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Let it Ride
Monday, December 16, 2013 - by Frank Cotolo

When multi-race exotics became available, lots of players flocked to play them and Pick 3s through Pick 6s became popular ways for players to try to make a score.

Many of them constructed fairly large tickets to aim at a big payoff and then sometimes the payoffs were big, while other times the payoffs didn’t cover the large combo tickets.

I was thinking recently of a multi-race bet that has gone out of style. It did not have a pool; it was handled by the individual bettor that wanted to go for a big score when feeling good about horses to play to win in any races. It was called a parlay.

You don’t hear the word anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play a parlay anymore because, as I wrote, it’s handled by the individual bettor. Though I am not a fan of multi-race wagers, I am doing a study on the parlay versus a “Pick” wager. Is it possible the age-old parlay gimmick is more productive than the race-pool exotics?

For those of you that have never heard of a parlay, I offer a brief definition. A parlay is taking the winnings of a horse and re-investing that amount on another horse or horses. The other horses do not have to be in consecutive races and there is never a minimum amount of horses necessary for the bet; it’s two or more.

Of course you lose everything if a horse in the string of your bets loses but that is what happens with Pick bets, too. A parlay, however, allows you to choose the races in which you let the money ride, as well as it may build a handsome reward.

Here’s an example: you play a horse in Race 3 and he wins. You have $10 to win and the horse pays $9.40. The $47 you collect you play to win on the next horse that you choose. Let’s say you don’t feel good about a horse until Race 6 and that is where you put the $47 to win. If the horse loses, you’re out the $47. But if it wins, consider how this two-horse parlay has profited. Let’s say the second horse in the parlay pays only $7.60. You have played the second horse 23-½ times, so you cash for $178.60

If you continue the parlay, you take $178 and play it to win on your next choice. Let’s say that is also a low-priced winner, paying $5.20. Your $178 win ticket gets you $462.80. Yikes. Could a Pick 3 with a 7-2, a 5-2 and a 9-5 pay that much? Not on a single ticket, no less would the profit be anywhere near the parlay price.

The parlay is a popular wager with legal and illegal bookmakers. A person can invest $10 and play any number of races, building a pot that is far larger than Pick-pool bets. But the jury is not in on which is actually a smarter wager. I am doing the research, I am doing the math and I will be back when I have any results or theories that can be presented mathematically.

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Editor's Note: The views contained in this article are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.
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