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Pick 4 Strategy

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The above image is indicative of how I used to play the Pick 4.  MattGSeattle had a post a while back for which the comments are now closed, but, in the interest of mentoring I thought I would illustrate the method I have used for sometime now with success.

More after the jump.

First, you must demand of yourself that you are right about two races in the sequence. By "right," I mean, you get a single home. Here is the sweet part...it can be a single in any two races of the four-race sequence.

So, handicap each race and make a top selection in each, henceforward referred to as your "A" horse. Then select three other contending horses in each race, henceforward referred to as B, C and D.

Now, structure your tickets like this:

Ticket 1: A with A with ABCD with ABCD
Ticket 2: A with ABCD with A with ABCD
Ticket 3: A with ABCD with ABCD with A
Ticket 4: ABCD with A with A with ABCD
Ticket 5: ABCD with A with ABCD with A
Ticket 6: ABCD with ABCD with A with A

On a dollar-base, each ticket will cost you $16 for a total investment of $96, or $24 per race, which is right around what I try to average as a small player in horizontal wagers. If you are right twice about any of your top selections, you will be in line for a nice payout, especially since you will be four-deep in the other two races which, hopefully, bring home a price.  And if you hit three top selections, you hit the Pick 4 three times. If your top selection rolls home in all four races, you score six times.

As a side-note, I usually try to have at least two of my four top selections be in the 5-1 to 8-1 range. I have found that if you can get one or two of these kinds of horses home, the payouts are nearly $1,000 on average, which, as a top selection, means you may hit multiple times. This strategy also works well, maybe even better, with Pick 3's. Demand of yourself just one correct opinion and structure three tickets the same way:

Ticket 1: A with ABCD with ABCD
Ticket 2: ABCD with A with ABCD
Ticket 3: ABCD with ABCD with A.

My favorite wagers are Pick 3's and exactas. Some of you might fear that an E or F horse could come in and ruin all of your tickets. That’s a good point, but we are talking about gambling here! Risk is always involved, and I say if you can't handicap correctly in two races out of four, or one out of three, you don't deserve to win. As Brad Free so eloquently put it in his book, Handicapping 101: be bold, or be wrong. I don't know about you, but many times I have played a Pick 4 and been right with my top selection in a race where I picked four or five horses, and wrong about one in which I singled. With this strategy, any two correct selections get you close to home and a decent score.

Also, you can shorten or lengthen the number of horses played in each leg of the sequence. Some races, it is easy to see the race is between just two contenders. Others are inscrutable, and you might want to go six deep, or even buy the field.

Keep in mind, that I don't play every Pick 4. Just as you can't create value in a race where a 6-5 wins over a 5-2 over a 3-1, sometimes the Pick 4 should be avoided. You have to have a good, hard opinion that there is value to be had in the sequence. If I don't see what I consider two vulnerable favorites in the four races, then I pass.

As for the size of the wager -- $96 in the 4 x 4 x 1 x 1 configuration -- it is hard to take if you get knocked out in the first leg. But, as I alluded to earlier, I am a $25- a-race player in win betting. When I play the Pick 3 or 4, I don't make win bets. I will, however, play multiple exactas. (And when I say multiple, I mean A with BCDE four times, and BCDE with A three times...your A Horse should not be the favorite.) It has frequently happened that I have had a Pick 3 or a Pick 4 die, only to make back more than I had wagered when a horse I had keyed forward and backward in the exacta came home coupled with a price horse!

At the very least, try this strategy with a Pick 3 sometime. Last Sunday I was practicing - building tickets, but not betting them -- and I played every rolling Pick 3 through the Pick 6 at Santa Anita. There are four Pick 3's within a Pick 6. I was right about two races -- the third and fourth in the sequence. This meant that I hit the first and second Pick 3's, and was alive to four horses in each of the final two legs of the third and fourth Pick 3's. Now, a horse I didn't include won in the last leg, but had one of my four come in, I would have hit four straight Pick 3's off of just two correct opinions. As it was, I would have hit three of the four had I wagered, and would have wound up with profits in the 7-1 range, give or take, since the payouts would have been smaller than posted had I actually been in the pool.

And one more thing…there are two Pick 3's within a Pick 4. Many times I back up a thin Pick 4, with a larger spread of horses in the Pick 3. This alleviates the fear that an E or F will knock me out in either the first or last legs, since I include him in the Pick 3. Also, in a Pick 4 sequence where it appears that only one favorite is vulnerable, I eschew the Pick 4 altogether, and only play the two Pick 3's.

May you crush the mutuels! And remember, when you win at the track, you are really just walking out with money lost by handicappers, or gamblers, who were wrong that day.

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