• Pondering the Pick-3

    POSTED Mar 22, 2012
    It is among the most popular, yet least understood bets offered at North American racetracks. Of course, I’m referring to the pick-3, a wager that requires one to correctly predict the winner of three designated races.

    At one time, these races were always run consecutively, at one track. But the bet has proved so popular it has been expanded to include races at other tracks as well. The NTRA Pick-3, for example, is generally comprised of the best stakes races from around the country (on the rare days that it is offered).

    But how many people really know how to play the pick-3 effectively? When I asked my Facebook friends for leads to research on the subject, most of the answers I received were… well, let’s just say that my Facebook friends apparently hate research… or me… or both.

    One of the gems I received was a link to an author (he shall remain nameless), who had this to say: “… it is a good idea to play the three longest shots in a race. When you hit, you get some money back.”

    I quit reading at that point, so I have no idea what this guy’s strategy for playing the pick-3 entailed, but my guess is it involved darts and a track program or possibly an 8-Ball — magic or otherwise.

    The sad truth is many otherwise thoroughly capable and logical bettors approach the pick-3 like it’s a lottery. The concept of value becomes vague and uncertain, sort of like the management team of the New York Jets.

    Hence, in an attempt to shed some light on Pick-3 wagering strategies that make dollars and sense, I studied the race results from four major tracks — Aqueduct, Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita and Turfway Park — on Saturday, March 17, 2012.



    (Click on image to enlarge)

    First, some background on the table above: In doing some additional studies on pick-3 wagering using my Win Factor Report (computerized fair odds line), I discovered a simple, yet effective means of determining potential value in a sequence leg.

    By adding the morning line odds rankings of my top 2-3 contenders, I found that I could tell at a glance which races were likely to offer value and which were not.

    There are two reasons I prefer the morning line odds rankings as opposed to the morning line odds themselves:
    1) The quality and construction of morning line odds vary; a ranking gets rid of the phony differences between lines with varying sums, e.g. 115-percent lines, 120-percent lines, 130-percent lines (in Southern California), etc.

    2) Rankings, by their very nature, take field size into account. After all, a horse can’t be ranked seventh in a six-horse field, but it can be the same odds in a five-horse field as it is in a 10-horse field.
    Now, let’s take a closer look at the table. Notice that as the sum of the morning line odds rankings of each winner in the sequence increased, so too did the pick-3 payoff.



    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Obviously, this is after the fact, but it is still enlightening. Using my Win Factor Report, I found that if my top two contenders had a combined morning line odds ranking of 10 or greater or if my top three contenders had a total morning line odds ranking of 15 or greater, the race generally presented great pick-3 or even daily double possibilities.

    Readers are encouraged to set their own standards based on their individual handicapping proficiencies and deficiencies.

    Another simple technique that bettors can use to determine which tracks offer the most pick-3 value is to compare the hypothetical results of three-horse win parlays to the actual pick-3 payoffs. By dividing the average of these pick-3/parlay ratios by the expected (based on takeout rates) ratio, players will instantly see which tracks offer better-than-fair value in the pick-3.

    At least on Saturday, Aqueduct (37.9 percent higher payoffs than expected) was the place to be for better-than-usual pick-3 profits, whereas Gulfstream Park (-5.8 percent) was a pick-3 player’s nightmare.

    To learn more about rating the pick-3 prowess of various tracks, be sure to listen to this week’s TwinSpires’ “Simon Says Racing Podcast.”

    In the meantime, start hunting for Pick-3’s that offer value. Save the guessing for the lottery.

    Free Weekend Win Factor Reports

    03/24/12 Aqueduct Win Factor Report
    03/24/12 Beulah Park Win Factor Report
    03/24/12 Flamboro Downs Win Factor Report
    03/24/12 Freehold Raceway Win Factor Report
    03/24/12 Hawthorne Win Factor Report
    03/24/12 Turfway Park Win Factor Report
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