Harness Handicapping: A Pick 3 Strategy

Profile Picture: Eb Netr

Eb Netr

May 15th, 2013

One the the biggest complaints against harness racing is the perceived low payoffs. True, a lot of the winners pay less than $4. On the other hand, look at almost any harness card and you'll see two digit and - sometimes - even three digit winners. Unfortunately, you have to be a pretty good handicapper to catch one of these high priced winners. On the other hand, you don't have to hit one on every program to make money.

If you're the type of bettor who only plays win bets, this is something you need to consider. If you're only betting favorites, even if you hit often, you could lose money over the long haul. When horses are paying less than double your money to win, you only have to miss a couple to get behind. If you bet place or show on favorites or even lower priced horses... Well, don't even go there.

This is why most of the high rollers at harness tracks play the exotics. One big trifecta, super or Pick 5 or 6 can make your bankroll for the month - or the year in the case of a Pick 5 or 6. That assumes, of course, that you're a good enough handicapper to put together an exotic bet that will pay much more than the cost of the ticket. In order to do that, I think you need at least two horses to anchor a trifecta and no more than two or three horses in each race of a Pick 5 or 6.

I'm not a big exotics player, although I do play exactas and a couple of trifectas if I have some solid plays in a race. I also play Pick 3's from time to time. But when I make an exotic bet, it's because I've narrowed my choices down to the point where what the bet will pay if it comes in, is a lot more than what I spend on it.

For instance, if I look ahead and see that the favorites in the first three races all look like they're probably going to win, I don't bother with the Pick 3 in those races. What's the point? However, if I look at the first three races and see that, in each race, there are two horses that I think are capable of winning, I'll play a Pick 3. A $1 Pick 3 with two horses in each race costs $8. There are very few Pick 3's that pay less than that, and if just one of the favorites loses to my second choice, it could be a good payoff.

It quickly gets expensive to play more horses in a Pick 3. Three horses in each race would cost $27. If all of the favorites win, I could lose on that bet. Pick 5's and 6's are even more expensive to put together, but, of course, they pay much more also. If you can find a couple of good bets in a Pick 5 sequence, it's possible to play a couple of singles and two or three horses in the other races and hit something big.

I'm not that a good enough handicapper or a high enough roller to play Pick 5's and Pick 6's and I admit it, although I have hit a few very big payoffs over the years. One was on a superfecta and the others were Pick 3's and Pick 4's. Most of the time, I'm very happy to be able to figure out winners and exactas and end up with more than I started with. But there are other times when a Pick 3 is worth the risk if you can find the horses to back it up.