07/21/2010 6:14PM

A little Del Mar action


I'm itchy enough for Friday's Saratoga opener that I'm going to be ecumenical for a day and warm up with a little Del Mar pick-4 action today, despite two reservations: The ongoing annoyance of Southern California cards that routinely end with maiden-claiming races where you're betting blindly on races with firsters, and the new annoyance of NYRA's not permitting 50-cent bets on Del Mar's new 50-cent pick-4.


NYRA does a lot of things right, but it has been consistently and stubbornly behind the curve on fractional wagering. It was one of the last venues to offer dime superfectas, due to groundless concerns about tying up betting lines, and now has been dragging its feet on both dropping the minimums for other bets on its own racing and getting regulatory approval to offer the lower minimums on simulcasts available almost everywhere else.

The latter is the more serious concern. If NYRA doesn't want to let anyone play its own trifectas and pick-4's for half a dollar a combo, that's its own questionable business decision but at least every player is being treated equally. But by failing to offer the same minimums on simulcasts that the host tracks do on those races, it is simply penalizing its own customers.

It took over a month of Monmouth 50-cent pick-5's for NYRA to get approval to offer those bets at 50 cents -- a particularly inexcusable delay given that this is a pool with a carryover. Any NYRA customer playing was effectively being forced to play at double the track minimum, as if New Yorkers had to bet a $4 minimum on a SoCal pick-6 carryover when everyone else in the country was playing for $2.

So now there's an ad on the NYRA website saying the 50-cent Pick-5 is "now available," but there's no 50-cent button on the NYRA Rewards betpad for the Del Mar pick-4.


Today's opening-day sequence (and why is there only one pick-4 a day at Del Mar?) starts and ends with maiden races, with the Oceanside Stakes and a conditioned claimer inside that sandwich. I can't finalize a play until I get a look at the board for the first leg, which is rife with firsters and layoff returnees, but here's my thinking so far:

Race 7: The two uncoupled Bafferts (top-fig second-timer Mama Bouche and fast-working Go On Bay), look like A's, with improving third-timer Roman Chic a B. Hoping the early betting and the board will help me sort out several other intriguing firsters. This could be a 3 A's/3 B's/3 C's kind of a race.

Race 8: Twirling Candy will be a solid favorite in the Oceanside, but I can't single a horse trying turf and two turns for the first time no matter how impressive his two Hollywood sprints were. So I'll go three-deep also using the field's two stakes-winners -- two-time grass winner Macias and second-off-a-layoff Gallant Gent.

Race 9: Think I've got it down to four from a field of nine, still probably need to split up the 2,5,9 and 10 as two A's and two B's.

Race 10: Chaotic as maiden-claiming finales can be, three really do stand out here: obvious favorite Bigmikeistheman, tough-trip second-timer Grand Maneuver, and Hollendorfer firster Jakesam. If I can afford some wacky C's, I'll find a couple.

Back later with the final play. Time to take a first look at that Friday Saratoga card.

8:05pm: Time to get tied on at Del Mar. First WPS flash for leg 1 of the pick-4, the maiden race for older fillies with five first-time starters, showed the expected support for the Baffert firster and unexpected support for ML 15-1 Hofmans firster Vindicated Ghost, a daughter of Vindication and half-sister to Salute the Sarge. She opened as the third choice in the win pool, second choice in the place pool and the favorite in the show pool, sometimes a sign of someone putting in a decent-sized across-the-board bet.

Second flasg, taking the WPS pools from $30k to $70k, Vindicated Ghost jumped to slight 5-2 favorite. Someone likes her, and I've seen enough to make her an A. The Baffert firster is a cool 6-1, might drop her a notch. The three other firsters are 16-1 and up.

8:20 pm: Okay, here goes:


8:35 pm: Not to get ahead of myself, but what are California's dead-heat/pick-4 rules anyway? Two payoffs or (I suspect) a split pool? Leg 1 ended in a dead-heat between Baffert firster Go On Babe (the one I semi-demoted from an A to a B+, 4-1 on the board, $6.00 on the dh payoff) and the half-sister to Lava Man, Lava Girl, who was 32-1 but paid $28.60. The two of them won a three-way photo with the other Baffert, 9-5 Mama Bouche. Vindicated Ghost, who drifted to 6-1, was in good position early but faded badly late.

I said "semi-demoted" because I ran Go On Babe through the B's in both the 9th and 10th. So the live tickets -- basically a 3x4x3 -- look like this:

$2: 3,6,9/2,5/1,8 ($2 BAAA)

$1: 3,6,9/2,5/1,8 ($1 CAAA)

$1: 3,6,9/9,10/1,8 ($1 BABA)

$1: 3,6,9/2,5/10 ($1 BAAB)

$1: 3,6,9/9,10/10 ($1 BABB)

Twirling Candy opened 3-5 in the Oceanside. May have to get further involved if Gallant Gent stays 12-1. Seems like a big price for a horse making his second start off a layoff who was beaten only 3 3/4 in the BC Juvenile Turf in his only grass start.

9:05 pm: Twirling Candy ($3.60) looks like the real deal. The Candy Ride colt (Craig/Sadler) settled in nicely and sensibly behind Macias's milder-than-expected pace, collared the front-runner in upper stretch and drew off as if he'll go farther. Macias held second over...Gallant Gent at 13-1. Retreating into hope-I-get-my-money-back mode.

Why do we have separate payouts for two- and three-race multirace bets but not for pick-4's? The daily doubles into the Oceanside paid $8.20 with Go On Babe and $143.20 with Lava Girl. The pick-three difference was $14.40 vs. $198.60. But the pick-4 will pay the same with either horse.

9:50 pm: Class-dropper The Whammer (9-2 ML, $7.20) mowed down and then barely held off the rerallying Total Sum to leave me alive for single Washingtons on combos returning $164, $109 and $302 -- none enough to get out for the day.

Time to start packing. The plan was to leave right after rush hour tomorrow morning and make it to Saratoga by 2:30 p.m., but if I were you I'd take the over.