09/07/2007 2:11AM

Another Opening, Another Show


The opening-day attendance at Belmont Friday will be closer to 6,000 than to Saratoga's 30,052 opener or Del Mar's 42,082. In most other respects, though, Belmont Fall is every bit as much of a boutique meeting as those August Places To Be that closed earlier this week.

Saratoga runs 36 days with 14 Grade 1 stakes races. Del Mar has 43 cards and 7 Grade 1's. Belmont Fall is shorter than either, with 33 days and 11 Grade 1's. Nine of those 11 will be run on three days: the Garden City, Ruffian and Man o'War are all this Saturday; the Vosbugh, Beldame, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup will all be run Sunday, Sept. 30th, and the Champagne and Frizette are carded for Saturday, Oct. 6. The orphan Grade 1's are the Gazelle Sept. 15 and the Flower Bowl Sept. 29.

Friday's feature is the MacArthur Handicap for older statebred males, which drew a field of seven familiar veterans who have banked a combined $2.7 million. Gold N Roses, personally responsible for $740,304 of that total, will be much lower than his morning-line odds of 9-5. The 5-year-old Gold Token gelding comes off a blowout 9 1/4-length romp in the Morrissey at Saratoga and drew the outside stretching out to a mile. It's a stretch he's made before, with a 4-for-6 career record at a mile and both losses coming over sloppy tracks.

The meet opens with a one-turn nine-furlong race for a remarkable group of $25k older males who make the grizzled MacArthur crew look like spring chickens. The nine horses in the opener include three 8-year-olds and two 7-year-olds, and the nonet has made a combined 379 career starts -- an astounding average of 42 starts per runner -- with a combined 78 victories.

--With no NYRA races to play since Monday, you commenters have been an inquisitive lot this week. Some belated answers to your queries:

*jim_p asked: I was wondering if sometime you could comment on the practice of tipping, or not tipping, the mutuel clerks when you cash a substantial ticket, especially a signer, and if you agree with tipping, how much.

I really have to think back 15 years on this one, because I've been using a NYRA-One or NYRA Rewards account rather than mutuel clerks for that long, so my signers are processed automatically. Back in the day, though, it seemed customary to tip a clerk $100 if you hit something for $10k or more. This was partly a good-karma thing to do and partly for extra services rendered on account of making a score -- filling out the W-2G and sometimes requesting a check so you weren't walking around with a ton of cash. No one should ever feel obligated to tip a clerk, and it's a highly personal decision. On the other hand, if you hit a superfecta for $20,057.50 after taxes and actually scoop up the two quarters as well as the $57 in small bills, it's fair to say you're a cheapskate.

*green_mtn_punter says: [T]he continuing decline in big race day attendance, i.e., Whitney and Travers, is symptomatic of out of control Breeders Cup Mania among owners and trainers. What do you think can be done to get the Eclipse Awards back to rewarding racing performance over a season rather than being a future book on breeding fees and yearling sales prices?

I'm with you on the frustration over early retirements and absurdly high stallion-prospect valuations, but I think the Eclipse Awards have in general gone to the right horses in recent years. For five straight years now, the voters have overwhelmingly selected an older horse with a broader and more-accomplished resume over a more-celebrated 3-year-old Triple Crown star: Azeri over War Emblem in 2002, Mineshaft over Funny Cide in 2003, Ghostzapper over Smarty Jones in 2004, Saint Liam over Afleet Alex in 2005 and Invasor over Bernardini and Barbaro in 2006.

*rick_hf says: On the note of the Breeders' Cup, what do you think are the chances of Saratoga ever hosting the championships?....why not Saratoga?

It's never going to happen, primarily because Saratoga can be nearly frigid by BC time. Also, Belmont has been running for weeks at that time of year, and opening up Saratoga for a weekend and relocating the employees there would cost a small fortune. Belmont holds a lot more people a lot more comfortably and is in a much bigger media market.

*t_marin asked: A few pick 4 questions: I play the pick 4 the same way you mentioned you played the pick 6 as far as laying out the combinations (4 As/3 As + 1B/3 As + 1C/2 As + 2Bs). Do you also play the pick 4 this way? I also tend to play most of my Cs in the first leg (where if the odds are high, the general public will not include combos starting with a long shot) and I tend not to play many Cs in the last leg (figuring that I can always play those horses to win if I am still alive). Any thoughts on this? Finally in the Hopeful (where I just missed hitting the pick 4) I rated the horses as follows: C: Magestic Warrior A: Maimonides X: Georgetown A: Ready’s Image Just curious, how did you have the horses rated?

1. I often play the pick four exactly that way, with one crucial difference from playing the pick six: In the pick six, you're just trying to hit the thing once, but in the pick four you usually want to have more than a buck if your strongest or most value-laden opinions prove correct. So I usualy play my AAAA ticket much stronger than the others, and sometimes punch the 3A/1B tickets a little harder too.
2. Agree that longshot C's are more valuable in the first than last leg, because more bettors seem to widen rather than narrow their scope as they go. People like to be alive to as many as possible in the last leg and, everything else being equal, there are probably more 1x2x3x5 tickets sold than 5x3x2x1's. It's still better to be alive to longshots in the finale than to have to bet against yourself hedging, though, and one thing to consider is a final round-it-up ticket that gets you a few of those goofy horses in the finale. Let's say you've put $92 into a pick four that doesn't go deeper than three horses in the last leg. You could make it an even $100 and buy a 1x2x1x4 ticket for $8, getting yourself alive to four more horses in the finale in case you've been brilliant in the first three legs.
3. I went Ready's Image-A, Majestic Warrior-B, Maimonides-C, Georgetown-X, and one of the few tickets I cashed amid Monday's bloodbath was a Ready's Image-Majestic Warrior exacta box. While Maimonides had the second-best figure in the field and was widely perceived as the second-best horse in the race, I did not consider him the second most-likely winner because of the race dynamics. I thought the most likely scenario was that Ready's Image would simply romp, but that the most likely scenario for his defeat was a duel with Maimonides that would sap them both. I considered that to be at least as likely an outcome as Maimonides getting loose and wiring the field. The $31.60 exacta payoff of a $15 winner over a 3-5 shot was textbook value: Ready's Image was 3-5 to win the whole race but effectively 11-10 to win a three-horse race for second over Maimonides and Georgetown.

*Finally, marcel asked: Where do all of the nifty photos, post cards, movie posters come from? The photos, I imagine, come from a cell phone cam. How about the others? Do you collect kitsch?

Most of the illustrations are lifted from other websites but some are the evidence of a borderline-addictive eBay habit of amassing racing collectibles (207 transactions to date.) I have alerts set up for playing cards and poker chips with famous racehorses on them, but I really should stop buying things like the lime-green ashtray supposedly made from a casting of one of Nashua's hooves. Even if it was only $8.

--I'm heading north again for the weekend, but not back to Saratoga. I'll be at Woodbine Saturday, doing a free seminar with Jennifer Morrison at 11 a.m.. And since Boston's sort of on the way back home, the plan is to spend Sunday at Wonderland (Greyhound Park) and Monday at Suffolk Downs.