I suspect that the vast majority of people who take an interest in racing in NSW and Victoria, and probably most of the rest of the country, have succumbed to investing a few dollars on the latest TAB brainchild, the Big Six.

I succumbed, and I treated it much like a Lotto ticket. What I did the first week, and remember that the first couple of weeks in NSW and Victoria offered different Big Six combinations, was to use both my accounts and invest a small sum on each Big Six.

To win the Big Six, you have to pick six winners in six designated races. These races are chosen with an eye to their popularity and timing. I think this just might work in the interests of astute punters, but only occasionally.

For example, with quite a lot of weight for age races having smaller fields than the average, there is a chance of taking the whole field in that particular race on that particular day. If, for example, there are eight horses in the race, and you choose one in every other race, then a 50 cent bet is only going to set you back $4. Indeed, if there were two races with eight starters in each, and you felt a little bit reckless on the day, you would pay $32 for a 50 cent Big Six (assuming that you only chose one horse in each of the other four legs).

As you can see though, the staking costs are starting to escalate pretty quickly; if you were to find a Big Six with three fields of eight, and you wanted to box a Big Six taking Field/Field/Field/one selection/one selections/one selection, then you would be paying more than $250 for a half dollar return. $500 for the dollar investment.

Well, I wouldn’t complain about that if I achieved it on the day the Big Six paid, for argument’s sake, $250,000. But as we can see, for the average punter this kind of thing just gets out of hand too quickly.

LOGIC? SOME SAY FORGET IT…

The real problem is that with any kind of reasonable logic, the vast majority is not going to crack it. On February 22, the Big Six paid more than $935,000. There were race winners at $37.40 and at $22, and the final winner was massive overs on the TAB until the final two or three minutes, so she had clearly not been a factor in most people’s Big Six calculations, made hours before. Sometimes things like this are worth noting, because you look at the actual starting price of this particular mare, Madame Pedrille, and you find that she was $5.50 and quite firm.

However, it is the TAB punters who were creating the Big Six, and she was more than three times that quote with about 10 minutes to go. They hadn’t considered her a winning chance, although the bookmakers (and the professionals) did. But the real clue to the enormous final Big Six dividend is that she was cruising around at about $16 before the number crunchers moved in as the start time approached.

To explain this in terms of maths, imagine that the Big Six dividend after five races was maybe around $70,000 or so, and in the sixth leg a 9/2 chance would have put it to somewhere near $400,000. But she wasn’t fancied by all those punters out there in TAB Land (she wasn’t tipped by anybody in Sydney; the pre-post market was the only one that recognised her chances at all, having her listed at $11). It was the fact that she was unfancied hours before the race by most punters that meant she boosted the winning dividend up close to the million mark.

It may not have happened this way, but then again the final winner, being an early anomaly, may have put a lot of people out of business. If I had intended to take a field bet on the Big Six, it would have been on the Blue Diamond and/or the Oakleigh Plate. My problem would have been coming to terms with the large field outlays, and with the enormous restrictions I’d have to place on the other four races. I did take the time to go through this on a total rational and honest post-race, analytical level, and, if I’d had the courage, I might have won the Big Six if I’d been allowed 7,488 combinations.

That’s an honest appraisal of my thinking on the six races. That’s totally out of my league as a lottery bet, and what needs to be remembered is that, even though I’d have scored a 50 per cent dividend for an outlay of maybe $3,700, give or take, my return would not have been $467,000.

It would have been a whole lot less. Why? Because it’s (I’m speculating) a reasonable guess that the Big Six pulled in half a million dollars on each of the two TABs. Assuming there was no ONE whole dollar winner of the Big Six, it would most certainly have been allocated amongst several lucky “flexi” investors. Maybe 20 or so who’d had five cents or 10 cents on the winning combo.

My 50 cent winning bet would have meant, at the very best, that I might have got somewhere in the vicinity of $300,000. Hey, I’m not complaining (and anyway I didn’t get it), but when they advertise a fantastic dividend, you should realise the absolute certainty that either only one or two people got the whole dividend, or that a whole lot of people got tiny bits of it. Or both.

So, I’ve acknowledged that it attracts the average punter, and it probably attracts you too. It’s better than a lotto ticket and somebody has to win it.

HOW WE MIGHT CRACK THE BIG SIX
Don’t forget that there is a consolation dividend paid if you get five winners. It’s appallingly light for going so close, but most dividends like the Big Six win are structured so that there will be an enormous first prize which can be trumpeted all over the world, and a lot of little people will receive something nice at the end of the day.

But let me put it this way. That second dividend would not have covered my outlay that I postulated above. I think basically that we have regarded this as “go for the big one, all or nothing”. Should we land a consolation dividend, well, it’s something to remind us of what might have been.

The TAB offers the usual mystery bets, such as the Fred (truly): here for $10, you get two selections in all six legs and if Fred manages to score, you receive 15 per cent of the dividend. Fred also offers a $20 Fred, which gives you three selections in the first three legs, two selections in the next two legs, and one selection in the final leg. This will return you about 18.5 per cent of the dividend.

If you want to go the whole hog, just give Fred your $50 and he will come up with four selections in legs one and two, and two selections in the other four legs (4 x 4 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2) which your calculator will tell you will produce a little less than 20 per cent of the final dividend. If you win. Well actually, if Fred wins. I feel Fred is miscast: I’d have him as a pink pig with wings.

But you need to know what’s offering. I’m blessed if I know why any of my readers would want to hand the selection over to a random computer. The only reason you might do it is if you are flush with money and you think what the hell, this is a lottery ticket. Otherwise, don’t feed Fred!

Should you go for the whole dividend for the dollar? In my view, it’s the way to play this game, but I fully appreciate that people with at least as much understanding of the game as I have would argue against my position. That really is entirely your decision. However, it’s been my experience over the years that if I can’t select the winner of the race in three horses, I probably won’t do it within five or six.

WHAT’S A FAIR THING?
I finally decided that the only way I could approach quadrellas on a rational basis was to identify meetings where I believed I had a chance of picking the winners of three legs in one or two shots. Three maximum. And I wanted the fourth leg to be an extremely difficult one.

Using the same example from February 22, while I didn’t in fact try my hand at the Big Six, I did have a crack at the quadrellas that day. I missed the Melbourne one (the only way I’d have gone close would have been field/field for the first two legs!), but the Sydney quadrella, which only paid $600, was very much an attainable bet.

It meant an outlay of $54. Arguably the return was no fortune, but you can never predict the quadrella dividend. Three of the Sydney horses that won featured as part of the Big Six, but to combine these into the selections for the Big Six was out of the question because of the two full-field bets. $54 would have become $7,000!

So what’s my recommendation? Treat the Big Six as a fun bet. DON’T regard it as a compulsory Saturday commitment. Choose your time and place. Acknowledge that some weeks it will be next to impossible to beat. And go for the field in the most difficult leg, two horses in each of the next two most difficult legs, and three single leg bets.

If your field race has (say) 14 starters, a fair average, your outlay will be $56. If you can’t run to that, you have to decide whether to make the bet a flexi, or to go 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x F. I’d go that way for the whole $14, but then I’d probably also go the whole way with Eddie or Slumdog. You only live once.

By The Optimist

PRACTICAL PUNTING – APRIL 2009

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