied to finish just a neck behind the multiple graded stakes winner Get Serious.

I could have simply played an exacta box consisting of Rahy’s Attorney and Violon Sacre, but instead, I chose to box them in the first two spots of a trifecta while adding War Hoot and Just as Well for third place. Thanks to the simplicity of the ticket structure, every $2 ticket cost just $8.

To my delight, Violon Sacre and Rahy’s Attorney did prove to be much the best, finishing in that order while four lengths in front of third-place finisher War Hoot. The $2 trifecta returned a hefty $116.00, substantially higher than the $2 exacta payoff of $31.60, demonstrating that if you like two horses in a given race, the exacta is far from the only wagering option to consider.