Pick 4 Strategy: Betting on a Limited Bankroll

(Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

In playing a sequence or horizontal exotic wager, the size of your bankroll can definitely impact your betting strategy.

As much as you might want to hit the “All” button and wheel the field in a large and confusing race, adding 12 horses to your ticket can easily push the cost of it out of your price range.

So what should you do?

Sometimes sorting between apples and oranges can help you to reap some of the advantages of the more imposing “All’ button and open the door for a huge payout.

What this means is going outside the box to find a few horses that do not fit into your normal handicapping philosophy but offer a plausible reason for winning at long odds.

Let’s take a Pick 4 as an example and figure that you base your handicapping on an element such as speed figures, pace, trip handicapping, class or a combination of some or all of them.

We’ll use the June 25 late Pick 4 at Belmont Park as our model.

If you liked three horses in each race, that 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 ticket at 50 cents would cost a reasonable $40.50. Yet you are leery about the last race in the sequence, a competitive $40,000 maiden claimer on turf for New York-breds.

It’s a field of 11 and you have a feeling something chaotic could happen, but if you hit the “All” button to remove all of the doubt from the race, the cost of the ticket jumps to $148.50, which is too rich for your blood.

Instead, should you add your fourth and fifth choices? Perhaps. Yet a better move would involve adding a few “oranges” to your “apples” to mirror some of the benefits of the “All” button. In this case that would be horses who are on one hand are a reach to win the race before the starting gates open, but afterwards, once they prevail at long odds, you can understand why there was a form reversal.

In the case of this turf race, this “X” factor in the race was somewhat simple. Of the 11 starters, three of them had never started on turf before. While you could compare the races on turf of the eight “apples” in the race and establishing a pecking order for them, with three “oranges” – one of whom was a first-time starter - there was no sure way of determining how they would handle the new surface. They could love it, or flounder on it.

Best of all the odds on the trio made it worth the money it added to the ticket.

The three horses were Colonel Andy at 32-1, Let It Go Phil at 20-1 and Lucky Town at 36-1, and while they made it a 3 x 3 x 3 x 6 ticket for $81 (for 50-cent bets), by doubling your investment you added coverage with horses that usually would be included in a wheel at a savings of $67.50 from hitting the “All” button.

Another option would be dropping one of the horses in the race where you have the most confidence in your top pick and that 2 x 3 x 3 x 6 ticket would only cost $54.

Looking at how the sequence turned out, if you backed 3-5 favorite Captain Moss ($3.20), stumbled onto 17-1 Ready Dancer ($37.20), perhaps by singling Captain Moss and correctly finding an orange in a 17-1 shot trained by all-time earnings leader Todd Pletcher, added second choice By the Moon ($6.20), you now had six ways to collect on a hefty Pick 4.

That six-pack wound up including the longshot winner in Lucky Town ($74.50), who found his calling on turf in posting a half-length victory.

In this instance, the reward for being creative and including some seemingly improbable contenders, was a 50-cent ticket worth a delicious $3,553.55 – even though you didn’t wheel a race.

While a first-time starter or horse trying turf for the first time are obvious “oranges,” other options, depending on the odds, include a horse turning back to a sprint or stretching out to a route, a runner with a positive jockey switch or making its first start for a top trainer, or one that either adds or sheds blinkers, or who is making its first start since being gelded. Any of these angles – and there are lots more to ponder – can give you some of the benefits of hitting the “All” button or wheeling the field while lessening the strain on your wallet.

And if you pick the right horse, the fruits of your labor will no doubt put much more than an apple or orange on your dinner plate. How does surf and turf, with a bottle of champagne to wash it down, sound?

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