Step-by-step: How to bet a superfecta

July 26th, 2022

If you’re a horse racing bettor comfortable playing wagers like the exacta and trifecta, the superfecta is the next logical bet to pursue.

The exacta requires selecting the top two finishers of a horse race in the correct order. The trifecta requires selecting the top three finishers, and the superfecta takes the complexity to another level by demanding the top four finishers.

Hitting a superfecta isn’t easy, but the payoffs can be lucrative. Let’s dive in and learn how to play superfectas in step-by-step fashion:

Step 1: Find an appealing race

It goes without saying you shouldn’t bet any random superfecta that crosses your path. Betting a superfecta is a complicated task; in a race with eight entries, there are 1,680 possible outcomes, compared to only 56 possible exacta outcomes in the same field.

Instead, you should seek to bet the superfecta when you hold a solid opinion of the horses involved. If you’re good at handicapping graded stakes, pick a big race on a Saturday. Or if maiden races are your strong suit, find a deep field at your favorite track and give the superfecta a whirl.

Step 2: Plan your strategy

There are many strategies for betting the superfecta, because you aren’t limited to betting four horses in a specific combination. You can play many horses and combinations to increase your chances of winning.

Perhaps you’re confident four horses are better than the rest, but you’re not sure which will win. In this case, you could try boxing them in the superfecta, which allows you to win if your four horses run 1-2-3-4 in any order. Boxing four horses in a $1 superfecta costs $24.

On the other hand, maybe there’s a standout horse you are certain will win. Playing that horse on top and boxing three or more horses for second, third, and fourth place is the basic execution of a “key box,” which is cheaper to play while emphasizing the horse you prefer. If you box three horses for the minor awards, the cost for a $1 superfecta key box is only $6.

Step 3: Choose your bet amount

So far, we’ve used $1 superfectas as examples for outlining ticket costs. But at many tracks, superfectas can be played for as little as 10 cents, so betting a lot of combinations is readily affordable. Boxing four horses in a 10-cent superfecta costs only $2.40; boxing five horses costs $12, which is a lot better than the $120 cost of a $1 ticket.

But betting the minimum amount isn’t always the best strategy. A 10-cent superfecta will naturally pay one-tenth as much as a $1 superfecta. Boxing four horses for $2.40 sounds like a great strategy until you see examples like the 2022 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Saratoga, when odds-on favorite Nest beat four rivals and triggered a $1.82 payoff in the 10-cent superfecta.

When predictable results appear imminent, betting larger base amounts can be a good strategy. Nest was a logical favorite in the Coaching Club American Oaks, and runner-up Secret Oath was a clear second choice in the betting. Had a bettor keyed Nest on top, used Secret Oath for second place, and boxed the remaining three runners for third and fourth place in a $2 superfecta, the cost would have been $12 for a return of $36.40—more than triple their investment.

This brings us to a related point:

Step 4: Keep pool sizes in mind

A pari-mutuel betting pool cannot pay out more money than is in the pool, including any carryover. If you’re betting a small track where the superfecta pool is $300 after takeout, there’s no way the superfecta can pay more than $300, no matter how unpredictable the outcome. You could be the only bettor to key a 100-1 longshot on top of a winning ticket, and the payoff would be… $300.

Therefore, it’s wise to size your investment according to the potential payoff. Betting $100 into a $300 superfecta pool is unlikely to trigger a meaningful return on investment, but betting $100 into the Kentucky Derby (G1) superfecta pool (which regularly draws more than $12 million in wagers) might be worthwhile if you believe you can hit it. The 2022 Kentucky Derby superfecta paid $321,500.10 for $1.

Good luck with your bets!