Between The Hedges: Getting A Handle On Handle

Horseplayers can wager on as many as 77 different pools during nine-race cards at each of the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) tracks comprising Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.

With so many options, a handicapper must decide on which wagers to focus on, negotiating a delicate balance between risk and reward in search of the best possible payout.

Over time, the betting public has settled on their favorite wagers at NYRA tracks. The most popular wagers at NYRA in 2020 – by average handle per pool – were the Empire 6 mandatory payout days [$2.8 million], the Early Pick 5 [$546K], the retail-only Late Pick 5 [$444K], and the Late Pick 4 [$429K].

The mandatory payout days of the Empire 6 ranged from $420K on an abbreviated carryover on February 23 to $6.1 million in Saratoga on August 9.

The Empire 6, a jackpot style wager offered at a $0.20 base, shifted to a daily mandatory payout in January 2021 and was replaced at the current Belmont Park spring/summer meet by a traditional Pick 6: a retail-only wager featuring a $1 base and 15 percent takeout with an opportunity for carryover days.

The success of multi-race wagers has garnered much attention. Twitter users post their plays and share their major scores, entire podcasts are dedicated to studying the sequences, and analysts on America’s Day at the Races, the acclaimed national telecast produced by NYRA in partnership with FOX Sports, spend airtime discussing their tickets for the audience to follow along.

The multi-race wagers offer the best value on the wagering menu and allow fans the best chance to bet a little to win a lot. But these multi-race options represent only four out of the 77 wagers on a nine-race card. In 2020, the Empire 6 mandatory payout days, Early Pick 5, Late Pick 5, and Late Pick 4 only accounted for 15 percent of all handle.

So, what about the other wagers?

By total handle, the most popular NYRA wager is the exacta, which handled 22 percent of all wagers at NYRA in 2020. A close second was the win pool, which handled 21 percent of all wagers, while the trifecta pool finished third with 12 percent of all wagers.

Because of the sheer number of intra-race pools compared to multi-race pools, total intra-race handle exceeds multi-race pools. But the difference between the two is closing over the years.

2020 Average Handle per Pool and Total Number of Pools

While still popular, there have been noticeable drops in the exacta and trifecta pools as a percentage of total wagers. In 2016, intra-race pools comprised 76 percent of total handle. In 2020, that number was 71 percent. With more than $1.8 billion wagered on NYRA races in 2020, that reflects over $90 million of wagers shifted from intra-race to multi-race wagering.

What has caused the change?

Since 2016, the wagering menu has not changed except for the introduction of the Late Pick Five. First limited in the number of days offered, and only offered to customers of NYRA Bets, the pool eventually became a daily fixture open to the public starting in July 2019.

Additionally, the switch from a traditional $2 Pick Six to the $0.20 Empire 6 in August 2019 created mandatory payout carryover days that were more accessible to the average customer. These two new wagers gave bettors additional higher value opportunities on the back end of the card, which formerly was highlighted by the Late Pick 4. Clearly popular, bettors flocked to the new wagers.

The popularity of the Empire 6 and Late Pick 5 has impacted the handle on the Late Pick 4. Looking at the total percentage of NYRA handle since 2016, the Late Pick 4 is the only Pick N wager to lose significant market share in the NYRA wagering menu landscape. By comparison, the Early Pick 4 at the beginning of the race card has stayed consistent even as the Early Pick 5 grows in popularity.

Percentage of Total NYRA Handle – by Year by Pool

The change to a $1 traditional Pick 6 should provide some differentiation in the later portion of the card, and NYRA is looking forward to analyzing how players respond. This Thursday’s card at Belmont will feature a Pick 6 carryover of more than $61,000.

An upcoming edition of Between The Hedges will offer a closer look at the $1 traditional Pick 6, which launched on Thursday’s Opening Day card at Belmont.

For more information, please visit and send your questions for Between The Hedges to

The post Between The Hedges: Getting A Handle On Handle appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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