We now know who is entered in the Breeders' Cup. This is when things get serious. Here's the thing about people - they like getting rich. Or, more accurately, they like to dream about getting rich. That's why every year at the Breeders' Cup the pick six gets so much attention. Picking winners of six races in a row doesn't sound too hard, and the payoff is often hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Patiently and slowly growing your bankroll sounds like it's for suckers when you could make one big splash.
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For most bettors, though, the pick six is a bad idea. A really, really bad idea. It is expensive and takes more skill, patience and bankroll than most people have to offer. And you are very likely to lose. The pick four or the pick three is usually a much better fit for most bettors. Logic rarely is a driving force in big-event betting decisions, though, so if you are still determined to bet the pick six at least keep these four things in mind:
Winning is much harder than you think it is: It doesn't seem like a massive challenge, but when you actually think about the math you realize how hard it is to win this bet. If there were 10 horses per race then there would be 1,000,000 different possible combinations, and only one is the correct one. It is tougher than that, too - the five races other than the Classic in the pick six this year will almost certainly have more than 10 horses, and all could approach the maximum allowed. There is likely to be more like 4.6 million possible combinations to choose from, and only one that is correct. Those are very rough odds to overcome.
On top of that, these fields are deeper and more competitive than any other each year, so there are very few combinations you can completely and comfortably rule out. Last year was the third time since 2005 that not a single winning ticket was bought despite massive betting action. Three other times since 1999 there has been only one winning ticket - great news for that lucky soul, but rough for everyone else. Worse still, the times that it ends up being reasonably predictable it just doesn't pay much. In 2013 three major favorites came through, and none of the six races were big upsets. It was as winnable as a pick six could be. The problem was that a lot of people won it, so the payoff was less than $48,000 for a $2 bet. That sounds great until you consider both the risk of the bet, and the fact that most people bought many, many $2 tickets to wind up with one winner.
So, when it is winnable, the ROI is lousy, and when the ROI is great the chances of winning are microscopic. So, if you are going to bet the pick six, you have to know and understand what you are getting into. If you know what the challenges are and you are still up for it then go for it. Just don't fool yourself about it.
There is strength in numbers: Most times horseplayers prefer to bet for themselves - this is a solitary game, and people like it that way. In the pick six, though, working with friends is almost always the way to go. Because the minimum bet is $2 on the pick six, and because you need to cover many horses, you need to invest a whole lot of money to give yourself even a small chance of success. If, for example, you were going to bet $200 on the pick six you would wind up with just 100 combinations - only a small fraction of even the best possibilities. If you were to team up with four other guys looking to bet $200 on the pick six, though, then together you would be able to cover five times as many combinations. Sure, you only get a fifth of any winnings, but you have five times the chance of success. It's almost always worth it - especially at the Breeders' Cup when the payoffs can be huge. A smaller piece of a big pie is always more filling than a big piece of no pie.
Show some restraint: It would be very easy to get too enthusiastic, craft out the bet you want to make, and then realize that it is going to cost you your entire bankroll for the day. The pick six almost certainly isn't the best way to invest your money - and it can put a big hole in your day if you are out of it hours before the Classic even rolls along. If you are going to bet on the pick six, be sure that you are leaving money for other, better bets.
Look for a single - but only if there is one to find: Having a single horse in one of the six races can provide a massive cost savings. For example, if you were to pick four horses in all six races, a ticket would cost you $8,192. Just one single would reduce the cost to just $2,048 even with four horses in the other five races.
Here's the thing, though - the cost savings aren't worth it unless you are extremely confident that the single will be a winner. There is no sure thing in horse racing, and that is especially true in the Breeders' Cup. Bettors were reminded of that in large numbers last year when Shared Belief, the heavy Classic favorite and a very popular single, was beaten. Embrace a single if there is an obvious one, but if you have any doubt at all then don't do it. My gut instinct this year is that I don't see any kind of single at all on the card.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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