Jun 12 2013

Lessons from a Pick-4 Score on Belmont Day 2013

In a prior article I introduced one of my horseplayer friends, Vince “the Volcano.”  I explained that Vince is predominantly a Pick-3 and Pick-4 player.  He prefers to focus on multiple contenders in successive races rather than single out individual horses for a Win bet.  He explains it like this:

“The benefit in these is my 3rd choice can win the first three legs and my 6th choice wins the last, and I win $2,000.  If I bet those four races solo, I lose all of them.  This works for me.”

On Belmont Stakes day Vince sent me a text message: “Do you think Point of Entry loses? Other three legs are awesome races.  I see a (3 x 7 x 1 x 6) Pick4 play in here.”

Let’s start by refreshing your memory on what exactly a Pick4 play is.  You have to select the winner of four consecutive races.  Each race in the sequence is referred to as a leg.  In the 3rd leg of the late Pick-4 on Belmont Stakes Day was a horse called Point Of Entry.  He was sure to be a heavy favorite and the most likely winner.  Vince decided to “single” him in his Pick-4 play.  For the other three races, he used 3 horses in the 1st leg, 7 horses in the 2nd leg, and 6 horses in the 4th leg (the Belmont Stakes). Below is a description of each leg in Vince’s own words, with added comments by me in parenthesis:

Leg # of Horses Description
1st 3 The three I liked were between 5-2 and 7-2 in odds.  Very tight. (One of the three won, and Vince was on his way).
2nd 7 This is wide open, and where I saw the value of a Pick4.  I was originally only 5 deep here (with mostly “come-from-behind” horses), and had thrown out the speed horses. However, as I saw the dirt track play very kind to speed I got spooked, so I added 2 of the speed horses in.  (A $20 winner included in Vince’s ticket won the race.)
3rd 1 Point Of Entry was an obvious single play. I almost never single a horse because I feel that beating a horse like that is the key to big payouts.  Almost every other time I’d invest money here for some backups to the single, but I wanted to keep my budget low. (Saving his money for Saratoga I’m guessing. As Vince had hoped, the Point Of Entry won.)
4th 6 I felt this is the other race that could produce a chaotic result.  So I wanted to go deep in here and have some longshots in the mix.  The way the track was playing, I wanted horses closer to the front, so I added Palace Malice as my 6th and final selection. (Palace Malice won, paying $29, giving Vince a winning Pick4 ticket.)

Now let’s review the mathematics of Vince’s winning ticket. A (3 x 7 x 1 x 6) Pick-4 play is 126 combinations.  Played in $2 tickets, that’s an investment of $252.  This might be higher than some people’s budget allow.  However, the nice thing about playing the Pick4 in New York is the minimum bet is only 50 cents.  So, that same 126 combinations costs only $63 on a 50-cent ticket.  Averaged out over the four races that equates to only $15 per race.  Affordable for even beginning horseplayers.

And the payoff … for Vince’s $2 ticket the payout was $1,788 – equating to a return of almost exactly 6-1 based on the initial $252 investment.  Had he played a 50-cent Pick-4, the payout would have been$447, still a 6-1 return.

Click here to read an article that explains the mathematics of Pick-X wagers and provides some examples of Pick-4 wagering strategies.

The important thing about this story is to demonstrate the variety in different horseplayer styles. Vince found one horse he could hang his hat on, then spread out in two other legs that he considered wide open.  Finding a “single” in any Pick-4 sequence brings the cost of the ticket down considerably and with 50-cent minimum wagers, it can be made affordable for nearly all horseplayers.

I personally did not play the Pick4 on Belmont Day, and rarely do.  My style is more geared toward Intra-race wagers (click here for more information on Intra-race vs. Multi-race wagers).  Vince’s example shows there is more than one way to get the job done.  The common bond that successful horseplayers share is understanding the sport and the fundamentals of handicapping races.  From there the possibilities are endless.

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By Neal Benoit

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