Betting Multiple Race Wagers

A bettor who has spent any amount of time studying horse races is keenly aware that most races lack true standouts and those that do, usually lack betting value. Therein lies the difficulty of this great game. But hey, if it were easy, there would be no need to work a 9 to 5 job, right? Essentially, a handicapper has two do two things to stay solvent: 1) Find winners, and 2) Find Value.


While I've already alluded to the difficulty of these tasks, muti-race bets such as the daily double, pick 3, pick 4, pick 5, and pick 6 allow bettors to reap more value while picking mutliple horses in multiple races. Let's dig into the basics for a quick primer.

Multi-Race Bets: What, How and Why

Multiple race betting is offered at every North American racetrack. Bets such as the double and pick 3 are generally available on a "rolling basis," meaning that you can play them in any two or three-race sequence on the card at most tracks. The pick 4 may be offered once or twice a day depending on the track's betting menu, while the pick 4 and pick 5 are almost always limited to one 5 or 6-race sequence a day.

Here's a quick explanation of these bets:

  • Double: Select winners of two consecutive races
  • Pick 3: Select winners of three consecutive races
  • Pick 4: Select winners of four consecutive races
  • Pick 5: Select winners of five consecutive races
  • Pick 6: Select winners of six consecutive races

Opening doors with multiple horses

It's hard enough to pick one winner, so why try picking two, three or more in a row? The great thing about these bets, is that you can pick more than one horse in each race or "leg" of the bet. Of course, the more horses you use, the greater the cost of the bet.

Let's consider this example using the pick 3. At most tracks, the Picks 3 is available on a 50-cent minimum base wager. Let's say, we are playing a pick 3 at Churchill Downs in races 3-5. In race 3, we think the 2-horse, 7-horse and 9-horse all have a great chance to win, so we add them to the ticket. We go about selecting our horses and odds we like this in races 4 and 5 to construct a ticket that looks like this:

Race 3: 2,7,9

Race 4: 1,8

Race 5: 4,6,9,11

In this example, we haven't exactly pinpointed any races, but we've put together a ticket representing our opinions of which horses could win. We have 3 horses in the first leg, two in the second and four in the third. Calculating the cost of such a ticket is very simple. We multiply 3x2x4 for a total of $24. We then take $24 and multiply by the 50-cent minimum base bet, which means our hypothetical ticket costs only $12.

Payouts and Value

Sounds good so far, right? But every bet is a risk versus reward proposition and must be approached accordingly. In any multi-race bet, the payout is dictated by the frequency or rarity of the combinations used by other bettors. Simplified, every horse bettor is playing against other bettors making the same kind of bet.

Thus, in our fictitious pick 3 wager above, we'd be competing directly against all other bettors making the same bet in the same race 3-5 sequence at Churchill. When favorites win, these combinations are generally well-covered by your competition, the wagering public. Thus, the payouts will be lower. When something interesting happens in the sequence and you are able to catch a lonshot or two, the payouts are much higher. Simple stuff.

Making winning decisions

Still, the "what's it gonna pay" question lingers. Before we address this further, let's consider the possibility of winning, yet losing. Let's say I'm a well-heeled pick 3 bettor and that I am simply going to use as many horses as it takes to confidently get through the sequence. 6 horses in leg one, 5 in leg 2, and 9 in leg 3. 6x5x9=270 x 50-cent minimum = $135. I probably don't have to explain why this bet is an absurd proposition, but in brief, you'd need some very unlikely longshots to come in just to recoup your $135 investment.

On the other hand, a $135 investment might not be so ludicrous in higher-paying, more complex wagers like the Pick 4, Pick 5 and Pick 6. What you are willing to spend on a mult-race bet should really depend on three things:

  1. Your estimation of what a winning ticket could pay (you get better at determining this with experience)
  2. Your confidence in your selections and likelihood of catching a longshot or two
  3. Your wagering capital and tolerance for risk relative to the expected reward

How To Bet Multi-Races Wagers

  1. Go to your online racebook
  2. Click horses
  3. Select type of wager
  4. Enter horses you want for each leg
  5. Enjoy the action!

Rules of Thumb and Suggestions

Playing the most bankroll-appropriate bet is always a good thing. For smaller players ($5-$100 a race day), I'll suggest focusing on the double and pick 3. For those better equipped to pursue the pick 4 and pick 5, be prepared to handicap well, yet still lose most days. You really do need a higher tolerance for risk given the capital and skill it takes to play these bets well. For my money, the pick 6 remains a rich man's bet, and is actually dwindling in popularity with the advent of the pick 5.

Personally, I've played doubles that pay handsomely and pick 5's that don't. It's all a matter of experimenting and ensuring that your handicapping preparation meets racetrack opportunity.

See below the top sportsbooks where you can wager online and choose the best one for you: