Betting the Ponies 101 Part 2

Last week we showed you how to bet on single wagers, otherwise called vertical wagers. This week we take a look at the more exotic ways to bet on the horses, often called horizontal wagers.

Understand there is a strategy to each horizontal wager. You would bet a Pick 3 differently than a Pick 6, not only for bankroll reasons but for handicapping reasons.

Multi-race wagers evolved as track managers sought ways to catch the increasingly wandering eye of bettors seeking monster, lottery-style payoffs. These are wagers that put the bankroll and the handicapping chops to the test. They also offer the opportunity to cash a life-changing ticket into six and even seven figures.

As you handicap multi-race bets, understand the obvious: picking a winner of one race is a challenge. Now, take that out over two, three, four, five and six races and you understand why longtime Las Vegas racing writer and handicapper Richard Eng called the Pick 6, “the thinking man’s lottery.”

Pick 3, 4, 5, 6 Offers Risk vs. Reward

Take the Daily Double, add a race, lower the minimum to $1 and you’ve got the Pick 3. This requires you to pick the winners of three consecutive races. Like in all horizontal wagers, you can pick as many horses as you like in each race, understanding, of course, that your cost goes up with each added horse.

The Pick 3 is a solid wager when you feel strongly about your selections in at least two of the three races. And those selections should not be favorites, otherwise you’re likely to find yourself on the wrong end of the risk-reward spectrum. I once paid $20 on a Pick 3 that returned $9.60 and felt like I was kicked in the groin. Your goal is to be as contrarian as you can: finding horses the public hates that you like and vice versa.

Here’s where things get interesting and where the bet-a-little/win-a-lot window opens. The Pick 4 demands you pick four consecutive winners to cash. Typically offered in 50-cent minimums, the Pick 4 is one of the best wagers on the track for two reasons: the windfall potential and the low takeout (the tax the track takes before paying winners).

Here’s also where the concept of “backup” horses comes in. Say you like the 3 in the first race of the sequence, but you see some merit in the 9, who carries a higher price. You could construct one ticket with the 3 and another ticket with the 9. That keeps your cost manageable across multiple races.

Betting on Strong Hunches

Two other tips are at your disposal here. If you have strong convictions about a certain horse, you can single that horse, picking only that horse in that race. Conversely, if the race is wide open, you can select “All,” which covers the entire field.

Add a fifth race to the Pick 4 and watch the windfall increase. The Pick 5 has become one of the most popular wagers at the track for the same reasons as the Pick 4: low takeout and opportunities for monster payouts.

Even at the $1 level, you could build a Pick 5 ticket using two horses in each race for $32. If all five come home, you could go home with a four- or five-figure payout. Constructing your Pick 5 tickets are similar to the Pick 4: using backup tickets, singles and “All” when appropriate.

I don’t bet Pick 5s often. But I hit my first one on my third try: in the Northern Stars Turf Festival at Canterbury Park last June. I added the horseplayer’s version of the windmill dunk when I had the top four finishers of the fifth race on my ticket.

twinspiresOpt in and compete in TwinSpires Pick 5 contest. Hit the late Pick-5 at Oaklawn on Saturday or Sunday and split the $2,500 daily jackpot. If no player hits the late Pick-5 at Oaklawn on Saturday or Sunday, the $2,500 jackpot will be divided evenly amongst players that hit the most winning legs in the late Pick-5 wager.

Different Ways to Play Pick 6

As Eng pointed out, here’s the horseplayer’s version of the lottery. And like the lottery, today’s Pick 6 comes in different forms.

The first is the “rainbow” or “jackpot” Pick 6, which often comes with a 20-cent minimum. This allows you the luxury of picking more horses, but it also makes it harder to collect that life-changing payout because those $2 million, $3 million and $4 million jackpots you hear about are only paid out to a single winning ticket. Otherwise, a share of the jackpot is paid to all winning tickets. If no one hits all six, the pool carries over to the next day.

The other format is the traditional Pick 6, which comes with a $1 or $2 minimum. That pays the entire pool out to anyone with six winners on their tickets. If nobody hits six that day, the pool carries over.

Regardless of the minimum, the cost to play Pick 6s properly often requires small bettors either scale back to Pick 4s or Pick 5s or form partnerships with your friends to increase your bankroll. That’s because betting Pick 6s requires deep pockets to do properly. You need not only your conviction on six races, but backups to account for the inevitable freak-of-nature happenings that, well, happen.

On all multi-race tickets, especially the Pick 4, 5 and 6, the key is finding beatable favorites and running in the other direction. That’s because the public will often single prohibitive favorites. When those horses lose, their tickets implode.

twinspiresSign up for the Twin Spires Winter Money Back offer. Get your money back if your horse runs second or third in selected races Friday through Sunday, each week. This offer applies to eligible selected races only.


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