Pick 3 Betting Strategies

by | Last updated May 8, 2023 | Horse Betting

How to Bet on Horses – Multiple-Race Wagers – Pick 3 Betting

Pick 3 betting is offered at all major racetracks and requires you to pick the winners of three consecutive races on one ticket. Most racetracks offer both early and late Pick 3 wagering, and some tracks offer rolling Pick 3 betting throughout the entire racing card.

Like the Daily Double, the Pick 3 is one of the best value bets in racing, mainly because it has its own separate betting pool. This means that only one takeout (a percentage of each dollar wagered which is removed from the betting pools to pay the racetrack and various levels of government taxes), usually in the range of 20-25 percent, is applied to the betting pool before calculating the payoffs.

Contrast this to betting each race in the Pick 3 separately and having to pay the takeout on each race. For example, if you bet a horse to win in the first leg of the Pick 3, the win bet is subject to a 13-18 percent takeout depending on the track. If you bet a horse to win in the second and third legs of the Pick 3, you again pay the 13-18 percent takeout on each bet. Why pay the takeout three times when you can bet the Pick 3 and pay the takeout once.

Additional factors that make the Pick 3 an excellent bet

Studies have shown that betting a win-bet parlay on all three races in the Pick 3 usually pays less than a Pick 3 ticket including the same horses. Add to this the fact that Pick 3 wagering is often offered on some of the better races on the card and you have the ultimate wagering situation for handicappers adept at spotting value. And depending on the races involved, the probability of picking the winners of three consecutive races is often higher than that of correctly picking your favorite exotic wagers in the same sets of races, and obviously better than selecting all of the winners in the Pick 4 or Pick 6.

Also, while the pools can be substantial in the Pick 3, they are generally not large enough to attract the syndicate bettors, who prefer to spend their money tying up every possible combination in the Pick 6 with hopes of a six-figure payday. The absence of big syndicate money in the Pick 3 pools means less money is bet on combinations that might only be spotted by sharp handicappers – which subsequently allows those handicappers to collect higher payoffs.

An additional advantage to betting the Pick 3 is that while the payoffs can be lucrative, they are usually not large enough to be subjected to the instant federal and state withholding taxes.

Types of Pick 3 Bets

The $1 minimum Pick 3 wheel offered by most tracks makes it affordable for the average bettor to tie up numerous horses without having to spend a fortune.

A $1 Pick 3 wheel combining horses 5,6 to win the first leg with horses 2,3,4 to win the second leg with horses 7,8,9 to win the third leg represents 18 possible combinations (2 horses * three horses * three horses) at the cost of $18 and would appear as:

$1 Pick 3 wheel 5,6 with 2,3,4 with 7,8,9 = $18

A straight Pick 3 that includes one horse in each leg can also be bet for a minimum of $2 at most tracks. For example, a $2 straight Pick 3 selecting horse 5 to win the first leg, horse 6 to win the second leg and horse 10 to win the third leg would appear as:

$2 Pick 3 5 with 6 with 10 = $2.

Profitable and Unprofitable Pick 3 Wagering Scenarios

The most profitable scenarios regarding the Pick 3 occur when you have identified weak favorites in the first two legs. The majority of bettors like to be alive after the first leg of the Pick 3 and they often over bet combinations that include the favorites in the first two legs. If you can get the favorite beat in the first leg of the Pick 3 with one of your value plays you are generally on your way to a good payoff. If you can also get the favorite beat in the second leg of the Pick 3, you are looking at a good payoff even if the favorite wins the final leg.

The best payoffs obviously occur when favorites do not win any of the races in the Pick 3, but excellent payoffs do occur when second-favorites win in combination with medium-priced horses. Combinations of favorites and non-favorites in the Pick 3 can be profitable, but combinations of medium-priced winners often pay much more than they should. Good payoffs can also be had when two of the three Pick 3 races appear wide open on paper and lack heavy favorites.

The worst Pick 3 payoffs occur when odds on favorites win any of the races in the Pick 3 or when a low-priced favorite comes in with two additional low-priced contenders. If favorites win two of the three legs in the Pick 3, the payoff is likely to be low even if a longshot wins the remaining leg.

The Pick 3 wager is most attractive when you really like a horse you know the public won’t bet or when you really hate a horse the public loves. Even better, if the horses you like in each leg of the Pick 3 races are not favorites, you have found yourself a prime betting opportunity. Now you just have to structure your bet in a way that ensures maximum profit if your top selections win.

Betting the Pick 3 for Maximum Profit – Multiple Ticket Method

Wagering strategy and ticket structuring are crucial when playing the Pick 3. One of the best Pick 3 wagering strategies is to find one or two key horses in each leg and tie them up with your key horses plus value-play contenders in the other two legs. For example:

In the first leg of the Pick 3 horse 5 (3-1) is your top selection and horses 1 and 6 are contenders.

In the second leg, you like horse 7 (5-1) to win with horses 1,2 and 4 as contenders.

In the third leg of the Pick 3 you like horse 6 (4-1) to win with horses 8 and 9 as contenders.

If you were to do what most unsophisticated bettors do and bet a $1 Pick 3 wheel combing all your selections on one ticket as follows: 1,5,6 with 1,2,4,7 with 6,8,9 = $36, you would cash one winning ticket if one of your horses won each of the races.

Assuming you are a decent handicapper with a slight edge on the public, you would be much better off keying your main selections on separate tickets – giving you the opportunity to cash multiple tickets if your main selections win. Multiple separate tickets designed to maximize profit would be played as follows.

$1 Pick 3 wheel 5 with 1,2,4,7 with 6,8,9 = $12

$1 Pick 3 wheel 1,5,6 with 7 with 6,8,9 = $9

$1 Pick 3 wheel 1,5,6 with 1,2,4,7 with 6 = $12

$2 straight Pick 3 5 with 7 with $6 = $2

Total Cost of Multiple Pick 3 Tickets: $35

Using the multiple ticket method above and keying your main selection in each leg of the Pick 3, you would cash a $5 Pick 3 ticket if all your main selections won. Contrast this to cashing only a $1 ticket using the previously mentioned strategy of combining all your contenders on one ticket for $36.

Using the multiple ticket method you have a chance to cash even if two of your main selections lose – yet you retain your edge of cashing multiple tickets if they win! You can also add a small win bet on each of your main selections to increase profits and provide saver backup just in case you miss the Pick 3.

Pick 4 Wagering Strategies: Profitable Pick 4 Betting

How to Bet on Horses

Read our Race Betting Guide to get insight on all of the types of wagering options in horse racing. Dig deeper below to get tips on the most popular exotic wagers with winning strategies provided by expert Kenneth Strong.