Singling and Spreading
Simple strategies for getting started with multi-race wagering
Level: Intermediate
By Kevin Martin, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

In Letter to a New Horseplayer, Steven Crist provides an excellent primer on multi-race wagering. In this article, I talk about a way for a new player to start playing multi-race wagers on a modest bankroll and offer a few basic ideas on constructing multi-race tickets.

With the exception of the daily double and Pick 3, all multi-race wagers, when played right, require a fairly significant bankroll. In his outstanding book, Exotic Betting: How to Make the Multihorse, Multirace Bets that Win Racing’s Biggest Payoffs, Crist makes the following suggestions on how to allocate bankroll for multi-race bets. He writes: “Playing the Pick 4 with inadequate bankroll is worse than never playing the bet at all,” and that he bets a minimum of $100 when he plays the Pick 4.

If Crist’s minimum bankrolls for the Pick 4 and Pick 6 are a bit intimidating as a new player, don’t fret. The Pick 6 and Pick 4 require a decent size investment and might not be the best way for a new player to learn how to play a multi-race wager. The Pick 3, however, can be hit with a reasonable investment and is a great way for someone new to the game to understand the basic principles behind building multi-race tickets and allocating bankroll.

One of the most important concepts when you consider playing the Pick 3, or any multi-race wager, is ticket construction. There are many strategies for constructing a multi-race wager, but one of the most basic strategies is deciding where to “single” and where to “spread.” A “single” is where you select only one horse in any given race during a sequence. Selecting a solid “single” gives you opportunities to “spread” in other races. In a race where you “spread,” you identify multiple horses that you think have a chance to win. The number of horses you pick is limited by both bankroll (how much you want to invest in the bet) and by how many horses you actually think have a chance to win.

If you identify a single in a three race sequence, you could pick up to five or six horses in the other two races and still keep your ticket affordable. A $1 ticket constructed as 1x5x6 (one horse in the first leg of the sequence, five horses in the second, and six horses in the third) would cost $30.

A good example where the single and spread method worked well was on Florida Derby day 2010. The Pick 3 sequence that covered the three graded stakes ending with the Florida Derby paid $365 for $1. The sequence included D’Funnybone — an odds-on-favorite — who looked like a sure winner in the second leg of the sequence. The winners surrounding D’Funnybone were the 20/1 Ice Box in the Florida Derby and the 6/1 Society’s Chairman. These big odds winners were the reason for the large payout. Even so, this was a sequence that was very “have-able” with a $30 investment by singling the heavily favored D’Funnybone.

If the other favorites had won the other two legs with D’Funnybone, you might not have made back your $30 investment. When you play the bet by singling a heavy favorite, you are counting on chaos in at least one of the legs to inflate the payout if your short-priced single wins. If all three, or two of the three, races in the sequence look as if they will be won by short-priced favorites, it probably makes sense to find another sequence to play.

The concept of “singling” and “spreading” is important to understand before you start playing multi-race wagers. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention a thing about what horses to pick, only how to construct a ticket. With multi-race wagers, picking winners is just half the battle; how you are going to build you ticket can be just as challenging.

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  • It’s a nice thing that the Kentucky tracks are now letting you bet the P3 and P4 in $0.50 increments. Really makes more choices available to you.

  • Hey Ian: No doubt — thanks for pointing that out! .50 pick 3s and 4s are great. This is another thing that someone new to the wager should consider. It would be great to see more tracks adopt .50 minimums on these bets. Kevin

  • Kevin and Ian,

    Amen to the lower minimum bet for pick 3’s. It gives small players a chance to participate more consistently and hit it big from time to time.

    Last weekend @ Kee was a prime example. If someone isolated FOREVER TOGETHER as vulnerable in her first start this year and found WASTED TEARS compelling/lone speed, singling her while hitting “all” in the Commonwealth (five horses) and “all” in the Blue Grass (nine horses) and spending the minimum $.50 would have cost just $22.50 for a return of $1,145.75. Using her as a single one race earlier, starting with the Shakertown for a (6 x 5 x 1 x $.50) = $15.00 would have returned a tidy $108.40 but was a neck from returning more. The sum for those two bets is less than one $40 win wager on WASTED TEARS which would have returned a nice $232.00, but pales in comparison to a $1,254.15 windfall.

    For fans of FOREVER TOGETHER, the same wagering structure could have been used only on the race 7 to race 9 sequence trying to get a much higher rate of return than the 9-5 she was on the board. The $13.20 mutual in front and the $82.20 bomber behind certainly would have created a nice gross if the former champion could have made up the 1/2 length.

    As you said, basic win handicapping with a more creative wagering strategy in the right sequences (with a little luck) can really beef up returns on solid opinions.

    Great article!

  • I have a multi-horse, multi-race question. Is there a website or software that can produce a list of the possible combinations for a spread bet on a Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5, and Pick 6. For example, If I were to play 3 horses in each race of a Pick 6 and was lucky enough to hit the winner in each race I would also be eligible for numerous 5 out of 6 consolation payoffs as well. I’d like to be able to figure out how many consolation winners I would have. Thanks, Alan Seidel

  • Great question Alan. DRF’s Ticketmaker is the first thing that came to mind and judging by this passage in their User Guide it seems as though they may have what you’re looking for:

    “The final page of the TicketMaker screen is the “Tracking Performance” section. Here, you can enter the winning horse numbers in each leg of your wager and TicketMaker will give you an update on the number of live tickets you have remaining.”

    It sounds like this would include conso tickets but if you do check it out please let us know if that’s the case. Thanks for stopping by!

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