Thoughts on playing the Metro 6 Shooter
Friday, June 04, 2010 - by Seth Rosenfeld
Editor's Note: With the start of the Metro 6 Shooter this weekend at Meadowlands Racetrack and Yonkers Raceway, the USTA has asked Seth Rosenfeld to offer his insight on the wager, since he has experience playing the Pick 6 in the Thoroughbred world, although his background is as a Standardbred owner, breeder and bettor. Download a free Metro 6 Shooter past performance program from TrackMaster.
When I first tried playing a Pick 6 a few years ago, i found it nearly impossible. Not because of the degree of difficulty -- which is great -- but because it was contrary to most of the habits and tendencies I had learned from a lifetime as a harness bettor. I was forced to contemplate races without being able to see the horses on the track, without knowing the odds, and without the normal pre-race rhythm I'd become accustomed to.
Plus there was significant math involved -- math I'd never had to use at the racetrack. So I basically went back to school to learn as much as I could about the Pick 6. I read what I could find on the subject, particularly from Steve Crist, and learned by trial and error.
When there is a significant carryover (or "seed money" as there is in the Metro 6 Shooter) there is the rare occurrence of a positive expectation for the bettor; he is playing for more money than has been wagered.
I'm still in a learning phase with the Pick 6 and I can't imagine ever getting to the point of many top Thoroughbred bettors, who view big carryover days as virtual national holidays. But I was asked to say something on the subject, so here are a few random thoughts about the Pick 6 and adjusting to it.
1. The Numbers. Sometimes it's hard to grasp how much more challenging the Pick 6 is than the Pick 4. If we imagine there are 10 horses per race, then in a typical Pick 4 sequence there are 10,000 possible combinations that could come in (10x10x10x10=10,000). With the Pick 6, again using 10 horse fields, there are 1,000,000 potential combinations. That means a typical Pick 6 will have 100 times more potential outcomes than a typical Pick 4. Which, in turn, means that you have to approach the Pick 6 not as a variation of the Pick 4, but as its own animal. (It's also why most players don't have any interest in the Pick 6 until there is serious carryover money available. Thankfully, the Metro 6 Shooter will have a minimum of $30,000 in carryover or "dead money" in the pool to start with each week).
In a Pick 4 you are generally looking to separate yourself from the herd of bettors that are gravitating to the logical contenders. In a Pick 6, on the other hand, you just want to stay alive. You can play a Pick 6 much more "defensively" than you might be used to; that 2-1 shot you don't think is anything special and would never bet on to win still merits consideration in your Pick 6 plays. Yes, you will have to take a stand to hit the Pick 6, but you don't need to be a hero every race. The Pick 6 generally pays so well that, to a certain extent, all you want to do is hit it and then worry about what it pays later. Which leads to the issue of....
2. Coverage. With so many potential outcomes in a Pick 6, it's critical to get as much "coverage" per race as we can, whatever our bankroll may be. There are two primary ways to get maximum coverage, though they are certainly not mutually (or mutuel-ly) exclusive. (Sorry for the bad pun). The first way is the most obvious....
3. Singles. The appeal of singles is obvious (a single is the only horse you use in a given race). If you can find two singles in a Pick 6, you can use, for instance, three horses in each of the other legs and spend $81 (1x1x3x3x3x3=$81) or four horses for each of the other legs and spend $256 (1x1x4x4x4x4=$256). Of course, you can play around with the combinations to suit whatever your bankroll is. There are varying opinions of how one should go about selecting a single -- and I'm only talking about the theory of how to select a single -- before even thinking about handicapping. Some people like to start with the question "who is the most likely winner in this sequence of races?".... the thinking being that with the Pick 6, by definition, being so difficult, you need the most likely winner -- regardless of what the odds are. Other handicappers -- Matt Carothers of TVG comes to mind -- like to have their singles be horses that other people would never think of using as a single. This is a high risk/high reward approach -- but if you think about it, and the argument that these advocates of the "unlikely" single give, is that the Pick 6 is so risky anyway that you might as well swing for the fences. I see the appeal of both theories and try to tailor my plays to the horses and circumstances on a given card. If there's a Muscle Hill or Zenyatta in the sequence, sure, I'll happily use that horse as a single, even though the rest of the crowd is, too. I'll look at the bet as essentially a Pick 5 and try and win it elsewhere. But if you're looking for that kind of horse in a typical Pick 6 you're often going to be out of luck -- racing secretaries usually try to keep those heavy favorites out of the Pick 6 sequences.
If the biggest favorite in the sequence, however, is a horse who closed fast last time but "just ran out of racetrack" -- that's not a horse whose bandwagon I'm looking to jump on. Ditto for a horse who enjoys "post relief" or gets a driver change from the 10th leading driver to the top guy. That, to me, is just not enough to warrant the horse being a single, though it may be enough to make that horse a heavy favorite.
There is also a major psychological component that goes into choosing which horses your ticket is going to live and die with. I prefer using horses from higher class races as I find them more dependable. One of the difficult aspects of a Pick 6 is that you won't get to see most of the horses prior to their races -- so I feel more comfortable with a horse that I am fairly confident will look good on the track when he post parades. I'm not as concerned as others with jockeys or drivers, or even trainers, for that matter. Given a choice, I like to have the "horsepower" over the "humanpower."
4. Multiple Tickets. Steve Crist, the noted Thoroughbred author and handicapper, has argued for years that the best way to approach a Pick 6 is with multiple tickets. In his book Exotic Betting, which I highly recommend, he explains that the idea of multiple tickets was first introduced to him by the legendary Andy Beyer. I will try and explain this approach as best I can, but it's explained in better detail and with some better examples in the book. If this next part gets too complicated, by all means just skip ahead.
The basic approach is for the handicapper to separate the contenders in each race into "mains" (the horses they like the most) and the "back-ups" -- those they are afraid will beat their "mains" should they happen to lose. Then they structure tickets that allow themselves to be right in five out of six races. In a very simplified example, let's say you come up with two horses per race as your "mains," and one horse per race that scares you and you designate as a "backup." If you structure a ticket with all the mains and back-ups (that's three horses per race), the cost will be $729 (3x3x3x3x3x3=$729....sad, but true, three horses per race in a Pick 6 will run you a whopping $729. By the way, going four horses per race checks in at a cool $4,096.). A ticket with two horses per race, however, will cost only $64 (2x2x2x2x2x2= $64). But, of course, the chances are slim that you will be able to hit on a ticket that is so "narrow." So you then structure six more tickets, each one featuring a backup horse along with the two mains from every other race. Each "backup ticket" will cost $32 (each backup is a single on its own ticket, so we get 1x2x2x2x2x2= $32). Each backup ticket is essentially insurance that your main ticket will be blown up in one race by that third horse that you desperately wanted to include but couldn't. If you buy the "insurance ticket" on every race, it will cost you $32 times 6, or $192. So the total cost of your main ticket, plus your backup, or insurance, tickets is $256 (cost of your main ticket with two horses per race, plus the $192 in "insurance" is $64 + $192= $256). Now what you've accomplished is getting the coverage of three horses per race for a cost of $256 rather than the $729 it would have cost if you had simply used three horses in each race. Of course, this is just an example -- the real beauty of multiple tickets is to allow you to use backups in different ways, and structure tickets that allow for you to be wrong in a race and still survive. I encourage players to write out hypothetical tickets to get a sense of what various plays will cost.
Whew, that last paragraph was not easy to write (nor read, i would guess!). If you're still with me, let's move on....
5. Morning Line. No matter how you choose to structure your ticket, or tickets, the morning line is going to end up playing a part. There are always races where you just want to try and use two or three horses and survive, and often you will gravitate to the lowest-priced morning lines. But morning lines, even when expertly done, are often still fairly inaccurate. They are usually done days in advance of the race, sometimes before driver choices are made as well as other developments. So don't get lazy and grab the two or three lowest morning lines. Often there is Pick 6 value in a horse who is higher in his morning line than in his actual odds. And, of course, you should be handicapping the race and using the horses you like the best, not letting the morning line dictate your selections.
6. Bankroll. As we've seen, the Pick 6 is expensive to play, and there are big advantages for players with bigger bankrolls. If you can, it's a good idea to consider getting together with a couple other players and combining forces. You can get more coverage and more bang for your buck. Of course, there's a risk: trying to put your tickets together -- especially selecting singles -- has been known to put friendships in jeopardy!
7. Luck. Any way you slice it you're going to have to be lucky to hit a Pick 6. And that's OK. There is always a bit of a lottery element to the Pick 6 -- so be thinking lucky thoughts, and don't be afraid to put in a ticket that needs some luck to win. For instance, pick your favorite driver and see if he can sweep the races. Why not try and catch one of those nights where Brian Sears or George Brennan or Tim Tetrick wins a bunch of races and Ken Warkentin screams "....and that's four tonight for the White Knight"? Use four singles, and then maybe four or five horses per race at Yonkers. It'll cost you $20...and it's a longshot, but, hey, it's a lot better bet than playing the lottery!
Best of luck to everyone!