09/11/2007 5:05PM

Suffolk Rising


As opposed to my visit to Wonderland Sunday, Monday's outing to Suffolk Downs was cause for cautious optimism: New ownership and management is putting real money into the place, and there's a better chance now than ever the track might win approval for slots and their trickle-down riches.

The two are obviously not unrelated. Casino kingpin Richard Fields, also a key backer of the Excelsior group bidding for the NYRA franchise, bought into Suffolk with sugarplum dreams of slots, not because of an abiding commitment to upgrade the quality of Thoroughbred racing in Massachusetts. But some of the latter might help him get the former. So the place is looking in good repair these days and on Sept. 22 the Massachusetts Handicap will return to the racing calendar for the first time since 2004, with a purse of at least $500,000.

Previous efforts to get slots approved in Massachusetts have failed amid opposition from legislative leaders and the well-heeled proprietors of nearby Connecticutt's two lucrative casinos, but some key politicians have changed their stance this year.

There was talk of a possible Mass Cap appearance by Street Sense as recently as Monday, but the 3-year-old was not one of the six Grade 1 winners (Brass Hat, Evening Attire, Hard Spun, Lawyer Ron, Midnight Lute, Student Council) among the 34 nominees released Tuesday. The race carries a two-tiered bonus system, with an extra $200,000 available to multiple G1 winners in 2007 (only Lawyer Ron, likelier to run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Sept. 30, is eligible) and an extra $100,000 to any horse who has won a graded stakes this year (A.P. Arrow, Fairbanks, Gouldings Green, Hard Spun, Magna Graduate, Palladio, Student Council, Wanderin Boy, Xchanger.)

It's unfair to judge a track by its Monday card, but Suffolk's was a bit hungry: 6 of the 9 races were for $4k to $6k claimers, half of those for nonwinners-of-two-lifetime. Still, only one field was smaller than eight, there were two contentious grass races on a good-looking turf course, and I got to fool around with dime supers, which I strongly advocate but rarely get to play thanks to NYRA's laggardly status in instituting them.

You can have some good fun making five-horse super boxes for just $12 (5x4x3x2 = 120 x $0.10), six-horse super boxes for $36 (6x5x4x3 = 360 x $0.10) or, even smarter, narrowing the top two spots and spreading even further underneath. Instead of making a $2, three-horse exacta box, you could spend the same $12 on a 3x3x7x7 dime-super partwheel.

(Before some asks: A 3x3x7x7 partwheel is 120, not 441, combinations. Since a horse finishing first can't also finish second, third or fourth, the formula is: (x) times (x-1) times (x-2) times (x-3). So a 3x3x7x7 partwheel is 3x2x5x4 combos.)

Of course the super has to pay at least 20.1 times better than the exacta under that scenario to make it a better bet, and I learned quickly you can hit a bunch of superfectas without making any money. I put $36 into both the 2nd and 4th race supers, caught them both, but collected $28.34 the first time and $13.44 the second when chalk ruled. (Speaking of tipping mutuel clerks, as we did here recently, I didn't actually collect the $0.34 or the $0.44 -- maybe dime supers will prove be a boon for clerks.)

And don't forget the other big appeal of dime supers: I wasn't still there for the finale, where the super paid $11,882 for $2. If you'd had the misfortune of having it for $1, the I.R.S. would have taken 25 percent of the $5,941, but for a dime at $594.10, it wasn't even reportable.