In the end, it doesn’t matter how you make money at the racetrack. There are those who specialize in vertical exotics (exactas, trifectas, superfectas), proving particularly adept at forecasting the precise order of finish of a given race. Others like horizontal exotics (daily double, Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5) which are essentially win parlays.
Then there is the alpha male, the granddaddy of them all, the Pick 6.
The Pick 6 is the most difficult wager at the track and routinely pays the most. It is the bet that the pros chase. You can win a fortune or lose both your mind and your bankroll. For the huge majority of race fans, it is a stay-away wager that requires a huge down payment. It is also the bet that separates the men from the boys.
The idea is simple; the execution is incredibly difficult. Pick the winner of six straight races (essentially a six-race parlay). If each event has 10 entries, there are one million possible combinations. Note that there is a consolation pool where you will generally get a small payout for hitting five out of six. The conso tends to be much larger if there are no tickets with all six winners.
In the event that nobody hits the bet, most of the money from the pool is carried over to the next racing card. If there is $100,000 in the pool, you might see $20,000 go to the track, $20,000 paid out to all the people who won five out of six races, and the other $60,000 carry over. Two and three and four day carryovers can eclipse a million dollars. On those days, syndicates and professionals aggressively put together tickets that cost thousands of dollars.
More so than any other factor, what makes the Pick 6 so difficult is the $2 minimum bet. For $250, you can attack a Pick 5 with a minimum wager of 50¢. The Pick 6 only adds one race to the parlay but quadruples the cost.
This varies greatly depending on the track. The house takes only 12-percent at Lone Star Park in Texas, but up to 26-percent at Pennsylvania’s PARX Racing. Most tracks are between 15 and 22-percent. Some up the rake when there is a carryover.
While there are a small number of $2 players essentially buying lottery tickets, this is a professional bet. The amount of cash required does not allow even moderate bankrolls to attack the wager properly. Because there are so many possible combinations, nobody can buy this bet, and even with lots of sharps involved, there is rarely a disappointing Pick 6 payout.
There are no shortcuts to winning the Pick 6. You must have conviction, a large bankroll, and great risk tolerance. Even if you put together 100 intelligent Pick 6 tickets, you might lose 90, get eight consolations, and win just twice. If you bet $1,000 on each ticket and lose half your investment on the consos, you are out $94,500 before you factor in the wins. However, if one win pays $25,000, and the other $125,000, you are up $55,500 when it is all said in done. It takes big stones to lose 40 straight big bets and still keep playing. The Pick 6 is not for the faint of heart.
As for how to play the Pick 6, it’s similar to our formula for the Pick 4 and 5, with the notable exception that you probably can’t afford to tier your bets (i.e. bet some combinations for more money than others) since the minimum per bet is $2. You’ll want to use your bankroll to buy more combinations, not double-down on certain ones.
That said, it is certainly smart to have more cash on the horses you like best. As we did with the Pick 4 and 5, you should start by separating each race into As (the horses you like best), Bs (second-best), Cs (longshots), and Xs (horses you can eliminate). Hard decisions have to be made because each additional choice makes the bet a lot more expensive.
Let’s look at a possible ticket and how we would use the choices to bet the Pick 6.
Race 1: A: 2,3,5, B: 1,4,6 C: none, X: none
Race 2: A: 4,6, B: 3 C: 7, X: 1,2,8, X: 5,8,9,10
Race 3: A: 2,7,9, B: none, C: 1,3,4,8 X: 5,6,9,10
Race 4: A: 2, B: none, C: none, X: 1,3,4,5,6,7,8
Race 5: A: 1,7, B: 4,6, C: 3,9, X: 2,5,8,10,11,12
Race 6: A: 6, B: 2, C:8, X: 1,3,4,5,7,9,10
Bet #1 (All As at $2 per combination): 2,3,5 with 4,6 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 1,7 with 6 ($72 total bet)
Bet #2 (5 As and 1 B at $2 per combination): 1,4,6 with 4,6 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 1,7 with 6 ($72 total bet)
Bet #3 (5 As and 1 B at $2 per combination): 2,3,5 with 3 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 1,7 with 6 ($36 total bet)
Bet #4 (5 As and 1 B at $2 per combination): 2,3,5 with 4,6 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 4,6 with 6 ($72 total bet)
Bet #5 (5 As and 1 B at $2 per combination): 2,3,5 with 4,6 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 1,7 with 2 ($72 total bet)
Bet #6 (4 As and 2 Bs at $2 per combination): 1,4,6 with 3 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 1,7 with 6 ($36 total bet)
Bet #7 (4 As and 2 Bs at $2 per combination): 1,4,6 with 4,6 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 4,6 with 6 ($72 total bet)
Bet #8 (4 As and 2 Bs at $2 per combination): 1,4,6 with 4,6 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 1,7 with 2 ($72 total bet)
Bet #9 (4 As and 2 Bs at $2 per combination): 2,3,5 with 3 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 4,6 with 6 ($36 total bet)
Bet #10 (4 As and 2 Bs at $2 per combination): 2,3,5 with 3 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 1,7 with 2 ($36 total bet)
Bet #11 (4 As and 2 Bs at $2 per combination): 2,3,5 with 4,6 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 4,6 with 2 ($72 total bet)
Bet #12 (5 As and 1 C at $2 per combination): 2,3,5 with 7 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 1,7 with 6 ($36 total bet)
Bet #13 (5 As and 1 C at $2 per combination): 2,3,5 with 4,6 with 1,3,4,8 with 2 with 1,7 with 6 ($96 total bet)
Bet #14 (5 As and 1 C at $2 per combination): 2,3,5 with 4,6 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 3,9 with 6 ($72 total bet)
Bet #15 (5 As and 1 C at $2 per combination): 2,3,5 with 4,6 with 2,7,9 with 2 with 1,7 with 8 ($72 total bet)
This sequence costs $924 as constructed above. Being selective on which Pick 6 sequences to try and which to avoid is critical. If you can narrow down a ticket to a pseudo-Pick 4 because there are two singles, that is a great start. If you can eliminate a lot of horses in several races, that is a big help. Any race you can narrow down to only three strong candidates helps keep the cost down.
Sometimes it is worth considering which races you think you have a strong chance of winning with an A, and which are wide open. There need to be at least four A races to get by.
The easy answer to this question is “most of the time.” Don’t bother with the Pick 6 if you can’t bet it competitively, which means deep pockets. Stay away if you don’t have serious conviction on at least two races, and preferably three or four. If there are two races where you have absolutely no clue, make sure you can really narrow down the other four.
The degree of difficulty on the Pick 6 is very very high. While that doesn’t mean never go after it, make sure the sequence fits your strengths as a handicapper (if you prefer turf races or maiden races or sprints, chose a day when there are a lot of those as a part of the bet). Also, beware of playing the Pick 6 at low-volume tracks. Putting $1,000 into a total pool of $10,000 doesn’t make sense unless you hit it on a frequent basis. Make sure you play the Pick 6 at major tracks and particularly on days when the pool will be large.
Photo credit: Softeis [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en] via wikimedia commons.
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