The pick six at the Breeders' Cup is very tempting every year. The betting pools are bloated, and the payoffs can be huge. Last year a $2 winning ticket paid more than $94,000, and that was even with everyone on the planet knowing that American Pharoah was going to win the Classic. Other years the payoff can be many times that. You can make a life-changing score, and all you have to do is pick six winners in a row. How hard can that be? Pretty hard, as it turns out. So hard, in fact, that it isn't a bet that makes sense for most casual bettors - or even most semi-serious ones. Because there are so many races involved, the number of combinations you need to bet is high, and the cost of tickets gets very high because each combination costs $2.
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So, the pick six is a bad idea - or at least a much worse idea than the pick three or the pick four in most cases. Sometimes you have to do things even when you know that logically they don't make any sense - that's why the Browns still have fans. If you are going to approach the pick six then, at the very least, keep these four things in mind:
Winning is really hard: if there were eight horses in each race then there would be 262,144 possible unique pick six tickets. Only one would be correct. You don't need to be Einstein to be able to calculate that you have a 1 in 262,144 chance of success. That's pretty harsh. Of course, there are rarely just eight horses at the Breeders' Cup. Field sizes max out at 14 horses, and we often see that many. With 14 horses in each race, the possible combinations leap to 7,529,536. Now, there are obviously some combinations that are less likely than others. At the Breeders' Cup, though, the fields are much deeper than we normally see, and even the worst horse in any field would be the best horse on many a typical race day.
It's very tough to be right. So tough, in fact, that three times between 2005 and 2014 there wasn't a single winning ticket sold. Just think about that for a second - most of the best horseplayers in the world bet on the Breeders' Cup, and not one of them got the right combination. It's not like they are just buying one ticket, either. They have the bankrolls to buy hundreds or even thousands of combinations. If they couldn't get it right then you need to be realistic about what your chances are. You don't need to be scared off, but you need to know that you are buying a lottery ticket, not a 401k.
Sometimes it turns out to be much more winnable, but that creates issues of its own. In 2013, for example, three chalk favorites came in, and the other three races were fairly straightforward as well. It was very winnable. So winnable, in fact, that it only paid $48,000 for a winning ticket. That's nothing to scoff at, but given the risk and the likely investment it didn't make for a particularly attractive investment.
The more the merrier: If you are going to bet the pick six then you really need to commit to betting it. If you are betting just a few dollars that means you are only betting a couple of combinations. You might as well be throwing darts in a hurricane. You need to be covering a whole lot of combinations to make it worthwhile - two or three horses per race at least, and often more. Even a relatively conservative ticket that includes three horses per race, though, involves 729 combinations, which means a cost of $1,458. That's a lot of money for most bettors, which means that it is also a lot of risk - likely more than the bet warrants. One good way to mitigate that risk while still having some fun is to team up with others. If five guys put in the same amount - say a couple of hundred dollars - then you can get a pretty deep ticket for a reasonable price. You only get a fifth of the final payout, but a little bit of a winning ticket is better than a lot of a losing ticket.
Don't go crazy: The flip side to the last point is that you don't want to spend more on this bet than you can afford to lose without an afterthought. If your bankroll is tight but you still want to take a shot at a big payout then your money can go much further in other pools - the pick three or pick four, or the superfecta. They don't pay quite as much, but they don't cost nearly as much, either.
Look for a single - if there is one to find: One sure way to lower the cost on a pick six ticket is to find a single - a race in which you are only betting on one horse to win. It dramatically lowers the cost of a ticket. For example, that example with three horses in each race created a ticket costing $1,458. Including just one single in that example, and including three horses in the other five races, drops the cost of the ticket all the way to $486. You don't want to force a single if there isn't one there, though, because you have no safety net. Last year American Pharoah was singled on a whole lot of tickets. This year California Chrome will be a frequent single in the Classic. Others might single Tepin in the Mile, though that was much more comfortable of an idea before she was flat last time out. On the other hand, if you can find a single in the opening race of the pick six this year, the Turf Sprint, then you are much better at this than me. Frankly, I'm not sure how I'll narrow it down beyond five or six in that race.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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