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The Pick 3 and Pick 4 are among the most popular exotic wagers at the track. But they are also among the most misplayed wagers. While they are a great way to try and make a big score with a modest investment, unless they are being properly bet, they can become a steady drain on the player’s bankroll. Here are the realities and the fantasies that fuel these wagers. First off, the true odds of hitting these multi-leg wagers are very low. To win a Pick 3 wager, you must first pick the winner of the first race, then the second and then the third. What are your actual chances of winning these bets? Let’s suppose you pick three consecutive 2/1 shots. Each has a 33% chance to win. The math works out as follows: 0.33 x 0.33 x 0.33 = 0.0363 Thus, three 2/1 shots in a row has a 3.63% chance of winning. That means the Pick 3 combining these three low-priced horses has to pay almost 28-1 or $29 for a $1 bet just to pay fair value. Will you get that kind of payoff in a three-favorite Pick 3? Not likely. Extend this logic to the Pick 4, and the math works out as such: 0.33 x 0.33 x 0.33 x 0.33 = 0.01186 A Pick 4 consisting of only 2/1 shots has just a 1.186% chance of winning. It would have to pay 85-1 to break even, $86 for a $1 bet. Again, a four-favorite Pick 4 is not likely to pay enough to offer fair value. Neither the Pick 3 nor Pick 4 are good candidates for profit if your plan is to play just a few combinations of low priced horses. Stringing together favorite after favorite leads to playing the most over-bet combinations, and will still have a very small chance of winning. Even when you are right, you will not be rewarded for it. On the other hand, playing a number of horses in each leg of the Pick 3 or Pick 4 will greatly increase the chances of hitting the wager. Playing the top four contenders in each race might give the bettor an 80% chance of winning each leg (0.8 x 0.8 x 0.8 = 0.512), so giving yourself an 80% chance to win each leg of a Pick 3 gives you a 51% chance of winning the wager. The same math in the Pick 4 leaves you with a 40% chance of winning. That’s the good news. The bad news is the cost of the wager. A $1 4x4x4 Pick 3 ticket costs $64. A $1 4x4x4x4 Pick 4 ticket will run you $256. And if in any leg of the wager you don’t feel you can cover 80% of the likely outcomes, you’d need to add even more runners. Expenses for this kind of bet can get rapidly out of control. Using all 12 runners in a wide-open maiden claiming race increases the Pick 4 ticket cost to $756. In this scenario, you will need to not only be correct, but have a few longshots come in, just to break even. Most players try to cut costs by singling a runner in one of the legs. If they choose to single a heavy favorite, they sacrifice their chances of getting a large payout. If they single a horse at higher odds, they significantly reduce their chances of winning. Strangely enough, few exotic players wince at the notion of singling a horse that they would not place a large win bet on. The player that singles a horse in the Pick 4 can reduce his/her $256 ticket down to a $64 ticket (1x4x4x4=$64). This form of singling, however, is the equivalent of making a $64 win bet on your single – but with no guarantee of cashing even if your single wins! If the same player bets $64 to win on that one single, they make a big score without depending on the outcome of any other races. The most unusual aspect of Pick 3 and Pick 4 play today is the public’s willingness to make lots of little bets on super-exotics, rather than one big crusher on the win pool. So what’s the best way to play these wagers? First, use them to augment play on a single “best bet” you already plan to wager on to win. If you have a 4/1 shot you love, and plan to wager, say, $50 on it to win, you can play it with 4 contenders in two legs of the Pick 3. For $16 in the Pick 3, you can have a 12.8% chance of cashing in on your best bet. This kind of “singling” makes sense as a chance to greatly boost a potential payoff without a great amount of additional wagering capital being put at risk. Pick 4s should only be bet in this fashion if two of the four legs include genuine “best bets.” Caution: Winning these kinds of plays regularly is a fantasy. Be prepared for siege warfare, with long breaks between successes. Hopefully the money laid off on the exotic plays does not negate profits from the win bets on the same top selections. The second way to play these wagers is to play multiple tickets, each with a “key” horse singled in a particular leg. Rather than playing a $64 4x4x4 Pick 3 ticket, the player designates a key contender for each leg, and plays it in in singles with the 4 contenders in each of the other two races. The three tickets are 1x4x4, 4x1x4, and 4x4x1. For $1, each of the three tickets costs $16, for a total of $48. Aside from costing $16 less than the single 4x4x4 ticket, it also gives the player the chance to have two winning tickets if two of the “key” horses win, or three winning tickets if all three “keys” come in. This “key” style of play optimizes play for people making a serious attempt to focus on crushing these exotic wagers. This way of playing the Pick 3 and Pick 4 works best if you dedicate part of your bankroll specifically to this bet – and enough bankroll to last through long dry spells. Again, long breaks between successes are the norm, and without the proper funding, is a sure way to go bust. Before you commit to the wager, make sure you have the necessary capital. Requirements for playing the Pick 3 and Pick 4: – Avoid stringing together favorites, which plays the most over-bet combinations while still having a very small chance of winning. Even when you are right, you will not be rewarded for it. – Avoid making lots of little bets on super-exotics, rather than one big crusher on the win pool. – Use the Pick 3 to augment play on a single “best bet” you already plan to wager on to win. For the Pick 4, use the bet to augment when best bets occupy two legs. – Rather than playing all contenders from each leg on one ticket, play multiple tickets, each with a “key” horse singled in a particular leg. Be sure to check out Dean Arnold's first handicapping book, A Bettor Way, on sale now through your local bookstore and online at Xlibris Publishing (www.xlibris.com/ABettorWay.html)