Step-by-step: How to bet a Pick 5

June 22nd, 2022

The Pick 5 is one of the most popular wagers in horse racing, and for many good reasons. If you’re wondering how to bet a Pick 5, we have you covered.

What is a Pick 5?

A Pick 5 is a multi-race wager requiring bettors to select the winners of five consecutive races. It’s easier to hit than the Pick 6 (which requires picking six straight winners), but the challenge is still hard enough to result in big payoffs.

Often (but not always), the Pick 5 features a low takeout rate and a 50-cent minimum bet amount, stamping it as a value-oriented and reasonably affordable wager.

Playing a Pick 5 is not without challenges, but our step-by-step guide can help lead you closer to winning tickets.

Step 1: Jackpot or traditional wager?

The first step is choosing the type of Pick 5 you wish to play. Some tracks offer jackpot-style Pick 5 wagers, which not infrequently advertise six-figure carryovers. But these eye-catching prize pools are usually only awarded on days when one bettor assembles a unique winning ticket.

Traditional Pick 5 wagers don’t toss up carryovers as often, but if you assemble a winning ticket, you’ll split the entire pool (plus any carryover) with all other winning bettors—no unique ticket necessary.

Step 2: Plan your strategy

There are many different ways to play the Pick 5. It’s not as simple as picking one horse in each race; you can actually use multiple horses in each leg of the Pick 5, increasing your chances of winning. That’s where strategy comes into play.

It’s helpful to start by finding a Pick 5 in which you hold a firm opinion or two. If you look at a sequence and think, “these races are absolutely inscrutable,” you might want to search for a different Pick 5. Some bettors prefer to identify a heavy favorite who seems like a sure winner and build tickets from there.

On the other hand, it can be advantageous to play against the grain of public opinion. If you think a heavy favorite is vulnerable to an upset, you can leave that favorite off your Pick 5 ticket and possibly cash a big payoff if you select a longshot winner while many other bettors go down with the losing favorite.

Step 3: Calculate ticket cost

Calculating the cost of a Pick 5 ticket isn’t hard. It’s simply a multiplication problem involving the number of horses you use in each leg and the amount of money you’re betting per ticket.

Let’s say you’re using two horses in each leg of a 50-cent Pick 5. The cost is less than you might think: 2x2x2x2x2x0.50, or $16. But the cost of a Pick 5 wager rapidly increases with every extra horse you include. Let’s say you want to use three horses in every race: now the cost is 3x3x3x3x3x0.50, or $121.50.

In order to keep costs under control, many bettors aim to build Pick 5 tickets around one or two “singles.” A single is when you use only one horse in a particular leg of a multi-race wager—perhaps a heavy favorite, as mentioned earlier. If the horse wins, terrific! You’ve saved a lot of money. But if the horse loses, so does your Pick 5 ticket, so choose your singles carefully.

Step 4: Consider pool sizes

It’s important to note you can’t win more money than is in a Pick 5 pool. If a high-profile Pick 5 features a pool of $750,000 after takeout, there’s at least a small chance your winning ticket could take down the whole $750,000 pool. But if there’s only $1,000 in the pool after takeout, the most you can win is $1,000, even if you pick five consecutive 50-1 winners.

As a result, you should plan the size of your investment to reflect the range of possible payoffs. Betting $250 into a $1,000 Pick 5 pool doesn’t offer much potential for a lucrative return on investment, but that same $250 outlay might be appropriate if you’re playing a million-dollar Pick 5 and have solid longshot opinions throughout the five-race sequence.

By keeping these four steps in mind, you’re well on your way to cashing enticing Pick 5 tickets. Good luck!