08/15/2007 3:29AM

Optional Reading

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I get the feeling sometimes that so-called "optional claiming races," at least as they exist at NYRA tracks, are a widely misunderstood race condition -- starting with the fact that we even call them optional claiming races, and the way that DRF itself lists them in the past performances.

Zebra_2
Take Wednesday's opener at Saratoga. It appears in the race header as "OC 50k/N2x" and it will be described by seminar and simulcast hosts as an optional claimer. But it really is just a plain old N2x allowance race ("Alw69000N2x"), with one little twist: If a horse has already run himself out of this condition -- already won two races other than maiden, claiming, starter, or restricted -- he can still run in this race if his owner's willing to risk losing him for $50k.

In tomorrow's 1st, however, all nine fillies qualify under the allowance condition and none is for sale. Yet everyone will call the race an optional claimer when it is identical to an N2x allowance. It's sort of as if the Kentucky Derby were open to zebras as well as thoroughbreds, and no zebras were entered, but everyone called it a zebra race and we listed the condition as "3Z&C"

It's a little different in the 3rd race, an "OC 100k/C" where just one horse (8-1 outsider City Weekend) is in for a $100k tag. Same deal in the 6th race, an "OC75k/N3x" where only one of the nine entrants (likely favorite Electric Light) is in for a $75k tag. So it's only the fact that Electric Light has 4 career wins where his eight opponents have 3 each that makes this any different from an "Alw75000N3x".

Yet I constantly hear horseplayers talk about horses "dropping" into an optional-claimer from straight allowance company, when in fact they're running in a slightly tougher race, one open to horses that have already won at this level.

--I've made a first pass at the pick-six portion of the Wednesday program (races 4-9), and it looks like the two bookend races might be the biggest stumbling blocks. The opening leg is an eight-horse baby race with seven firsters from tough customers including Asmussen, Mott, Pletcher and Zito. The finale is a full field of $40k older grass fillies. Maybe there will be some scratches to help.