Everything CA Horse Bettors Need to Know About the Pick 6 Bet at Del Mar

The racetrack forms a jackpot of tales, driven by human experience.

Rich memories portray the world of big hits, near-misses, racing luck, and the longshot nobody saw, but somebody played.

Recollections span jubilation, frustration, highs, and heartbreaks among people who can relate to all of it.

One place that comes together is a widespread endeavor, like the 20-cent Pick 6 bet at the Del Mar Racetrack.

The track’s innovative wager and sizable jackpot will be chased again all weekend, in the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks on Saturday, the $150,000 Solana Beach Stakes on Sunday, and varied races in between. Patrons watch this pool grow daily and then spill over like a slot machine at a California casino, bringing beaucoup bucks.

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On Aug. 6, it delivered more than $6,600 to 543 gamblers in one shot, a community cha-CHING.

The de-facto slot machine will pay off at least twice more, on Sept. 3 and Sept 11. California horse bettors still have much to look forward to at Del Mar.

Let’s review what exactly the Pick 6 bet is and how you can test your luck with it at Del Mar.

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What Is the Del Mar Pick 6 Bet?

The wager constitutes the final six races on every card. A player must pick the winners of all six races, which seems daunting. But gamesmanship comes in with how players juggle their cards to unfurl multiple entries, often for a reasonable price.

Here’s the saga seen through the lens of Del Mar’s Aug. 6 payout, some of the architects involved, and a sense of what drives bettors to this wager.

How the Pick 6 Bet Works

Del Mar takes the daily Pick 6 pool and disburses it. If a single ticket has all six winners, and that ticket picked just one horse to win in all six races, the entire pot empties. This is extremely rare, happening perhaps a couple times a year in all the nation’s tracks.

Most often, there is a carryover. Del Mar distributes 70% amongst people who selected the most winners, and carries 30% into the following day.

The carryover pot grows. And grows. Days. Weeks. Starting from zero and climbing well above six figures. 

The reason? It’s a 20-cent bet, not the $2 ticket of a couple years back. Del Mar lowered the amount back then, and the gamblers flocked. Bill Navarro, the mutuels manager for Del Mar, recalls what came from that decision.

“It brought many additional gamblers into it,” Navarro told California Casinos. “This has been great for lower and mid-range fans.

“The small-budget players feel they have just as much of a chance as the big players. It gives them the thrill of being part of a big pool at a cost they can afford.”

The pot rapidly ascends, which is why Del Mar employs the mandatory payout on what’s already a major weekend card. The final mandatory payout will occur on the last day of the meet.

Last week, Del Mar opened Saturday with a carryover of more than $600,000. Nearly $4 million of handle was added on that day.

Under mandatory payout rules, it all got paid out afterward. Roughly $4.5 million.

“It may not even the plane for (small-budget players), but it gives them a chance to play and take a reasonable shot at it,” Navarro said. “You might take an $18 ticket when the pot is small, but perhaps go up to $54 when it gets bigger.

“If nobody has hit it and we come up to the day of a big event, you really see that pot grow.”

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Navarro’s Pandemic Pick 6

For Navarro, “mandatory” had an additional interpretation on Aug. 6.

He was mandated not to be at Del Mar, because he had contracted COVID-19. Navarro missed his first day at the track in 43 years. He stayed in a nearby hotel and watched the Pick 6 saga unfold.

“On the last day, everybody got involved,” he said. “I was very happy for our players. We had 543 winners each making more than $6,000 and that’s a good thing for everybody going forward, I think.”

True, one winner making an enormous payout is a great story. But more than 500 cashing a nice ticket is excellent, multi-dimension advertising.

Here’s what benefitted the players: Most of the winners were in the middle price range, giving more patrons a realistic shot at the prize. Had there been a 50-to-1 winner in the mix, for instance, there might have been a handful of payouts for that purse.

Best Strategy for a Pick 6 Bet at Del Mar

This is the beauty of the ticket.

How many entries do you take? Where do you have to make a stand?

Based on the price of a ticket, most players need to have a “single” somewhere. That might be a big problem. Taking only one horse in a field of eight? That’s the risk portion of the risk-reward equation.

As charts show, a gambler who can survive a race with a single can take multiple entries somewhere else. And in six races, there’s bound to be at least one that’s downright confusing. Or at least one in which a player may need to take multiple entries or an “all” — the entire field.

Some players cast a wide net and reel in the Pick 6 with a $300 net. Others try to pick off the payday for much less.

“There are all kinds of ways to play this. I’ve seen players go ‘single, single, all, all’ and they still don’t hit it,” Navarro said, referring to a player taking an entire field in two races and thus being stuck with one horse in two other events. “We have big fields, which is both great for the payout and more challenging for the players.”

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The Cinderella Story 

And then, of course, comes the example establishments use to sell a menu item like this.

New York gamblers, for instance, remember a lottery commercial saying, “All you need is a dollar and a dream,” leaving out the extreme longshot probability of cashing.

But the miracle stories are out there.

One of Navarro’s favorites occurred a few years ago.

“This was in the age of the $2 ticket,” he recalled.  “This lady from the Del Mar area comes into my office wanting to cash this Pick 6 ticket. I don’t know whether it was telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, or whatever, but she had a ticket filled with longshots. Real big longshots.

“They had all won. Maybe some of them were in the 80-to-1 range. They were not horses you would normally think of playing, but there they were, all on one ticket.

“This thing hit for about $750,000. She asks for a check. So, after she gets taxes and everything taken out, she walked away with  about half a million dollars.

“You know how much her ticket cost? Four bucks.”

The woman had not only picked out the longshots, but singled them. She had four singles and two races with two selections. Four dollars won’t buy a coffee in many places. But it can buy a jackpot.

Theses are the types of stories that swirl like oxygen around the horse racetracks. There are a million ways to lose, sure. But ahhh, one gratifying memory goes a long way. Never mind the tout services, the tip sheets, or the schooled handicappers. Never mind track conditions, trainers, jockeys, and race distance, or the class level of the horse.

Anybody can hit a big one.

Del Mar bettors will consider their pursuit of this financial Holy Grail throughout the meet.

They have much to choose from, along with one major question: Somebody will hit this Pick 6 — why not me?

Why not you indeed.

About the Author

Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo is a writer for California Casinos, and has covered the horse racing and boxing industry extensively since the 1980s. He was an award-winning writer at the Press of Atlantic City. As a broadcaster, he has won the Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Boxing Broadcasting, issued by the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has called major fights for HBO, ESPN, Showtime, and other networks since the 1980s. He is in the New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame. Dave shifted gears to cover the emerging legalized sports-betting industry in 2018.