Pros and cons of multi-race wagering strategies

March 24th, 2020

Multi-race wagers, such as the Pick 3, Pick 4, and Pick 5, are some of the most popular bets in horse racing. Selecting a series of consecutive winners can produce lucrative payoffs and provide hours of entertainment.

Many handicappers structure their multi-race wagers around two basic strategies. One involves finding a vulnerable favorite to bet against, which increases the likelihood of cashing a big ticket. The other requires finding a standout runner who seems certain to win a leg of the sequence, which allows you to “single” that horse and cut costs.

Note: “Singling” a horse involves standing alone with one runner in any given leg of a multi-race wager, rather than including multiple horses to increase the likelihood of winning.

Which strategy you employ will vary, depending on the circumstances of the multi-race wager you’re betting, but each approach offers some general pros and cons.

Vulnerable favorite

Pros: If you can beat a favorite in a multi-race wager, you’re more likely to be rewarded with a hefty payoff. If everyone is playing a 6-5 favorite, but you think outside the box and successfully select a 6-1 upset winner, you’ll be poised to take home a large chunk of the money lost on the vulnerable favorite.

When Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was beaten in the 2015 Travers (G1), an otherwise logical Pick 3 that contained two winning favorites returned $219.50 for a $1 wager.

Cons: Finding a vulnerable favorite is one thing. Capitalizing on your opinion is another entirely. Unless you’re confident one specific horse will beat the favorite, you’ll likely have to spread deep and include multiple horses to ensure your ticket survives, and this can quickly increase the cost of your wager.

Short-priced single

Pros: The quickest way to cut costs when playing multi-race wagers is to find a single you can count on. Using only one horse in any given race will help prevent the price of your ticket from exponentially multiplying. Confidently singling a talented runner will also allow you to spread deeper in other legs of the sequence.

Cons: Standout runners who make reliable singles are usually short-priced favorites, whose merits are obvious even at a glance. You won’t be alone in singling such horses, which can depress the payoffs.

If a 3-5 favorite wins the first leg of a Pick 3, you can bet your return on investment will be modest, unless something truly unexpected happens in the remaining legs. When American Pharoah dominated the 2015 Haskell Invitational (G1) at 1-10, he completed a Pick 3 that paid just $9.50 for every $1 bet.

For more information about the nuances of playing multi-race wagers, check out our step-by-step guide to building a Pick 3 ticket.