Step-by-step: Building a Pick 4 ticket

July 6th, 2022

Of all the multi-race wagers in horse racing, the Pick 4 is among the most popular. It’s challenging enough to produce solid payoffs while remaining relatively budget-friendly for small bettors.

If you’re interesting in betting Pick 4 wagers, read on—our step-by-step guide to building Pick 4 tickets will help guide you through the process.

Step 1: Choose an appealing Pick 4 sequence

The Pick 4 isn’t quite as common as the Pick 3, but it’s typically offered multiple times per day at any given track, which means there are many Pick 4 sequences to choose from each day. How do you find a sequence worth betting?

The first step is to choose a Pick 4 that suits your handicapping strengths. Don’t just settle on betting the first Pick 4 you see on a wagering menu—look around for a sequence containing races you feel confident handicapping. Some bettors shine when handicapping stakes races, so waiting for a Saturday at a major track (when all-stakes Pick 4s are not infrequently offered) might be your best strategy. Other bettors are skilled at handicapping maiden races, so finding a Pick 4 containing a maiden race or two can be beneficial.

Step 2: Plan your strategy

The exact strategy you employ when betting a Pick 4 depends on how you view each leg of the sequence. You can use more than one horse per race, though doing so can quickly increase the cost (see below).

This is where strategy comes into play. Does one leg contain a horse you’re almost certain is going to win? This horse might make an excellent “single.” A single is when you use only one horse in a particular leg of a multi-race wager, which helps keep costs down. But of course, your single has to win in order for you to cash.

An alternate strategy pops up if there’s a heavy favorite you believe is vulnerable to an upset. If many bettors will be singling the heavy favorite, using a live longshot or two on your ticket can be a lucrative strategy. If one of your longshots wins (knocking out all the bettors who singled the favorite), you’re well on your way to cashing a big payoff.

Step 3: Calculate the cost

Calculating the cost of a Pick 4 ticket is easy—it’s nothing more than a simple math problem. All you have to do is multiply the number of horses you use in each leg of the Pick 4 by the cost of the bet.

Most Pick 4 wagers offer a 50-cent minimum bet amount, though you’ll occasionally encounter higher and lower minimums. If you want to bet two horses in each leg of a 50-cent Pick 4, the cost is 2x2x2x2x0.50, or $8.

But be careful when adding extra horses to your tickets, because the costs add up quickly. Use three horses in each leg of a 50-cent Pick 4, and the cost jumps to 3x3x3x3x0.50, or $40.50.

Step 4: Keep pool sizes in mind

When deciding how much to invest in a Pick 4, it’s important to keep the size of the betting pool in mind, because a Pick 4 can’t pay out more money than is in the pool. Even if you pick four winning 100-1 longshots in a row, if there’s only $500 in a Pick 4 pool after takeout, the most you can win is $500.

In contrast, a Pick 4 featuring a pool of $2 million theoretically has the potential to pay $2 million if you are the only bettor who assembles a winning ticket. This is unlikely, but splitting a large pool with a large handful of other bettors can be more lucrative than winning the entirety of a small pool.

On a related note, you can quickly calculate the difficulty of hitting a Pick 4 wager by running a multiplication problem involving the number of horses entered in each leg. If every Pick 4 race contains six entries, there are only 6x6x6x6 (1,296) possible outcomes. But if the four races contain 12 entries apiece, there are 12x12x12x12 (20,736) possible outcomes, increasing the likelihood of a lucrative payoff if you assemble the winning combination.

You’re all set now—good luck betting Pick 4s!