09/09/2007 9:49PM

Through the Looking Glass


BOSTON--Like a moth to the flame, or Charlie Brown to that football Lucy's holding, I keep going back to Wonderland Greyhound Park, the site of my parimutuel awakening, even though I know its time has passed and you can't go home again.

I spent four or five nights a week there from 1976 to 1978, then returned for the first time 22 years later, toward the end of the Handicapalooza tour I did with Mike Watchmaker. It was devastating. I wrote in a column for the July 25, 2000 DRF:

"The pilgrimage was disheartening. We remembered Wonderland as a charmed place, a bustling little quarter-mile oval with packed stands and a busy grandstand apron. What we found was a grim and silent simulcasting factory with lots of television monitors but little energy. In the clubhouse dining room, no one even bothered turning up the sound to alert you that Swifty the mechanical rabbit was beginning his appointed rounds and the race was about to start."

I tried again in 2003, during what may have been the first and was certainly the last book signing ever held at a dog track. My chief memory of the event is that the guy who used a boxcutter to open the two cartons of books we had ambitiously sent also opened a crucial vein on his arm, spraying every copy with his bloody autograph. I choose to believe that's the only reason we sold roughly two(2) copies.

Yet back I went Sunday night, being only six miles away on the eve of a long-planned Monday visit to Suffolk Downs. If possible, things have deteriorated even further. If there were 100 people in the one small open area of the track, I couldn't see most of them, and I counted exactly 11 on the apron for the night's second race. The only open outdoor area starts a good 10 yards to the right of the finish line, so you can't even watch the dogs cross the wire.

The prices posted for race 2 suggested the WPS pools are not terribly robust these days:

1: 5.20 9.00 ----
2: ----- 3.60 7.80
8: ----- ----- 3.80

That first set of dashes is no typo: Nobody bet on the 8-5 favorite to show. And I'm guessing the place pool was about $24, with $2 bet on the winner and $5 on the runner-up.

Becoming a retired-greyhound owner has ruined me as a dog handicapper. Greyhound racing is actually a fascinating handicapping exercise, with a high premium on predicting how the race will unfold into the first turn, but I no longer ponder such things: I merely look for the black dogs who look like like Badger Pluto and the black-and-whites who look like Badger Popeye, throwing out all the reds and brindles. I know, it's pathetic. But in race 3 it worked: I made a $10 three-dog quinella box of the black and the two black-and-whites and they ran 1-2-3 around the track. I missed the $82 tri but the Q of Abe (Stritzal-Fast Pass) and Echelon (Crew Cut Casey-Gimena) came back a fat $17.20. Having won my first bet at Wonderland 31 years ago, I decided to win my last, and called it a night.

--We have a policy at DRF of not printing "brag boxes," those squibs you sometimes see on the racing pages of daily newspapers that Clocker Joe or whoever makes their picks had six on top yesterday. But one of our own deserves one: Dave Litfin, who according to a scorecard kept by the very useful racing-links site equidaily.com, came out on top among the 26 public handicappers who made daily selections during the Saratoga meet. Litfin picked 109 winners from 345 races, three more than Tom Cunningham of the Albany Times-Union and 35 to 45 more than four employees of a downstate tabloid that captured four of the bottom five spots in the rankings.

What makes Litfin's achievement all the more impressive is that his picks were made and published a full day before anyone else's because DRF prints a day earlier than the other papers. That means that every other public handicappper has the benefit of Litfin's analysis, and not one of them could improve on his selections.

Before he gets a swelled head, I'll note that he went 1-for-10 Sunday at Belmont with his lone winner paying $2.30.

---Speaking of that $2.30 winner, it was Oprah Winney, tuning up for the BC F&M Sprint in the restricted Schenectady Handicap against four overmatched statebred rivals. NYRA permitted show betting and the bridgejumpers jumped in at $2.10, but some of them were probably looking for bridges after they apparently tried to do it again in the finale: Posted, with triple-digit Beyers in his last two starts, was 2-5 to win a statebred N2x but wilted from chasing Stonewood early and faded to fourth. The show prices in his absence, with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th choices running 1-2-3, were $9.60, $14.60 and $17.80.

We'll catch up together on the rest of the opening three days of Belmont Fall after I get back home, crunch the numbers, and watch the replays on something bigger than a breadbox.