06/22/2008 1:29PM

Prize Package

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I went back to Belmont yesterday for the first time since the Big Brownout, and in a new capacity: Human Prize Package. DRF Press ran a promotional contest this spring where anyone who ordered a copy of Best with The Best 2: Longshots online at drf.com in its first two weeks of publication was automatically entered in a random drawing to win a trip to his favorite track -- plus lunch with your choice of available BWTB authors. The winner, who didn't even know he'd been entered until he won, would have preferred Brad Free but chose Belmont over Hollywood, which meant he instead got Garden Terrace sandwiches with me and Mike Watchmaker along with two nights at the Garden City Hotel, roundtrip airfare for two, and a $100 betting voucher.

We had no idea if the winner would know a fork from a furlong and what kind of a lunch was in store, so were pleasantly surprised to meet an enthusiastic and knowledgeable fan, who not only understood what a pick-4 partwheel is but also has published two books on somewhat more complicated economics, which he teaches at the university level. He had invited his wife to join him, but the saintly woman said he'd have more fun with his gambling buddies, so he was joined by a fellow economist from Memphis who has been studying predictive markets and has four online betting accounts, and a horse-owner/golf pro/inventor friend from Pennsylvania. No explanations of furlongs were necessary.

(But how about an explanation for the $3.50 per-person "seating charge" on the lunch check? I can understand a food-and-beverage minimum if NYRA is concerned about someone nursing a single cup of coffee at a clubhouse table all afternoon, but a $17.50 chair surcharge on a party of five eating $14.95 sandwiches seemed like an oxygen tax.)

Anyway, after I took the prizewinners down with me in the opener by singing the virtues of 9-1 Big Bold Place, who backed up gamely through the field after a perfect trip, they were more interested in Watchmaker's subsequent selections, and played the early pick-four to get alive to his longshot special, 20-1 Cherokee Speed in the fifth -- who came flying a little too late for the pick-4 but got up for second to get them well as the bottom half of a $206 exacta under a $10.80 winner.

There was brief discussion of playing the new Sixty Minute Pick Six, but neither the DRF authors nor their guests knew or were able to find out much about this pretty well-concealed new wager. It seems to be being promoted only half-heartedly but apparently met its $100k guaranteed pool. I can't find the handle or payoffs in the charts for either Belmont, Delaware, Monmouth or Philly, whose races made up the sequence, but according to NYRA's website there's a $64,477.55 carryover to next Saturday so maybe we can get it figured out by then.

Mauralakana was very good winning Saturday's featured G2 New York under top weight of 123 by a long neck over Dynaforce, with Hostess another neck back in third in a tight finish among the three 5-year-old mares. It was Dynaforce's first start since finishing a close third to Satwa Queen at Deauville last August, and she's eligible to improve. Hostess has now finished behind Mauralakana in three if their four meetings, handing Mauralakana her lone defeat of the year going a mile and a half in the G3 Orchid at Gulfstream.

Mauralakana's victory at $3.30, combined with the triumphs of Veritable at $4.70 in the 7th and Bontempi at $3.50 in the 10th, produced a paltry $109.50 late pick-4 even amid the defeat of the day's heaviest favorite, 0.55-1 Mucho Macho in the 8th. Mucho Macho, who earned a 103 Beyer winning his debut May 17, recovered from an awkward start, went head and head with second-choice Goldsville ($9.30) until upper stretch, then had no response as Goldsville spurted away and drew off by 4 1/2 lengths.

Not that I did, but one could have turned that $109.50 pick-4 into an $11,398 pick-6 if you had prefaced the last four winners with $10.80 Big Al and $22.00 Optimistic Steve, the latter a haveable winner in a tough race if you're as fond of turnbacks as I am. Optimistic Steve was cutting back from a mile and a half to seven furlongs, and Saturday's distance was the shortest of his entire career: All 23 of his previous starts had been at 8 to 12 furlongs, including a sixth-place finish in the Street Sense-Any Given Saturday Tampa Bay Derby last year.