In this series on horse racing wagers, I have covered straight bets (win, place and show), and vertical wagers (exactas, trifectas, superfectas and super high fives). Last week, the first article on horizontal wagers discussed the daily double. As you might expect, we go from a pseudo two-race parlay (double) to the three-race variety (Pick 3). The Pick 3 is an especially good wager because of its versatility.
You must select the winner of three consecutive races. Most tracks offer it for any three race sequence so long as there is no gap in the races on the card (e.g. the first three races, the last three races, or the second, third and fourth race, but not the first race, the fourth race, and the fifth race).
It is similar to a three-team parlay in football where you have to pick all three game-winners correctly in order to win your bet.
Pick 3s are generally available for $1 per combination. There may be tracks that restrict bets to $2, and occasionally you’ll see 50¢ Pick 3s, but the vast majority of meets use the $1 minimum.
How much the house takes off the top varies pretty wildly on Pick 3s. Sam Houston has a North American low of 12-percent, while Woodbine in Toronto is over 26-percent. High teens and low twenties is pretty normal, though beware that New York and California tracks have an unattractive 24-percent.
A lot of people are playing Pick 3’s, but not that many are doing so intelligently. Grandma and grandpa might be picking one horse in each of three races, while a slick just-out-of -college type might be betting three horses in each race. Neither are good options. The barrier of entry, from a money and understanding perspective, are not difficult, so there is a lot of volume in this pool.
This is the ultimate bet to tier for budget-conscious players. As a result, it is frequently a good wager. “Tiering” (which will be discussed more next week when we analyze Pick 4s, 5s, and 6s) means giving every horse in the race a letter grade. Your “A” choices are the most likely winners; “Bs” are the next most likely; “Cs” have a chance to win, while “Xs” can be eliminated.
Every three-race sequence is going to look a little bit different, but the concept of breaking down the field helps to analyze what combinations to bet. If you have two As, one B, and one C in race no. 1, one A, one B, and two Cs in race no. 2, and three As, no Bs, and four Cs in race no. 3, you can easily layout the bet. You are going to play thee As (2x1x3) for more money than you are going to play combinations with two As and one B to win (1x1x3, 2x1x3). You’ll put the least money on bets that have two As and one C (1x1x3, 2x2x3, 2x1x4).
This takes your strongest opinion (all As win) and puts your biggest bet on them; your next strongest opinion (As win two of the three races and a B wins the third) receives the second-most cash; and your least strong opinion (As win two of three and a C wins the third) for the least amount of money.
Side note: just because you have the least amount of money on bets that include a C horse, it might still be your biggest potential payout, since that C horse might be a 25-1 or 40-1 longshot.
Obviously, to make this bet work, you need to eliminate enough horses so that you aren’t playing too many combinations. It is best if you can find a “single” in one race. If you can identify one horse to stand with in one of the three races, using no backup horses in that event, you will be able to cover a lot more options, some at high prices, in the other races which gives you the potential for a big win.
Pick 3s are a bad bet if there are huge favorites that you like in more than one of the races. Singling one race is good, but if you do single low-priced horses in more than one event, the payoffs aren’t worth the risk, even if you spread in the third event.
Races with small fields are not particularly good for Pick 3s, either. If there are only six horses in each of the three races, the number of combinations to bet is too low to produce a big payout.
It is also a mistake to play “caveman” tickets (so named for their lack of sophistication). If you like three horses in all three races, and you play a 3x3x3 ticket for $27, you are saying that you have no opinion among those nine horses which you like the best. If you break them up into As and Bs, you will have more money on the horses you like best and less on the others.
Photo credit: Heather Moreton [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
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