Everyone wants to have a big day at the races.
It’s how big that differs.
Some folks chase the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and play the Pick 6 (correctly selecting the winners of six straight races).
Some are content to place a $2 win bet.
Somewhere in between the two comes the Pick 3, which offers less risk than a Pick 6 and three times the reward of a win bet.
Many tracks now offer rolling Pick 3s throughout their cards, allowing handicappers to focus on their prime wagering opportunities. For example, if you happen to like a horse in both the 4th and 6th races, then playing them in a Pick 3 and using a number of horses in the middle leg of the sequence could yield a nice payoff.
Sequence wagers like the Pick 3 or Pick 4 are best suited for those times when you spot a vulnerable favorite. While a Pick 3 with three victorious odds-on favorites might return a $20 bill, a winning combo with just three second-betting choices may return that $20 bill plus a Benjamin.
While there’s always some measure of luck involved in gambling, playing the Pick 3 requires sound strategy.
If, for example, you like an 8-1 shot in the 5th race, playing a Pick 3 in races 3-4-5 and hitting the first two legs will enhance your position heading into the 5th race. By knowing you’re sitting on a $500 payoff, it can give you the cushion you need to hedge your bet and make exacta or triples wagers that might enable you to turn a profit even if your horse runs second or third.
The Pick 3 also provides a much better chance of cashing a ticket than a Pick 6 since there are dramatically fewer combinations to cover than a Pick 6, provided you attack it properly.
For instance, you can pick three horses in each race, box them and cover every possibility so that you win as long as one of your three horses wins. The math on that ticket is 3 x 3 x 3, which equals a $27 ticket for $1 and $54 for $2.
That strategy is perfect if your third choice wins each leg. But if your top choice wins each time, you might be disappointed at the return for a pretty impressive handicapping hat trick.
If you’re confident in your top choices then it might make sense to construct a ticket that gives you a chance to collect as many as 3 winning tickets if you’re right, right, right.
What you would do is buy one ticket with your top choice in the first race with your three choices in the next two races. That’s a 1 x 3 x 3 ticket for $9/$18. Then you use your top choice in the second leg with the three horses in the first and third races. That’s a 3 x 1 x 3 ticket for another $9/$18. Finally use your top choice in the last race with the three in the first two races for a 3 x 3 x 1 play. Again it will cost $9/$18.
In the end you’ll be spending as much money as you did in a 3 x 3 x 3 ticket, but you can have two or three winning tickets instead of just one.
The downside with that play is that if all three of your top picks lose, you can rip the ticket up – even if your second or third choices win each time.
As Dirty Harry might say, it all comes down to whether you’re feeling lucky.