Pick Four Week
A reader, Mike L., wrote recently to ask about fifty-cent Pick Fours. First, he wanted to know what the takeout is (answer is 25%). Then, he noted the large field sizes at Fair Grounds, as well as some of the enormous payoffs this season, and inquired whether I play the Pick Four.
Yes, Mike, there is a Santa Claus, and he comes hopefully more than once per year bearing four-figure payoffs for good little handicappers. You are correct that this wager is a great option, especially at a meet such as this, and yes, I love diving into this challenging pool.
I used to play the Pick Four more frequently back when it was first being offered, which is longer ago than it feels, around the turn of the millennium. It was all the rage then, and I eagerly, sometimes naively, pumped $40 to $60 at a time through the windows chasing payoffs that, especially in those early days, seemed inexplicably generous.
Of course, then a few years went by and I realized that I was rarely hitting the juiciest payoffs. The problem, in my opinion, was not always bad handicapping (sometimes, but not always!). The main issue was that I just couldn’t afford the kinds of tickets it took to cash the big ones. There was this perception then that a Pick Four was like the poor man’s Pick Six and that anyone could put together a small ticket and have a chance to win big. This, however, did not turn out to be the case. Yes, it’s two fewer races than a Pick Six, but so what? You still need to invest money, spread out and be an unusually savvy handicapper to get four in a row. It’s not like we were all hitting Pick Threes at will and decided we needed more of a challenge. The people who regulary hit the Pick Four are not that different from those who regularly hit the Pick Six, and often they are, in fact, precisely the same people.
The fifty-cent minimum, though, does help to level the playing field. Someone like me, who used to constantly feel that, “I would have hit that if I had used two more horses,” can now play a ticket with confidence, instead of standing there hoping that the one I liked but had to leave off doesn’t beat me.
The 50-cent minimum doesn’t mean, of course, that you can now afford the use every horse you think can win each leg. You still have to be smart and you will probably need a single in your sequence somewhere. If your single gets beat, so be it. But with the fifty-cent minimum you can reasonably add a few extra entrants in the legs you spread out in.
For me, the most attractive situation for playing a Pick Four is when I have a strong opinion on a horse I’d like to single who I know will not be favored. Similarly, I also like when there’s a heavy favorite that I don’t agree with, even if I don’t have a strong opinion on who will win.
Almost every Pick Four that I play has a single in one leg, two chances in another leg, and then as many options as I can afford in the other two races.
It’s a waste, in my opinion, to create Pick Four tickets that use two or three horses per race. You don’t give yourself enough of an opportunity to catch a real imaginative longshot that will send your payoff skyrocketing. Cashing a big Pick Four requires you to actually take a strong stand and pick only the best horse in one of the four races.
If you build a $1 ticket that goes 3 horses x 2 horses x 3 horses x 3 horses, you have just bet $54 on the notion that one of your top two or top three choices in each race will win. As a public handicapper who has published his tip three choices day in and day out for years now, I can tell you there will almost always be one race out of four where you are way off. That’s just the nature of horseracing and handicapping.
But if you build a $1 ticket that goes 6 horses x 1 horse x 2 horses x 4 horses, for only $48, you’ve given yourself the opportunity to use multiple double-digit longshots in that first leg, and have four chances as you try to close it out.
Now throw in the 50-cent option and you can really go nuts. Try 8 horses x 1 horse x 3 horses x 5 horses for $60. You still need to be exactly right in that one race, but you have some realistic wiggle room everywhere else, plus at least two chances at catching that 15-1 shot that will make losers out of most of your parimutuel rivals.
In any case, this conversation has me excited about playing the Pick Four, so we’ll make this Pick Four Week on the blog. I’ll come up with a 50-cent ticket for each of the next four days and we’ll put these theories into practice. If you have any Pick Four tips to share, post a comment or e-mail me at BlackGoldHandicapper@gmail.com.
We’ll also take a look back at some of the big Pick Fours from this season and how someone might have gone about hitting them.