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Anatomy of a Pick 4 Payout

Yesterday's Pick 6 at Aqueduct, with a two-day carryover factoring in, paid a decent $67,132.  The Pick 4, however, might have been the more surprising of the two payouts given the odds of the winning horses.

Below are the payouts and odds of the winners in yesterday's Pick 4 at Aqueduct:

Race 6 - $10.40 (4/1 - 3rd choice)
Race 7 - $18.60 (8/1 - 4th choice)
Race 8 -   $2.50 (1/4 - favorite)
Race 9 - $15.50 (7/1 - 4th choice)

$1 Pick Four: (5-6-1/5/9-5) Paid $1,410

If you came to the same conclusion as the betting public and believed that 1-Rereadthefootnotes was the overwhelming choice to win Race 8, you essentially turned this Pick 4 into a Pick 3.  Rereadthefootnotes was hammered at the windows and went to post with the paltry odds of 1/4 and responded to the backing by easily dominating the field by six lengths.

The rest of the sequence certainly wasn't easy, but look at the odds on the winners of the other three races: 4/1, 8/1, and 7/1.  There's nothing significantly crazy occurring; we aren't seeing a 20/1 horse pop up in the results, nor are we seeing the longest shot on the board coming home, yet the Pick 4 still returned a solid amount.  If you've turned a Pick 4 into a Pick 3, you could have gone something like 5x5x4 in the other three races and come up with a $100 ticket that still paid 13/1.  And that's if you throwing darts at the board.  Had you been able to pare down one of those races to two or three selections and still land on the winner there would be a lot of room left to cover the others. 

The point that this Pick 4 sequence illustrates isn't that a $1,000+ payout is easy to get to, it never is.  But instead it's that the player doesn't have to try to beat every single favorite in each race in order to get a solid payout.  You can score a decent return even if you have to play an odds-on horse somewhere on the ticket.

Personally, every time I play a Pick 4 I deal with the question of how to balance the need for value in the ticket with the likelihood that a favorite is going to win at least one or two races.   It's a question that all players face on a daily basis: I want to pick the winner but I want to get paid a decent price. And while nothing is ever guaranteed as to how these sequences pay (sometimes the payouts don't reflect the win pools at all) I think it's good to remember that a heavy favorite won't necessarily destroy all the value in the ticket.