The Pick 4 and the Pick 5 are often considered the most glamorous wagers in racing. Especially on big racing days, when bettors pore over the sequences, trying to find the best way to hit and make a big score.
The goal of a Pick 4 is to pick four consecutive Winners. The bet was introduced at Churchill Downs during the 2000 Breeders’ Cup and quickly spread across the country.
Many tracks offer two Pick 4s a day, with the most popular one generally offered on the last four races on the card. The standard minimum wager is 50 cents.
The pick 5 made its debut at Monmouth Park in 2007. As the name implies, you must select five consecutive Winners to cash. The minimum wager is also usually 50 cents.
Both wagers have become immensely popular. At Saratoga Race Course on Saturdays, both the late Pick 4 and the Pick 5 average more than $1 million in handle.
The main reason for their popularity is their large payoffs. If a sequence features a few beaten favorites and a few longshots, payoffs can soar into the five figures. The high-water mark of this summer season came on August 12th, when the late Pick 5 at Saratoga paid more than $161,000. That day’s late Pick 4 paid nearly $23,000.
In these bets, you have the option of using multiple horses in a race at a higher cost. For example, a 50-cent pick 4 that uses three horses in each race, would cost $40.50. A pick 5 using three horses in each race would cost $112.50.
However, most players do not blindly use their top three picks in a race. Rather, they look for some races in which to single, or use just one horse, and other races where they can spread, or use multiple runners.
Many bettors usually go about this in the same way: they’ll single obvious favorites, and spread in races that look very tough. At first blush, this strategy makes sense, but is it the best way to get maximum Value?
Like all wagers, the Pick 4 and the Pick 5 are pari-mutuel. The payoffs are calculated by taking the total pool, and dividing it by the number of Winning tickets. The fewer Winning tickets out there, the larger the payoff.
As such, using horses that you know everyone else is using is not a great strategy. Even if you stay alive, virtually every other ticket is also still active, so you’re not increasing your expected payoff by much.
The key to making big scores in Pick 4s and Pick 5s is to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. If you think an odds-on favorite is vulnerable, toss them completely, and use other horses instead. Should that big favorite lose, it can result in a big payoff even if favorites Win the other legs.
Conversely, the time to single is in races where other people are spreading. If you like a horse in a wide-open race, and you use only them, you give yourself more opportunity to spread in races where people have narrowed down their tickets. If that horse Wins at a good price, you’ll set yourself up for a score.
When it comes to making big scores in Pick 4s and Pick 5s, knowing how to play the sequences is just as important as knowing which horse to bet. By crafting plays that go against the tide, you set yourself up for maximum value when you cash.