How to Put Together a Pick 3

A racing fan studies the program in this file photo. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Hitting an exotic sequence wager such as a Pick 3 takes a strong mix of solid handicapping and wise betting strategy.

Simply picking the winners of three straight races isn’t enough to guarantee a healthy profit. It’s how you construct your ticket that will determine whether you actually walk away with some cash and how large of a profit you rake in.

In general, it’s best to play all of your combinations, but that can be costly.

Let’s say you like four horses in one race, five in another and four in the third and final race.

Buying $1 tickets under that scenario, the math becomes 4 x 5 x 4 which adds up to $80 and means you need an $81 payoff for a mere $1 profit. While that $80 could easily unlock a payoff of $1,000 or more if there are three competitive races with large fields, it can also amount to a big risk for a relatively small payoff if three odds-on favorites prevail.

In those instances where there’s a standout favorite or two, many handicappers might single that horse, which means that it is the only horse they will use in that race.

Using the above example, by singling one horse in the middle leg, the math becomes 4 x 1 x 4 which adds up to a very reasonable $16 investment and gives you ample coverage in the other two races. With such a small investment, there’s also room to add extra tickets on some of the combinations at a minimal cost. You could use the singled horse with your top two picks in the other two races and you would only be adding $4 to your wager (2 x 1 x 2) and you would now have $2 of coverage on four of the combinations.

As a backup plan, to cover the possibility of your singled horse losing, you could take two other horses in that race, use them with your top two picks in the first and third races and protect your investment for an extra $8 (2 x 2 x 2).

Under that plan, you would cover 11 horses instead of the 13 in the 4 x 5 x 4 ticket, but your investment would drop from $80 to $28 and you would have several $2 tickets, which would double your payoff.

The same type of strategy can come into play when deciding whether to cover all your bases or key on horses to increase your winnings.

In this scenario, let’s say you like three horses in each of three races. A comprehensive 3 x 3 x 3 $1 ticket would cost $27.

Yet for the same $27 you could also double or triple your winnings by placing more faith in your top picks.

Instead of covering all nine horses in the three races, you would need to focus on your top pick in each race. If your top three picks in terms of preference are horses A, B, C, then the first ticket would be A in the first race with A,B,C in the next race and A,B,C in the final race for $9 (1 x 3 x 3). The next would be A,B,C with A with A,B,C for another $9 and then A,B,C with A,B,C with A for $9 more.

That adds up to the same $27, but if two of your “A” horses win, you could have $2 in winning tickets, and if all three A’s win, you would have $3 in tickets to cash. Figuring the payoff at $100 for $1, that strategy could net you $200 or $300, depending on how sharp your handicapping skills are.

Of course, the flip side of that wager is that if three “B” horses win, you have nothing more than three losing $9 tickets as opposed to a winning $1 ticket with the 3 x 3 x 3 method.

And that’s where strategy comes in. In a wager such as the Pick 3, picking winners is fabulous, but using them correctly in your betting is what will make that wager memorable and more profitable.

Note: This article was originally published in April 2016.

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