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How Do I Bet A Pick 4 In Horse Racing?

by Vance Hanson

In the last couple of decades, the Pick 4 has evolved into one of the most popular exotic wagers in horse racing. More challenging than a Double or Pick 3 but less capital intensive than a Pick 6, it’s the sort of “middle ground” wager that horseplayers on all types of budgets have embraced and readily participate in.

While accurate handicapping is obviously the main component to cashing on the wager, properly structuring a Pick 4 ticket is just as important. Covering too many combinations increases your outlay while unnecessarily decreasing your profit margin. Using too many favorites or other short-priced horses may also have a detrimental effect on your bottom line, especially if said favorites dominate the Pick 4 sequence and the payoff winds up less than the amount invested.

While Pick 4 pools are largest at the most popular tracks, almost every track in the country offers the wager. Participating in the biggest pools will be the most intriguing option for a majority of players, but can have its drawbacks. Outsmarting the game’s sharpest handicappers and bettors in these pools can be difficult, and there’s no guarantee the Pick 4 sequence(s) on offer will result in big payoffs despite the generally large field sizes.

Betting the Pick 4 at mid-level or small tracks, on the other hand, might have its advantages. Though the pools are smaller, that also means you’re betting against a presumably less-sophisticated group of players.

The best Pick 4 sequence on which to invest, regardless of whether it’s held at a major, mid-level or small track, is one where a handicapper can beat one or more favorites and, hopefully, can single a horse in one or more legs while having the ability to spread out in more contentious races. The ability to single a horse in one or more legs will keep the cost of the wager down, thus freeing up funds to expand coverage in more wide-open races.

An even better sequence is one in which a Pick 4 bettor can beat a short-priced favorite in the first leg. Being the only leg in the sequence in which bettors can see the actual win odds, beating the first favorite almost always creates an overlay price on the Pick 4 payoff regardless of how the rest of the sequence turns out.

When betting the Pick 4 or any multi-race wager, it’s best to make the wager at the minimum betting unit. In the Pick 4’s case, that’s usually $1 (and perhaps 50 cents in some places). It’s certainly okay to play your ticket more than once if you want to potentially hold multiple winning tickets, but by betting at the minimum unit you can attempt to shield your winnings from any IRS withholding.

Under current rules, the IRS taxes your race winnings at 300-1 odds or higher for a $2 bet. By making a Pick 4 wager at, say, a $1 minimum, the IRS won’t begin withholding unless the winnings are at 600-1 or higher.