With a big pick six carryover on July 31, and a gigantic double carryover on Aug. 1, the $1 pick four at Del Mar on the first date paid $12,700.90, and a day later the pick four paid $14,942.50. In short shift, the pick four has emerged as the wager of choice for exotic bettors at major tracks. Not only does the pick four pay a sizeable amount often enough to qualify as "scores," but also the probability of hitting the pick four exceeds that of hitting the pick six by a significant degree. That combination renders the pick four as a phenomenon approaching the ideal exotic wager.
Staying with the numbers, for the benefit primarily of track executives who persist in the belief that one exotic pool inevitably dilutes another, on July 31 at Del Mar, the pick six pool was $1 million, and the pick four pool was $500,000. On Aug. 1, the pick six pool swelled to $2.4 million, and the pick four pool grew to $960,755. Similarly, every other exotic pool that Sunday at Del Mar exceeded its comparable handle of Saturday, and by decisive amounts. The empirical evidence is becoming increasingly clear that rather than dilute one another, the super exotic parimutuel pools tend to complement one another.
With Saratoga offering guaranteed pick four pools on Saturdays and Sundays, and Del Mar following suit with a guaranteed pool on Saturdays, the summer's resort tracks on each coast have recognized the popularity of the pick four among their best customers. The popularity of the wager should spread still further, to midlevel tracks and to weekdays, as unlike the advantage they enjoy in pick six betting, the syndicates, high rollers, and rebate bettors have no comparable financial leverage in playing the pick four. Or, to put it differently, casual and recreational bettors can put themselves in position to win the pick four almost as frequently and profitably as the bigger bettors.
What follows is intended as a doable strategy that should afford racing's casual bettors with opportunities to "crush" the pick four, and more than occasionally. In each of the four legs, as usual, identify the main contenders and backup horses having a handicapper's reasonable chance.
In each of the four legs, select a "key" horse, typically a main contender that will be a non-favorite, or perhaps a mild favorite that should not be severely overbet.
Odds-on favorites and even-money shots might be used, but not as "key" horses. Alternatively, when odds-on favorites and even-money shots look false, or vulnerable, the pick four begs to be played.
The strategy links the key horses in each leg to the contenders and backup horses in the other three. Four tickets will be bought. On each ticket, a key horse is a single, and all the contenders and backup horses in the remaining three legs are covered.
The trick is to allow a 50-percent chance or greater to hit each leg. If handicappers give themselves a 50-percent chance to hit leg 1, and a 60-percent chance to hit legs 2 and 3, and as great as an 80-percent chance to hit Leg 4, the probability of hitting all four legs will be .50 x .60 x .60 x .80, or 14 percent. The odds against success will have been reduced to 6-1 (100/14-1), an especially agreeable chance of hitting a four-race serial bet. By comparison, the odds of catching the pick six usually will be smaller than 1 percent, even when covering numerous combinations.
At 6-1 against, the pick four must pay seven times the cost to represent a fair bet. If handicappers imagine the payoff should not exceed the cost of the wager by that margin, no play. As to the cost of the four tickets, the amount can be pro-rated across the four races. If the cost will be $160, the single-race cost will be $40, hardly a prohibitive amount. If $160 has been bet, the pick four must pay roughly $1,120 to amount to a fair bet ($160 x 7).
Nevertheless, and this is the magnificent part of the strategy, at times the pick four might pay as little as half the amount it should pay, and still qualify as a fair bet. That's because when handicappers see two of the "key" horses win, they can cash the pick four twice. If the payoff has been fair to generous, the usual case, when "key" horses have won two of the four legs, handicappers have engineered a minor score, and maybe a major score, as on the recent weekend at Del Mar. That should happen to talented handicappers more than occasionally.
And every once in a while, handicappers might see the "key" horses win three of the four legs. On those memorable occasions, handicappers can cash the pick four three times. It will happen.
Of course, to win at all, one of the four "key" horses must win, and handicappers must have covered the contention in the other three legs adequately. The inspiring news is that winning with one of four "key" horses in a four-race sequence is no rare achievement. That should happen routinely. The objective is to cover the real contention in each leg. If marginal horses might win, they must be covered. The cost increases, but so does the probability of winning, which is the crucial consideration.
The strategy brings to mind the stern admonition of my friend, and excellent player, Gibson Carothers, in promoting a similar strategy for betting the pick six. As races that must be spread, bettors must include "all" the horses that warrant a handicapper's decent chance. In implementing the pick four strategy, if handicappers win with one or more of the "key" horses, but lose because they failed to cover the contention in another leg properly, they never say, "I should have had that horse," or "I could have covered that horse." They say instead, "I could not have covered that horse," and they proceed to the next race or day.
To relieve pick four bettors of the irritating complications in making the daily calculations as to the probability of winning, and the corresponding fair-value odds and fair-value payoffs, handicappers might accept as reasonable standards the values stipulated in this piece. That is, with the recommended coverage, the odds can be accepted as roughly 6-1 against, and the pick four must pay seven times the cost of the bet to make sense in the long haul. That's a healthy proposition for a four-race exotic wager that, as frequently as not, might pay 10 times its cost, or 20 times, or as on the recent Del Mar weekend, hundreds of times its cost.
The pick four has become the bet of choice simply because it's the best bet of all. Casual handicappers that do not anticipate they can beat the pick four for substantial profits need only recall how frequently, in the pick six betting, no one has six winners, or one or two bettors do, but 119 tickets have the pickfive. The pick five is much easier to hit than the pick six, and the pick four is easier to snatch than the pick five. The incentives to play are strong, and the chances of winning are real.
If casual handicappers would prefer to play, but anticipate they will not care to risk the capital to cover the strategy's costs, take partners, form teams. The diversity enhances the chances of success, and increases the excitement of the chase. If partners or teams will share one of the members must be designated as having responsibility for final decisions, a tricky circumstance that might arouse greater conflict than it resolves, and even put friendships in jeopardy.
The remedy is to vary the individual that will be responsible for resolving conflicts and making final decisions from time to time, or even day to day.