12/03/2007 1:55PM

Surreal Sunday


I've made the roundtrip drive from my Hempstead homestead to Aqueduct a few thousand times but it never seemed more surreal than on Sunday: The trees are still turning red and gold in New York, but there were two inches of snow on the ground by 10 a.m. and a cancellation seemed odds-on.

I soldiered on through the weird combination of fall foliage and first snowfall, not because the final card of opening week on the inner track was so compelling but to attend a brunch hosted by the worthy Backstretch Employees Service Team. They screened a new 30-minute documentary on women in racing, and are selling a DVD of it that's a much better stocking-stuffer than a lump of coal, with a portion of the proceeds going to the B.E.S.T.

It was a hurry-up card at Aqueduct, with the 1st going off at 12:30 and the 9th at 3:42 and a lot of chalk in between. In the late pick-four, I thought there were cinches in races 7 and 8, the two stakes on the card, while the first and last legs seemed inscrutable maiden races with weak favorites and all sorts of possibilities for bombers. I made two tickets, a 10x1x1x12 and a 5x1x1x5 for a total of 145 (120+25) unit bets.

The good news was that my two cinches in the middle came through, with Light Tactic ($5.40) winning the Personal Bid and Sherine ($3.60) taking the East View. Sadly, they were bookended by a 6-5 winner in the 10-horse field and a 7-2 in the finale, so even with having it on both tickets I got a whopping return of $150.50 for each $145 invested, which works out to odds of 1-to-29. A parlay of Light Tactic and Sherine would have produced a $9.72 for $2 return which I cleverly reduced to $2.07 for $2 through the miracle of multirace wagering.

After dashing home through the snow, Hollywood's late pick four looked more promising, and began gloriously with $51.40 and $16 winners that left me alive to favorites In Summation and Greg's Gold in the featured Vernon O. Underwood Handicap, where I got bushwhacked by Bushwhacker ($14.00). I was of course rooting for him to come down during a long inquiry, but if I'd been working the stewards' stand, I too would have voted to leave him up. A logical type won the finale in a three-way photo over two I didn't use to complete an $11,682 payoff that you'd think would still have paid at least $3k had even-money In Summation been elevated above Bushwhacker. Oh well.

I've been dabbling in the Hollywood races because I'm thinking of getting involved in the California pick-six carryovers this winter for the first time. The pools are just too good to resist. So bear with me as I chronicle that maiden voyage as I will undoubtedly be saying some amateurish and naive things about California racing in the weeks ahead.

I'll start with a whopper: I keep hearing TV commentators talking about how this horse or that horse is either undefeated or unproven over synthetic surfaces. I've read early Derby Trail commentaries about how we won't know if west coast 3-year-olds are legit until they head east and run over real dirt. But my personal impression is that it may be a huge mistake to lump all synthetic surfaces together. The Polytrack used at Del Mar and Keeneland has produced running times and race shapes that bear little resemblance to conventional dirt racing, but the Cushion Track being used at Hollywood and Santa Anita seems to play much more like old-school dirt than Polytrack.

Agree or disagree?