10/03/2007 12:44AM

The Emerald Project

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Emerald
Now that it's over, I have a confession to make. For the last few months I've developed a secret, after-dark, weekend Internet habit: I've been using my NYRA Rewards account to play the pick-four at Emerald Downs.

My aesthetic reasons were that I'm fond of Emerald, an unusually player-friendly and well-run track; that I like playing one small track as a counterpoint and refreshment to my NYRA action; and that Emerald is a fun and relatively easy track for an outsider or novice to handicap because it has a largely self-contained horse population with few shippers.

My venal reason was that the Emerald pick-four pools are small enough, usually between $5k and $15k, that I thought by spreading out on multiple tickets in a pick-four market dominated by small caveman tickets, I might be able to scoop some pools.

It had been fun but only marginally profitable, because while I'd had some nicely overlaid payoffs, I hadn't taken down any full pools or monster payoffs. But that all seemed like it was about to change last Sunday, closing night of the meet.

My best prices won the first two legs, at $21.40 and $13.60, leaving me alive 3x4 into the last two legs. I made it through leg #3 with an $8.60 winner, and when I saw the pick-three payoff for those first three winners, I figured I had to be just about the only person alive for 4-of-4: The one-dollar payoff for those three winners was $2,952.20.

I never saw pick-four probables to the four favorites I had covered in the finale's field of eight, but off the $2,952.20 pick-three, I had to think it was coming back around $5k to the 6-5 favorite in the finale and half or the whole $15k pool with the others. It seemed like a no-brainer to bet $100 win savers on each of the four horses I didn't have in the finale, since they were 11-1, 26-1, 31-1 and 40-1.

So the 6-5 shot wins the last race of the meeting with the 40-1 shot second, and I'm pretty sure it's a good result since the pick four of a $2,952.20 pick-three into a $4.40 winner has to pay more than the $4100 I would have gotten if the 40-1 shot had won, right? Wrong. The pick-four payout was a dismal $1,037.20. Yes, the races 7-8-9 pick-three had paid $2,952.20 and the races 7-8-9-10 pick four had paid $1,037.20. Thanks to my (in retrospect) idiotically extravagant hedge savers, I had turned the whole proposition into less than an even-money affair.

How did that happen? Well, turns out I'm not the only person who likes the pick-four more than the pick-three. The pool for the 7-8-9 pick-three was only $3,790, so there was exactly one winning $1 pick-three ticket sold. The pick-four, however, had attracted a closing-night pool of $18,641, so there were $13 worth of winning pick-fours sold.

Live by the volatility of small pools, die by the volatility of small pools.

--I was looking at an old past-performance file that Dan Illman posted over on his Formblog and stumbled over a neat little piece of historical trivia: What's the connection between the sixth race at Woodbine on May 14, 1995, and the result of last Sunday's Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont?

In that race 12 years ago, a N2L allowance for a $24,400 purse at a mile and a sixteenth, Smart Strike beat Langfuhr by 1 1/4 lengths. Smart Strike is the sire of Curlin and Langfuhr is the sire of Lawyer Ron.