May 19, 2022

Double Down On Your Opinions: Why Shapiro Sometimes Spurns the Pick 5


I have been betting on horse racing regularly for more than 25 five years, but it was about a year ago that I took over the role as Southern California racing handicapper for

Things started well during my first few months as the provider of Daily Selections full-card analysis with best bets, but there have been some bumpy times as well. A 1-for-28 stretch to start 2018 immediately comes to mind.

When the first half of January was over and my R.O.I was not profitable I knew it was time to consider some changes to how I wagered each day.

My actual handicapping over the first few weeks of the year was up and down, but what I found most problematic was being unable to profit regularly when I had an opinion or two that was unique and ended up being correct. It was time to restructure how I went about trying to beat the game.

For several years I put a large percentage of my daily budget into the Pick 5 wager in Southern California. There is a lot to like about the horizontal sequence that commences in Race 1 every day and concludes in Race 5, as well as the thrills it provides (Santa Anita added a late Pick 5 this year but at a different—higher—takeout)

The takeout on the early Pick 5 is 14%, which is significant compared to the 23.68% taken out of the Pick 4 that begins on race 2. The Pick 5 also features a $0.50 minimum bet that allows players to spread deeper in challenging races that I typically would not be able to do with a $2 Pick 6.

For these two reasons, the early Pick 5 appeared to be the most lucrative bet for me to make on a day-to-day basis, but fitting my opinions to make a bet versus betting my opinions was proving problematic for my bankroll.

I.e. there were far too many days where my success hinged on races where I lacked a strong opinion. I needed to put a far greater portion of my budget solely into events where I was confident and cut back in spots where I was relying on “getting lucky.”

I ended up making two modifications to the way I attack an average card in Southern California.

The first change was playing Daily Doubles much more frequently. Not only did this adjustment allow for me to focus on two-race sequences where I was specifically against vulnerable favorites, but it also allowed me to calculate my expected return since the probable Double payouts are always available via

The second modification I made to “my game” was putting a much greater portion of my daily allowance into in-race wagers. In my salad days of playing, my overall success at the racetrack was built on hitting winners and trifectas with maybe an occasional Pick 3 play. Somewhere along the way, though, I became a player that relied on stringing winners together instead of being okay with making my money off of just one or two races a day. Yes, the multi-race bets can provide huge scores and major thrills, but was it the best way to maximize my opinions?

It has been about six weeks since I have altered my betting philosophy and if nothing else it has resulted in a more stable situation. Sure, I may miss out on a monster score by not putting a couple of hundred dollars into the Pick 5 daily, but overall I expect my new approach to be more profitable long term.

And that’s what matters, or should.

Scott Shapiro handicaps races for; follow him on Twitter @ScottShap34