On Track With Johnny D: Picking Six


With the return of racing to Del Mar last week, horseplayers were re-introduced to a familiar entity. No, not Trevor Denman. This one’s been around even longer than him. It’s the $2 Pick 6!

Del Mar’s current $2 Pick 6 wager isn’t exactly the same as the original version first offered in the States at Hollywood Park in 1980, but it’s close. I was there the afternoon it all began–a wet-behind-the-ears member of Nat Wess’ publicity team. It was an exciting time. Back then wagering options were limited. If memory serves, we had a Daily Double on the first two races and $5 Exactas on certain other races (numbers 5, 7 and 9, I think). There were no Rolling Doubles, Pick 3s, Pick 4s, Pick 5s, Trifectas or Superfectas! Super Hi 5s? Ahhhh, no.

There also was no simulcast wagering, no ADWs and no OTBs in California. There was Vegas, of course, but they were still booking bets and not comingling pools. On-track handle was it. And there was plenty of that. Crowds of 50-60,000 crushed HollyPark turnstiles on giveaway days and average weekends welcomed 30-40k patrons.

Can you imagine?

No wonder the new Pick 6 was such a hit. Pools were huge, and reports of monster payoffs made the local LA evening news. I know because I sometimes worked overtime coordinating interviews with winners.

One positive aspect of the $2 Pick Six is that folks who come close–get five-outa-six correct—collect something for the effort. ‘Consos.’ Silver medals. Parting gifts. Moist beaks. I can’t tell you how many times they’ve bailed me out. Broke me even on the wager. Allowed me to return to play the next day. ‘Pick 6 Fives Matter!’

Three years after launch, in an effort to make a good thing even better, Hollywood Park added a carryover provision to the wager in case no one correctly selected all six winners. Originally, the entire pool was paid to those who had the most winners, so five out of six could claim the top prize. Dailynews.com reports on what happened then, “It led to a four-day carryover of $3,274,505 and a Pick 6 handle of $7,596,347. Thirteen tickets with all six winners returned $576,064 and 807 consolation tickets with five winners paid $2,240.40. A single winning ticket that day would have been worth a record $7.4 million.”

They say you can never go back and, in this case, it’s true. The wagering landscape has changed, forever. The Pick 6, always more popular in California than anywhere else, rolled along powerfully for over 30 years. Then, as each additional wager appeared on the menu—particularly Pick 4s and Pick 5s—cannibalization set in. The revolutionary bet borrowed from the old 5-10 wager at Caliente racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico, finally had lost something off its fastball. Every once in a while, when a two or three-day carryover occurred, a glimpse of the wager’s former glory was evident. But those occasions became too few and far between.


Several years ago, in an attempt to rekindle Pick 6 glory, Santa Anita injected a jackpot provision to the wager that included a side pot that was to be paid out only to the holder of a single winning Pick 6 ticket. Why anyone holding an ‘only’ would need to collect even more money is beyond me, but the gimmick seemed to move the Pick 6 needle slightly by attracting those in search of the ‘holy grail’ of wagering.

Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, Gulfstream Park enjoyed growing success with a 20-cent, Rainbow Six Jackpot wager that paid a percentage of the pool to those selecting six winners, and also reserved a smaller portion of the pool eventually to be paid out to a single winning ticketholder. The lower minimum attracted smaller players looking to win a lot for a little, and the jackpot provision appealed to whales, too. The discount jackpot idea (25-cents) first surfaced at Beulah Park in Ohio; borrowed and revised from a wager offered in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

It took a while, but huge jackpot pools gradually formed at Gulfstream and the track established ‘mandatory payout’ days to coincide with other already important racing days. That led to huge Rainbow Six Jackpot pools which, in turn, attracted massive amounts of additional handle.

At the recently concluded 22-day Autumn Santa Anita meeting, the Rainbow Six survived without having a single ‘only’ winning ticket. On November 4, a mandatory payoff closing day, that meet-long absence of uniqueness attracted $6,746,114 in ‘new money’ for the wager–a total of $7,888,308.

Ironically, the ‘one-winner-take-all’ game concluded its inaugural Santa Anita run as welcoming as a 60’s hippie commune. There were an amazing 10,466 winning tickets worth $601.10 each. Full disclosure: I missed. But I’ve hit many Pick 6s over the years. This kind, that kind and the other kind. For hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of dollars each. I’ve lost plenty while playing them, too.

Although no official announcement has been made, unofficially, it sounds like Santa Anita will continue with a 20-cent Rainbow Six Jackpot wager when the ‘Big Meet’ begins December 26. Some pundits are firmly against the wager. They say takeout on the wager is stifling and that money is tied up out and of circulation for too long. All fair arguments. I like the wager because for 20-cents I can cover lots of horses and run with the big boys. I can’t imagine I’ll ever have a single winning Rainbow Six ticket, but I’m happy to collect a couple grand here and there and maybe even will hit another five-digit score sometime. I must admit, though, that I do miss those five-out-of-six kisses I used to get, but I understand why they’re not part of the game at 20-cents a throw.

On the other hand, I also like playing the $2 Pick 6 format because, while I can’t compete with larger tickets, I know I’ll get paid handsomely when I win. Plus, those ‘fives’ keep me alive more often than I care to admit. I don’t like the jackpot aspect of the $2 Pick 6 wager. That takes money from the pot and gives it to someone who, in my humble opinion, really doesn’t need it because they’re already holding a single winning Pick 6 ticket! Sheesh!

Ultimately, I suppose, the way I feel about the Pick 6 can be summed up in a word the kids like to use these days, ‘Whatever.’

Two bucks, twenty-cents, single ticket jackpot…whatever. I’m playing. I like the challenge and the payoff when I’m correct.

In the spirit of ‘Picking Six,’ here’s a look at Del Mar’s Pick 6 for Thursday that includes a $45k carryover. We’re not naïve enough to believe we can actually ‘give’ you the winning Pick 6 combination, but we hope the selections and comments below can help you cash a ticket or two along the way, perhaps in the late Pick 5 or Pick 4.

We can guarantee you one thing. Yours truly will be wagering on these selections. So, you’ve got that going for you…which, you must admit, is nice!

Race On!

Del Mar Pick Six Selections—Thursday, November 15 

3rd Del Mar (4:30 pm ET)

2—Mo See Cal, 4–Starr of Quality

Unusual jockey shuffle in here as Drayden Van Dyke, who rode 2—Mo See Cal to a romping win last out, moves to 6—Whirling, most recently beaten 24 lengths. Mike Smith, who rode Whirling last out, replaces Van Dyke on 2—Mo See Cal. BTW, they have the same agent. A guess at what happened is that Richard Mandella, trainer of 6—Whirling, locked in an early commitment from Van Dyke, who was aboard for the filly’s only win. Pete Miller, trainer of 2—Mo See Cal, probably then decided to enter the race later and, with Van Dyke committed elsewhwere, is forced to settle for a Hall-of-Fame jockey that goes by the nickname ‘Big Money Mike.’ As replacements go, not too shabby.

2—Mo See Cal absolutely freaked in an off-the-turf allowance race against four foes. She won by more than 10 lengths for trainer Pete Miller. All good stuff.

4—Starr of Quality has no early speed and often loses ground. She’s 0-4 at Del Mar but has 4 wins from 10 starts at the distance. If things get heated up front, she’ll be running at the end.


4th Del Mar

8—Bella Papa

5 of 8 starters in this field are dropping from maiden special weight to maiden claiming. It’s unusual to see so many white flags flying in one field. Has everyone surrendered at the same time? Perhaps, it’s best to look toward the race’s only first-time starter?

8—Bella Papa has some nice San Luis Rey drills on her tab, including several at 5/8 in good time. She’s inexperienced, but that might be a good thing in here.


5th Del Mar

1—K P’s Smokin, 2–Rolling Shadow, 7—Sweet Treat, 9—Inland Empire

Gotta spread the net in this leg because we’re just not feeling it. There seems to be enough speed in here to set things up for a closer, but if things get too freaky up front, there could be a major surprise rolling home at the end.

1—K P’s Smokin romped at Del Mar this summer and gets a notable jock switch in here.

2—Rolling Shadow drops to lowest level, but her only win came on turf.

7—Sweet Treat was claimed by Mike Puype off a solid effort almost two months ago and has worked steadily since. She is raised in class by her new connections. Apprentice Figueroa rides.

9—Inland Empire makes her second start with blinkers and has no speed. She’ll need a hot pace and could get one.


6th Del Mar

2- Shut Up, 5- Sold It

The ones in here that have started before haven’t done much. Trainer Doug O’Neill has three runners entered and two of them deserve serious respect.

 2- Shut Up—what I heard so often as a child that I thought it was my name, is a Violence first-time starter with some nice breezes, particularly the Oct. 31 1:00 2/5 from the gate. Violence hits with 22% firsters and 15% turf overall and 16% turf first out. Guessing this one has speed, and a 5-pound bonus comes with jockey Figueroa. Stats courtesy of Thoro-Graph, home of extremely accurate speed figures.

5- Sold It –Has made one start going six and one-half furlongs at ‘Anita. She took money, showed speed and tired. The Factor is a capable young turf sire with 12% first-time turf winners. She might appreciate the green and cut to five furlongs.


7th Del Mar

1—Ninety Nine Proof, 5—California Journey, 6—King Abner

Nothing easy about sorting out this 8-horse field. Opinions below, but another upset is possible.

1—Ninety Nine Proof has won three of four races at Del Mar, but never has tried 2-turns on dirt. Peter Miller trains from the rail, so expect her to show speed. Two races back a claim on her was voided by the vet. That’s either cause for pause or a free roll for the stable.

5—California Journey ran a bang-up race blinks on and first out for new trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. It was her first start on dirt. She seemed to like the surface.

6—King Abner has been competitive sprinting at this level and has a win at Del Mar. Baze takes over and probably will let her roll from the gate.


8th Del Mar

4—Lucky Soul, 2—Tough It Out //5–Alsatian

Posts matter at a mile and three-eighths on turf. The field will break on the backside and quickly meet the far turn. Give capable runners drawn inside extra points.

4—Lucky Soul faced two of these last out (5—Alsatian and 9—Gain Ground) and ran best. He was blocked briefly in the stretch and when clear finished with interest to be second. Turfmaster Prat returns in the ‘Soul saddle for 2018 BC-race winner trainer Mike McCarthy.

2—Tough It Out is going great guns for trainer Vlad Cerin. He’s 3-3 at Del Mar and 1-1 at the distance. He’s seldom out of the money.

5—Alsatian, made an early move on the turn last out and was caught late. He’s just 2-17, though. Anticipate a more patient ride from Mike Smith this time.

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Picking Six

On Track with Johnny D |