This was originally printed in Trot Magazine's Horseplayer Issue.
The pick 5 is a racing staple with almost every track trying to take advantage of its popularity. But, as players, can we honestly say we play them correctly?
One player who does play them well is “Bettor X”; he’s someone who has been playing professionally for 30 plus years. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for the Horseplayer’s Issue.
Q: All pick 5’s are not the same. What do you look for in a sequence that makes you want to play or pass? How important are these decisions to your yearly bottom line?
The things that entice me to look at a sequence are carryovers and/or low takeout. Once I look at a sequence, I need to see legs where others might make mistakes and I can have a reasonable chance to capitalize on those mistakes. If I can’t find those mistakes or I don’t think they are big enough to capitalize on then I have no problem passing. Forcing plays in multi-leg wagers is long term destruction.
Q: Amateur or newer players tend to gravitate to “spreading” (adding a lot of combinations) especially with 20 cent or 50 cent denominations. Can you explain why this might not be a good strategy?
While most people think lower denominations and spreading to cash tickets is good for new players, I think it’s the exact opposite. It grinds them down quicker with no real chance of winning. And it dilutes their chance of winning something that matters, or getting the thrill of being alive for a score which will keep them coming back or getting excited about getting better at betting. Most spreads are chalky or include chalk so that eliminates a lot of chances to gain equity in a sequence which is crucial in giving yourself a chance to win and showing long-term profit.
20 cent minimums lessen the value of longshots and increases the value of chalk, whereas dollar minimums do the exact opposite. So, when structuring your tickets, you need to take this dynamic into account. Singling chalk in spread races is great in 20 cent minimums. Just like spreading to beat chalk when everybody is keying chalk with $1 minimums is great.
Q: So, one simple way to create better tickets is to find horses to lean on in spread races. Are there any other hard-and-fast rules you can expand upon that will help players make more money in the long-run?
There are so many variables when playing tickets that hard and fast rules are difficult. The only rule that you should always abide by is: Don’t be afraid to lose. If amateur players just follow that one rule, it will keep them from making numerous bad decisions that most players make.
Q: Batch bettors and sharper players gravitate to larger pool tracks. I know you often look at some less popular signals. Do you play tickets differently based on pool size and competition?
Yes, you definitely have to play different, whether its strategies, amounts or other things, when you play big tracks or pools vs smaller tracks or pools. Bad morning lines are better to attack at smaller tracks than bigger tracks. Trying to beat popular drivers and trainers is much more lucrative at smaller tracks than bigger tracks. Playing larger denomination (narrow) combos on chalk is much better at big tracks. There are many differences, you just need examine payouts (and money alive each leg if available) to figure out what occurs at each specific venue.
Q: We all know carryovers are a takeout reduction and drive a lot of new money because of it. Are all carryover pick 5’s playable or are there instances where you will take a pass?
If you don’t like the sequence or don’t have an edge (or a clue) then don’t play.
Q: For harness racing, with its high favourite hit rate, do you believe one dollar minimums on pick 4’s and 5’s would help the sport grow its handle in the long-run?
Yes. One dollar minimums would grow handle with harness racing being so chalky. As I noted above, lower minimums can make sequences unplayable unless you play certain types of strategies. You need to include all groups of bettors in the pools to grow handle. Lower minimums grind the small guys down and keep a lot of bigger bettors out of the pools so it’s very tough to grow handle in the long-term.