On Track With Johnny D: Gimme Six

Yours truly was present for the birth of the Pick Six. In the delivery room, alongside doctors, nurses, painters, carpenters, bartenders, cab drivers and…thousands of other horseplayers. It was June 7, 1980, and I was a fresh-out-of-college, wet-behind-the-ears member of the Hollywood Park publicity staff welcoming a newborn to US racing.

Truthfully, I don’t remember it like it was yesterday. It wasn’t. It was a while ago. What I do recall about that day is that, just like with the birth of a child, everyone working at Hollywood Park was both excited and a bit anxious. At that point, the only multi-race wager in the States was the Daily Double—and that was difficult enough. This new wager challenged players to select SIX consecutive winners. How’s that again? Six consecutive winners? You’ve got to be kidding. No one was sure how horseplayers would react to this gauntlet toss. Would they embrace the challenge or shrink in fear?

Southern California was the perfect place to introduce the Pick Six to American horseplayers. Many Golden State residents already were familiar with operation of the popular ‘5-10’ wager previously offered at Caliente racetrack in nearby Tijuana, Mexico. There players were challenged to select the winners of six races, number 5 through 10. SoCal horseplayers that hadn’t personally motored a few hours south to play the wager had at least heard parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts etc. recount tales of successful scores and agonizing defeats. And back then, one of the best places in North America to either celebrate a score…or drown sorrows was Tijuana, Mexico!

I suppose, the Pick Six could be considered one of this country’s most successful immigrants. In the 38 years since Hollywood Park’s Marjorie Everett smuggled the wager across the border it has expanded nationwide, entertained millions, helped to employ thousands, paid taxes and, like other investments, created and diminished fortunes. According to a guest post by David J. Beltran online at Mary Forney’s Blog (http://maryforney.blogspot.com/2010/01/pick-6-bet-had-its-roots-in-calientes-5.html), Caliente’s 5-10 was a revision of a popular bet at Hipodromo La Rinconada in Venezuela, the cinco y seis (5 and 6). The object of that wager was to select finishers of the day’s feature race in order: first through sixth. Think of it as a Super Hi-5 plus 1.

As naïve about the new wager as the residents of Oz were about the wizard, my fellow press box denizens and I constructed various $2 Pick Six tickets and then instructed the teller to ‘punch’ them two or three times. We didn’t want to have six winners just once. Like with Daily Double or Exacta wagers we wanted to have the winning ticket multiple times! Looking back, I have to laugh because that could be…no, is the most ridiculous wagering tale I’ve ever heard.

According to Wikipedia, it wasn’t until the Pick Six had been in play for three years--June 23, 1983, that Hollywood Park added a carryover provision. That led to a record four-day carryover of $3,274,505 on July 2, 2007 that generated a single-day record Pick 6 handle of $7,596,347 and a record total pool of $10,870,852. Thirteen tickets with all six winners returned $576,064 and 807 consolation tickets with five winners paid $2,240.40. A single winning $2 ticket that day would have been worth a record $7.4 million.
In 1985, the bet was introduced to New York racing and was slow to catch on. Even today, Big Apple horseplayers don’t embrace the wager as eagerly as left-coast counterparts. However, Steven Crist, a devoted Pick Six player, writing in the New York Times in 1988 noted, “Winning a Pick-6, however small, turns a bettor into a Pick-6 player for life. The ego gratification offered by picking a winner is multiplied by more than six when one hits the Pick-6.”

Agreed. I’m ‘exhibit A’ of that phenomenon. Been fortunate to go six-for-six on several occasions and there’s no horserace wagering high quite like it. Usually, I only chase Pick Six carryovers, but nowadays they’re as common as days of the week. Santa Anita just had a massive $821,858 three-day, mandatory-payout Sunday. Belmont had a small one Wednesday, and Gulfstream has had a $20-cent Rainbow Six single-ticket leftover for 25 consecutive cards.
The Rainbow Six, now offered for 20-cents per-throw, originated at Beulah Park as the $2 Pick Six’s thrifty cousin. The wager wasn’t nearly as popular then as it has become at Gulfstream Park. Besides cost, it differs from the Pick Six in that the entire pool is paid out only when there is a single winning ticket or when there is a mandatory payout. Some love the wager. Some hate it. Personally, with a limited budget, I favor the 20-cent minimum version. Despite knowing that the chance I’ll ever hold a single winning ticket is near zero and that takeout on the wager expands from around 20% to 50%, the large pools produce decent payoffs.
In March of this year, at Gulfstream, on Xpressbet Florida Derby day, a mandatory payout of the Rainbow Six generated a North American record $16,583,425 in new money and total Pick 6 handle of $21.336 million. Winners in the mostly chalky sequence paid $31.60, $6, $8.60, $7.60, $6.80 and $5.20. The Pick Six returned $9,018.02. See why I like it?
One of the most memorable editions of the Rainbow Six occurred May 25, 2014 when the late Dan Borislow, majicJack inventor and horse owner, bulldozed Gulfstream Park’s 20-cent Rainbow Six for a $6.7 million payoff. Most notable about Borislow’s victory were two things: First, his ticket cost $7,600 and covered every horse in five races--the third, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth—and he used just two starters in the sixth race. Second, his victorious assault cleverly came one day before a much-publicized mandatory payout of the entire pool.

I recall leaning against the counter of a fish market in Cape May, NJ watching video on my phone of Callana ($12.80) winning the final leg in the sequence. Like most people, I hadn’t played a Rainbow Six ticket that day and instead had done extensive handicapping in anticipation of the next day’s mandatory payout. Borislow shrewdly beat everyone to the punch.

Gulfstream has another mandatory Rainbow Six payout scheduled for Saturday. The card includes races from the track’s popular Summit of Speed—mostly sprints—but the Rainbow Six has a one-mile turf race. Just for old time’s sake you could call Saturday’s Gulfstream Rainbow Six the ‘9-14’—because the wager doesn’t begin until the afternoon’s ninth race at around 4 pm ET. At this writing, the weather forecast for Hallandale Beach, FL is not promising. However, South Florida weather predictions four days out are about as accurate as most Rainbow Six tickets. But a lot less fun and sometimes much less profitable.

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Gimme Six

On Track with Johnny D |