07/19/2001 12:00AM

Pick six too rich? Give the pick four a try

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The addition of a $1 pick four to the Del Mar wagering menu fills the last gap, and establishes the wager as a year-round proposition at the three major tracks in Southern California.

Interest in the pick four has gradually increased since it was introduced on a regular basis during the 2000 fall meet at Hollywood Park. The bet accounted for scarcely 1 percent of total handle at infancy, but typical pick four handle this summer at Hollywood increased to 1.5 percent of total handle. (In comparison, pick six handle typically accounts for 2.4 percent on non-carryover days.)

Less than a year into the rotation, the pick four has become the exotic wager of choice for many. Originally billed as a safety net for pick six bettors, the pick four instead has emerged on its own. The acceptance is understandable, for the pick four is the best reasonable alternative to the pick six.

Whereas extended losing streaks are inherent in all serial-type wagers, few horseplayers are able to absorb the prolonged dry spells of regular pick six wagering. Handicapping author Barry Meadow, in his book "Money Secrets at the Racetrack," illustrates the difficulty of hitting the pick six. He demonstrates with a $288 pick six ticket (1x1x3x3x4x4) that he says has only an 11 percent chance of hitting.

In the $288 example, Meadow estimated a pick six bettor can expect a winner 50 percent of the time in the first singled race and 60 percent of the time in the second singled race, 70 and 80 percent in the races with three runners, and 77 and 85 percent in the races with four runners. Multiply them together, and it shows the difficulty of the wager. It would hit at 11 percent (.50 x .60 x .70 x .80 x .77 x .85 = .11), and lose eight out of nine times.

Investing the right amount

The cost of the pick six is one reason why the pick four makes sense to more bettors. Unlike the pick six, the cost of hitting the pick four is within reach for most. The question is determining a proper daily amount to invest. This depends on individual goals.

Based on extrapolation of pick three payoffs last summer, expectations at Del Mar this summer are for half the pick four payoffs to exceed $1,000. It is a reasonable objective for bettors who are adequately invested. A $32 play (1x2x4x4) every day of the meet, however, probably will not get it done. The next example shows why.

Assume a short-price single has a 40 percent chance of winning, and that a bettor has a 50 percent chance of success (using multiple runners) in three other legs. The likelihood of success for this pick four ticket is 5 percent (.40 x .50 x .50 x .50 = .05). A bettor may realistically expect to win two pick fours during the course of Del Mar's 43-day meet, with little hope of profitability. The total amount wagered would be $1,376, but it is unlikely either winning ticket would reach half that amount.

The problem with a play constructed around a heavily favored single is that the potential for a score is significantly reduced. When everyone has the same single, payoffs necessarily plummet. Without a longshot winner in one or more of the other legs, the $32 ticket has little chance of reaching the expected $1,000 median. A more effective strategy might be to play a bigger ticket, once every three days.

Takes money to make money

Daily pick four bettors gunning for the $1,000 median should be willing to invest $100. The amount allows for creative handicapping, and decreases the duration of inevitable losing streaks. It also gives bettors an opportunity to beat the most popular single, when appropriate. The numbers make sense, and the next example shows how a $100 play (2x2x5x5) every day of the meet might get the job done.

Assume a 40 percent chance of success in the first leg with two horses, and a 50 percent chance in the next leg that is doubled. A bettor should hit at least 60 percent and 70 percent in the two legs with five runners each. The likelihood of success for this pick four ticket is 8 percent (.40 x .50 x .60 x .70 = .084).

Realistically, a $100 pick four bettor can expect success three or four times during Del Mar's 43-day meet. The total amount wagered would be $4,300. To achieve profitability, a bettor must land one or two (depending on size) four-figure payoffs. The goal is attainable.

By using at least two runners in every leg of the pick four, a bettor has a genuine chance to knock off everyone's single and position himself for a major score. Of course, there are multiple strategies for investing $100 in the pick four, to be addressed later.

Opening-day handle on Del Mar's inaugural pick four Wednesday was $157,344, or 1.2 percent of total handle. While the payoff was only $98, the series consisted of three favorites (one odds-on) and one second choice.

What will happen when the favorites get beat in the pick four? That's easy. It will be bombs away.