After nobody hit the Pick 6 on a day when $1 million was guaranteed, Hollywood Park offered a carryover of a hefty $683,636. My ticket? Zero.

Oh, I worked on the ticket all right, as I do whenever there's a carryover. I always start by writing down the names and numbers of every horse I think can win.

Eventually, I decide on what stands to take (a single here, one out of two there, etc.), eliminating some horses while cutting the ticket to a manageable size. Then, most importantly, I do my calculations for that particular ticket, including:

  • Cost of the bet.
  • Percentage likelihood that this ticket will hit.
  • Best payoff if all my wacky ones came in.
  • Worst payoff if 1 got nothing but my worst horses.
  • Average payoff given these horses.

This can get quite complex, particularly if I have 20 or 30 tickets to bet. But without doing these calculations, I have no idea whether it makes sense for me to play the bet.

When I did these calculations on this day, it was apparent that even with such a large carryover, the $1650 bet would probably be a waste of money. It had a very high 21.5 per cent chance to hit. Since 1 consider a Pick 6 overlay to be 30 per cent above fair value, that meant a payoff of more than $11,000 would do the job.

Unfortunately, even with such a huge carryover, my horses were so lacking in price potential that the average payoff I calculated (based on two favourites, one second choice, one third choice, one fifth choice and one seventh choice, selected from among the horses I've considered), was only $10,903. The worst possibility was a payoff barely above $1000.

 As it turned out, the Pick 6 pool was a mighty $2,763,232, but only one winner paid double figures, and the payoff was a mere $9073 for six.

I would have missed, anyway.

Before you make any bet, you need to ask one question, and the question is NOT who's going to win. Here it is: WHERE IS YOUR EDGE? Without an edge, there's no reason to play a particular race, or daily double, or whatever.

Despite the enticements of that huge carryover, I couldn't find an edge. Sure, the Pick 6 would pay more than it should due to the carryover. But so what?

There was no real money to be made, at least for me. If I was right, I'd get nothing. And if I was wrong, I'd get even less. No edge. Thus no play.

When a race is obvious (one horse has a huge ratings advantage, for instance), your chances of doing much good are slim. And when you're relying on the same information as everyone else, you're not going to get enough of an edge to be successful.

Your long-term profits in this game, if any, will come from the DISCREPANCIES between your opinion about a race and the crowd's opinion. Maybe you like the favourite less than the other bettors do, or maybe more. Or you hate the second choice. Or something.

If you've narrowed the race to horses that are 5/2, 5/2 and 3/1, you have no edge, but if you detest one of the 5/2 shots, you're in business.

If your trifecta strategy consists of throwing out all the 20/1 and up horses and boxing the rest, the (tote) takeout will grind you down eventually. If you like one horse in the second half of a daily double and bet him to first-half contenders whose odds are 8/5, 5/2, 3/1 and 9/2, you have no edge and, in fact, are doing worse than if you simply bet the horse to win and forgot the double.

Every day, punters criss-cross their contenders in the daily double, wheel their top pick in an exacta, or bet a horse win and place with little thought as to whether there's any value in making the bet. They're simply trying to pick winners, and cash tickets.

But cashing tickets really isn't that hard. If I want to cash a ticket, I can simply bet on every horse in the race. Yep, I'll cash a lot but so what? The strategy is a loser.

Before making any bet, ask the crucial question. And don't bet unless you have a good answer.

By Barry Meadow