Tackling the Pick-6 Wager

“… if you are wrong about the pace scenario, then that decision may cost you, but these are exactly the types of situations you need to find an edge.”

By Rich Nilsen

In 2004 I became part of the three-player team in the AmericaTAB Pick-6 Players’ Pool, responsible for wagering the group funds of the account wagering customers in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Pick Six.

The Players’ Pool was a creative concept: a new type of group syndicate, the first of its kind to pool the wagering funds (as little as $10) from the online wagering site’s members who chose to participate. It was a huge responsibility and not nearly as easy as it appeared at first glance.

Along with handicappers Brad Anderson and Ron Ruchtie, we successfully hit five out of six that year, only our loss coming when Euro invader Wilko upset the Juvenile. The five winners were the most in the Pick Six sequence, resulting in nearly a $200,000 profit for the group’s contributors.

Fast forward seven years and numerous attempts with the Players’ Pool syndicate. Over the years I captained a team that included some outstanding handicappers: Stanley Bavlish, Steve Wolfson, Jr., Tim Holland, Paul Shurman, Jeff Sotman, Dennis Tiernan, as well as the dynamic duo of Bryan and Judy Wagner.

We were fortunate enough to have several great scores including hitting a Hollywood Park Pick-6 six times, nailing the 2007 Kentucky Derby Pick-6 twice, and having two scores return over $400,000 each in 2010.

I’ve learned a lot during the timeframe. What to do. What not to do. What traps to avoid and so on.

Players' Pool 2007 Derby score

The Players’ Pool hit 2 of the 4 winning Pick-6 tickets in the country in 2007



Preparation & Funding

It goes without saying that the first thing a horseplayer should do is be prepared. If you don’t have the time or the resources to go after the Pick Six properly, then pass. Tomorrow’s carryover may be enticing, but there are always future opportunities. Don’t throw $124 into a ticket that you didn’t handicap thoroughly.

On that same premise, you are much better off pooling your money together with other players and going after the ticket with a “fighting” chance. In my opinion you should have at least $500 to work with. Anything less is going to make things very difficult on you, and the chances of having all six winners is miniscule.

When I worked at Brisnet.com we would occasionally pool money together in the office to go after a Pick Six carryover. Many years ago we put in about $500 for a six-figure Pick Six carryover at Saratoga. James Scully, editor for the Handicapper’s Edge, and I ended up hitting all six winners, beating the favorite in every leg of the sequence as well as hitting our $19 single in the feature event. The Pick Six returned around $20,000.*

*To this day I am convinced that this was one of the Pick Six’s that Chris Harn had swindled players on. If you don’t know who Harn is, google “chris harn pick six.”


Pace Scenarios

Finding a vulnerable favorite(s) is key with any Pick Six sequence. One way to do just that is to analyze the pace scenario for each and every race. Make note of how fast or slow you expect the pace to be, and which runners will be up on the early pace. After you do that, you should be able to identify the runners who will be helped or hindered by the expected pace scenario.

If the favorite is a one-run closer, or sustained type, and the pace figures to be moderate or slow, then you need to have the guts to throw that runner out. If you are wrong about the pace scenario, then that decision may cost you, but these are exactly the types of situations you need to find an edge.

Likewise, if the fractions figure to be honest or fast, and the favorite is a front runner, again take the stand against this horse.

You’re not going to nail a lucrative Pick Six payoff by including six favorites in your sequence. Don’t play the ticket that even Grandma Lulu would have.


Play The Percentages

Another scenario you will come across is the favorite or second choice that is conditioned by a trainer who rarely wins, or ridden by a low percentage jockey. If both circumstances are present, then the runner is an automatic toss from the tickets.

Same goes for post position. Is a low-priced horse breaking from the ten hole in a two-turn race? Toss.

Look for valid handicapping reasons to exclude low-priced horses from the ticket.


Don’t Fall for the Big Name Horse

Don’t assume that just because Uncle Mo is in the Pick Six sequence and he is 6/5 morning line, that he is a lock to win and turn the bet into an automatic “Pick Five” play. I have seen this type of big name runner lose many times on an important Pick Six day. Needless to say, beating a runner like this can result in a bonanza payoff.

“Uncle Mo” may be a legitimate favorite, but he may also be beatable. Go two or three deep in the race, instead of singling the horse everyone and their brother will be singling, based mostly on reputation. If you beat him, you have gained a tremendous advantage.

Handicap this race like you would any other, and you may just find a vulnerable odds-on favorite.


Structuring the Ticket

Obviously, how you are going to structure the Pick Six ticket(s) is going to depend an awful lot on how much funds you have to work with.

It is critical to spread in the right race – which is easier said than done, I know. Typically, this is going to be a race(s) that you simply don’t have a good opinion on. It should not be the full-field maiden turf race, just because it is a full-field maiden turf race. Everyone knows the types of races most likely to produce a longshot. It is certainly important to identify those races that typically are contentious, but you should only go deep in a race if you feel you need to.

With the type of funds we are talking about for the average player, one large partwheel is the best way to go. There is nothing wrong with having a few small “saver” tickets, covering combinations you don’t have on the large ticket, but the chances of hitting with the small partwheel tickets is very slim.

There are many sharp horseplayers out there who strongly believe you should break up your combinations into numerous, smaller partwheel tickets, emphasizing certain horses. I am not one of them. What is likely to happen is you have all the winners, but they are on different tickets. There is nothing more painful than thinking you could have had the Pick Six sequence if you had just played one larger ticket.

What follows is a hypothetical Pick Six structure, given we have $624 to work with after pooling some money together with friends.

L1) A, B, C, D

L2) A, B

L3) A, B, C

L4) A

L5) A, B, C, D, E, F

L6) A, B

Total $576

With the $48 we have left over, we use those funds to cover against a race we are uncomfortable with. In this case we’ve used the two horses we are most afraid of could defeat us in the last leg. If circumstances work out well, that could leave us alive to four horses in the final leg, instead of two.

L1) A, B

L2) A, B

L3) A

L4) A

L5) A, B, C

L6) C, D

Total $48


My final bit of advice is not to chase after a lot of Pick Six carryovers. Constantly going after these bets can cause a real drain on your wagering bankroll. Keep it in perspective, have fun, and may luck be on your side!

(reprinted from the January 2012 issue of The Horse Player Magazine)

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