06/20/2012 4:11PM

Pandolfo: To turn a profit playing pick four, you need some longshots

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In my duties for the United States Trotting Association website (www.ustrotting.com) I have been providing  pick four plays for the Meadowlands. During the first meet for 2012 I played small tickets averaging less than $20 a play and didn’t hit a single ticket. I came within a nose of hitting one for several thousand, but ultimately lost more than  $600. I knew it was going to be tough with the smaller tickets. But last year I showed a profit on the USTA pick fours and I only bet small tickets. However, that was at several different tracks, including half-mile tracks. At the Meadowlands it’s not that easy.

For the championship meet I decided to go with larger tickets and I have played a lot of $72 tickets. So far this meet I have hit the pick four four times and have a profit of $61. Unfortunately, every time I hit the pick four  the obvious horses won, so the highest payout for $1 was $238. Every time my longshots won I had three out of four. That’s the way it goes sometimes, you grind it out and wait for the big one.  If you play the pick four, you’re most likely in it for the long haul and hoping for the big score at some point. And it’s nice to hit a few smaller ones to keep the bankroll intact.

That being said, if the pick four  looks predictable I’m probably not interested. Even though I’m using some of the favorites and second choices, I’m also including longshots, so I want to play when it looks like there are a few vulnerable favorites.

That’s really what it boils down to; you need to hit one that pays big. Naturally, it helps if you’re good at spotting potentially live longshots. Playing 72 one-dollar tickets not only gives me a better chance of hitting, but it also gives me a better chance of getting lucky.

Many longshot winners benefit when something unforeseen happens. For instance, a heavy favorite that a lot of bettors are using breaks stride. When you play more combinations, you put yourself in a position to get lucky.

I’ve always advocated playing larger tickets in the $100 to $200 range in the pick four. Of course it depends on the track. Some of the half-mile tracks are chalky and you can hit quite a few pick fours with tickets that cost less than $50.  But if you’re playing the pick four  at Balmoral or the Meadowlands, it makes sense to go for the big score with a bigger bet.

Sometimes I wonder what the optimum number is for a particular track. I guess it depends partly on your handicapping skills.  I wonder how much I would need to bet on average to get the highest possible return over the long run.

I was thinking that a good experiment would be to create three different tickets. For instance, say I wanted to test Balmoral and the Meadowlands. Both tracks have good-sized pick four  pools and potentially generous payoffs. I could design three tickets for each pick four, a $75 to $100 ticket, a $100 to $200 ticket, and a $200 to $300 ticket. With the medium ticket I could play some for $2, or more, instead of just $1, and with the largest ticket, I could play several combinations for $2 or more, this way I wouldn’t always be hitting for the minimum. This would be a good test to see which size wager offers the highest return on investment.  My guess is that the most expensive ticket would offer the highest ROI because with more combinations I could potentially benefit from chaos (breakers, rough trips, etc.) and hit a big payoff. And, I would also have more tickets higher than the $1 range so when I do hit I would have a chance to get a better return even when the pick four payoff is in the 100-1 to 200-1 range.

I approach the pick three the same way as the pick four. I prefer to bet it when I feel that I’ve found a race or two where I don’t think the favorite will win, and I have a good feeling about a longshot, or even two or three longshots.

Because the pick three involves one fewer leg, you have the opportunity to double up your wagers for certain combinations. If you have a feeling that the chalk is vulnerable in two of the legs, spread the additional money out on the higher priced horses instead of a hedge on the obvious choices.

Many people pick out a favorite to use as a single, but at a track like Balmoral or the Meadowlands, your single is probably going to lose 65 percent  of the time. But using several horses in each leg we have a good chance of hitting the pick three. And by hedging on the lower priced combinations, and including a few live longshots, we have a chance to make a profit, or potentially hit a big payoff.

I’ve found that when betting these types of exotic wagers, the smaller payoffs only help to keep me in action. At the end of the year, if I have a profit on a particular type of wager, it’s because somewhere along the way I hit a few big ones. In my opinion, without a few big scores, it’s hard to grind out a profit.

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories, check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Rd, Northampton, PA. 18067.