Updated on 09/17/2011 5:56PM

Embracing chaos a must for pick four bettors

Ouija Board, winning the Filly and Mare Turf, was an obvious key in a $46,000 pick four on BC Day.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - If you're not playing the pick four at least on a semi-regular basis, it's really about time you asked yourself why. The pick four has become so popular in New York that a second sequence - an early pick four - was added at the start of Aqueduct's fall meet, and judging from initial returns it has been a consistent source of value when measured against the straight win parlay. The accompanying chart shows the results for the first 10 days, not counting the abbreviated five-race Breeders' Cup card, in which only one pick four was offered.

On each of the first 10 days, the early pick four has paid more than the parlay, and most of the time a lot more. This past Wednesday, incredibly, it paid more than eight times the parlay even though two of the winners were favorites, and the bust-out horse was only 11-1.

Handle on the early pick four has been relatively light, ranging from $27,000 to $69,000, which is well off handle for the established late pick four, which has ranged from $114,000 to $263,000 during the same period.

The early pool may not be as deep, but the water is just as invigorating.

"The pick four is the most popular new bet in the last decade," said Bill Nader, New York Racing Association senior vice president. "This is an effort to make the front end of the betting menu a little more appealing. The pool size is never going to challenge the late pick four in volume, but any kind of a new placement like this requires some adjustment."

One reason for the pick four's purchasing power, no matter the pool size, is that even though the takeout is 25 percent it is spread out over four races, which effectively makes it 6 1/4 percent per race. That is less than half the New York Racing Association's 14-percent take on traditional win, place, and show wagers, which is the lowest in the nation.

A second, more compelling reason is that at least one of the four winners is likely to fall outside of most contender-selection methods, and most pick four bettors fail to consider that.

The key is to be prepared for the unpredictable, because, after all, chaos is a way of life around the racetrack. It can also be a lucrative life for pick four bettors who develop the knack for knowing where to take a stand and where to spread.

Consider the first pick four on Breeders' Cup Day, a sequence that included favorites Ashado ($6) and Sweet Catomine ($6.60) and virtual co-favorite Speightstown ($9.40). There was nothing terribly difficult about coming up with any of those three as legitimate contenders, and everyone knows the Mile is always a crapshoot. Singletary ($35), who looked as good as any of the American-based horses, fell into a perfect trip and wound up keying a pick four that paid $3,130, nearly twice the parlay of $1,628.

The problem most bettors have is they tend to play a certain way every time, using the most logical and obvious contenders in each leg regardless of what the individual races may look like. Unless you were a big Singletary fan, there wasn't much hope of hitting that pick four with a 3x3x3x3 ticket. But the same $81 stood a much better chance if a bettor was willing to stand alone in two legs, perhaps with favorites Ashado and Sweet Catomine, and spread out in the Mile and the Sprint. The same $81 that bought a total of only 12 horses in the 3x3x3x3 ticket could go 1x1x9x9 and cover 20 horses and give the bettor a real fighting chance in the two "chaos" races.

Betting strategy, you see, is just as important as the nuts-and-bolts handicapping when it comes to the pick four. There are myriad ways to construct a wager that reflects your opinion.

Imagination equals power equals value, sometimes tremendous value.

Consider the second pick four on Breeders' Cup Day, and imagine you were a Ghostzapper fan. Betting $100 to win at 5-2 would have returned $350, netting a $250 profit that might pay for dinner and tickets to a Broadway show. Maybe, if you don't include parking.

But suppose you also thought Ouija Board was a legitimate 4-5 shot. The same $100 investment might have started with a $1 pick four part-wheel of Ouija Board-all-all-Ghostzapper, or 1x8x8x1 for $64 to lock things up if Ghostzapper and Ouija Board won, with $36 left to "press" with more logical horses in the Juvenile and the Turf.

Sure, there will be times when the all-all portion catches two favorites and you feel like a chump. There are also times, however, when horses like Wilko and Better Talk Now light up the board, and a bettor who started out liking a 5-2 shot can collect half of a $46,791 windfall, which is about what a new, fully loaded Toyota Camry goes for these days.

Dinner and a movie, or a new car: That is the potential difference, and that is no exaggeration.

Beating the parlay

10/27$3.50, 12.40, 6.80, 90.50$20,704$3,338
10/283.50, 4.90, 7.90, 4.1011369
10/299.00, 3.20, 12.60, 23.001,9811,043
10/3127.60, 4.60, 9.80, 20.6011,3973,203
11/28.50, 10.20, 7.80, 3.40670287
11/46.70, 7.40, 8.90, 5.10403281
11/55.00, 3.70, 7.40, 8.20349140
11/610.20, 9.10, 55.00, 13.008,4378,295
11/73.40, 32.80, 12.40, 4.301,319743
11/104.10, 24.60, 7.20, 13.009,5921,180