Multi-race horizontal wagers (i.e. the Pick 3, 4, 5 and 6) present an intriguing puzzle to bettors and offer some of the most tantalizing prizes in horse racing, so it’s no surprise their popularity has skyrocketed in recent years. The object of these bets is to try to pick the winner of consecutive races, which presents a unique challenge and when done successfully can lead to some truly life-changing payouts. Though the format of these bets is more or less consistent, the strategy involved varies greatly, as the more races involved, the more cost prohibitive the bets become. Regardless of type, you get a lot of bang for your buck playing the horizontals, and at the end of the day they’re just fun.
What is it?
The objective of the Pick 3 is, as the name implies, to pick the winner of three consecutive races. In order to do so you must place your bet before the start of the first race (or leg) of the Pick 3 and make your selections for all three races at that time. The minimum bet is typically anywhere from 50 cents to two dollars, and you can use more than one horse per race.
For example, say you want to play a Pick 3 beginning in Race 1, which would continue through Race 2 and end with Race 3. In Race 1, you think Horse A will win. In Race 2, you believe Horse B and C are both equally strong, and in Race 3 you think Horse D is a cinch. The ticket you would put in would look like this (assuming you’re playing the bet at the minimum, which in this example is $1):
$1 Pick 3 - A / B,C / D
The total cost of this bet is two dollars, because you’re actually playing two separate bets: one that picks Horse B to win the second leg and one in which Horse C wins. This means that if Horse A wins the first race, Horse B or C wins the second, and Horse D wins the third, you win the bet! Pick 3’s usually don’t offer the kind of life-changing money available in the longer multi-race bets, but they can be quite lucrative, especially if played correctly.
At the intersection of the Daily Double and the Pick 4, the Pick 3 presents a sort of middle ground between the two in terms of strategy. Whereas the object in the longer horizontals (the Pick 4 and beyond) is generally just to have the winning combination, even if it’s for the minimum amount, in the Pick 3 it’s not enough to just hold the winning ticket; in order to have long term success playing it, you’re going to want to have the bet for a higher dollar amount.
The reason for this is that the payouts are fairly modest. Unless you feel a parade of longshots is forthcoming, spreading in each leg is going to result in an expensive ticket that lacks significant upside. However, If you’re able to isolate a few contenders in each race and then press those combinations at a higher amount than the base, you’re much more likely to make money in the long run. As with any bet at the track, finding value is the name of the game. More than just simply picking who you think will win, try to incorporate horses that you believe have a good shot but may be overlooked by the betting public.
Why play it?
The real beauty of the bet is that most tracks offer what are called rolling Pick 3’s, meaning that a Pick 3 begins every race (provided there are two subsequent races). This allows bettors to hone in on a sequence of three races that they feel particularly confident about, wherever they may fall on the card, as opposed to the Pick 4, 5, and 6, which are usually offered only once or twice a day in the same spot. This flexibility works nicely with the strategy of pressing your strongest opinions. If you’re a Pick 3 player, you’re not forced to play a set sequence of races, instead you can allocate your money on whichever three consecutive races you feel most comfortable with. Selecting which Pick 3’s to play and which to sit out is nearly as important as ferreting out the winner of those races, and will help your bottom line tremendously.