10/24/2006 11:00PM

'All' button crucial on inscrutable Polytrack

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine horseplayers have had to endure a lot this year, with racing moving to the inner dirt track for a two-month stint while the main track was being converted to an all-weather surface, which has been in use since Aug. 30. Form reversals have been prevalent, resulting in many indecipherable longshot winners.

Those who play the Win Four, Woodbine's version of the pick four, have had to tolerate a substantial increase in the takeout on the popular bet. Several years ago, Woodbine lowered the takeout for Win Four bets on live racing from 25 percent to 14.75 percent, but then raised it back to 25 percent at the beginning of this meeting.

This year, Woodbine also changed the base of the Win Four, lowering it from $1 to 20 cents (a minimum of $1 must be wagered). The decrease has given horseplayers with small bankrolls the opportunity to cover considerably more combinations than they were able to in the past.

A sharp bettor at The Winner's Edge, a Toronto area teletheater, made a killing on the Win Four on Sept. 27, scooping the entire $32,102 pool on a 20-cent ticket, which cost a total of $86.40.

The winning ticket had all eight horses in the first leg, which was won by 19-1 shot Truth Takes Time. Two horses were left out of the second leg, and they finished last and second-last, as 48-1 shot Devilishly Bold won, despite running without any shoes. The three runners used in the third leg ran one-two-three, with 17-1 shot Quite a Nightmare getting home on top. The two horses used in the final leg ran one-two, with first-time starter Moon Over Dubai scoring at 9-2 over Shestolemysaxafone.

That Wednesday evening card was made up of cheap, competitive fields, and playing a 20-cent Win Four instead of the conventional $1 Win Four was obviously a shrewd move. Things have been in a state of disarray here since Polytrack racing began, because it has been difficult to predict which horses would take an immediate liking to the surface and which would not. Covering as many bases as possible in exotic wagers is a wise strategy, until horses develop some reliable Polytrack form.

The pick three is another popular bet at Woodbine, in spite of its exorbitant 26.3 percent takeout. The main advantage of these "horizontal" or multi-race wagers is that the takeout is spread over several races. Another plus is that win-shy horses, with plenty of seconds and thirds on their record, are usually worth pitching.

In August 2005, I cashed a $7,050 pick three on a $36 wager, because I was fortunate enough to use all the runners in a race in which the winner returned a whopping $125.40. If I had cut down the ticket in that leg, that horse would have been the first one I would have thrown out, because he was returning from an eight-month layoff and had hit the board only once in 13 starts in 2004.

Hitting the "all" button in the right race, while taking a stand in one or two of the other legs, is probably the best way to cash a large horizontal wager, and competitive races with big fields tend to produce the most longshots.

Friday's seventh race at Woodbine is a wide-open turf contest, and using the entire field in the Win Four or pick three might not be a bad idea. The one-mile maiden special is full of first-timers and lightly raced 2-year-olds, most of whom have yet to try the grass.