09/21/2006 12:00AM

For answer to mystery, look north


NEW YORK - New York horseplayers have been puzzled by a recent parimutuel mystery. If it were a Perry Mason novella, it might be called "The Case of the Perplexing Pick-Six Probables."

Since New York tracks became the first to post those will-pays a few years ago, it has usually been pretty easy to figure out how many live tickets there were to each horse. On a non-carryover day at Belmont, for example, if the will-pays were $44,444 to No. 1, $22,222 to No. 2, and $11,111 to No. 3, there clearly would be one, two, or four winning tickets from a front-end payout pool of $44,444. Whether or not you were personally alive, it was interesting to see how the pick six players had handicapped the race, and to know which horses you could root against if you were rooting for a carryover.

In recent months, though, it seemed that something had gone awry with the probables. The will-pays didn't seem to add up. In the example above, you might see those easily divisible payoffs but then there might be an additional probable payoff of $12,119 or $33,416 that could not be divided into $44,444 to produce a whole number. How could there 2.7 or 1.3 live tickets?

The most glaring example came Sept. 3, the day of the only double-carryover pool of the 35-day Saratoga meeting. There was $1,187,100 bet on top of a carryover of just over $326,000, meaning that after deductions for takeout and consolations, those with all six winners would be sharing $1,002,939. Here were the posted will-pays going into the finale:

1: $334,313

2: $62,683

3: Carryover

4: $1,002,939

5: $81,209

6: $187,465

7: $1,002,939

8: $299,384

9: $111,437

10: $81,209

Obviously, there would be one winner if No. 4 or No. 7 won, and a few others were easily divisible: There would be three winners at $334,313 with No. 1, and 16 winners at $62,683 with the favored No. 2. But a few of the others made no sense. Dividing $1,002,939 by $187,465 gives you 5.35 live tickets to No. 6, dividing it by $299,384 suggests 3.35 live tickets to No. 8, and dividing it by $81,209 comes out to 12.35 live tickets to No.o5 and No. 10. How could this be, Mr. Mason?

The answer came a few days later when I was visiting an out-of-town track. There was a one-day carryover into the second day of the Belmont fall meet that I was planning to play, but I was having trouble shaving the ticket down to a manageable size. I suddenly had the devious thought that since I was at Woodbine, both out of town and out of nation, I could either spend 10 percent less or get 10 percent more combinations if I bet ontrack in Canadian currency. I could change $1,000 American into roughly $1,111 Canadian, which would get me an additional 55 "free" combos, or spend $900 instead of $1,000 for the same number of tickets as I could buy over the phone. Of course my winnings would be paid off in Canadian currency and I'd get 10 percent less than the American payoff, but I would be happy to get more tickets for the discount. It somehow didn't seem fair, but if those were the rules, why not take advantage?

It turns out those aren't the rules, and therein lies the solution to the mystery.

When Canadian wagers began being commingled into New York's pools earlier this year, track officials anticipated such devious thinking and set the minimum for Canadian wagers on the New York pick six at $3 rather than $2, with someone betting in Canadian $3 units being credited with a $2.70 American holding. That's where all those ".35" tickets come from.

Patrick Mahony, vice president of parimutuel operations for the New York Racing Association, broke down the numbers.

"A review of the referenced day's pick six potential winning dollars used to calculate the will-pays," he explained, "shows that the No. 5 [$81,209], No. 6 [$187,465], No. 8 [$299,384], and No. 10 [$81,209] each had, in addition to live U.S. dollars, a single live $3 Canadian wager converted to $2.70 USD. This would account for these odd prices that do not add back to the single-ticket horses' payoff, No. 4 and No. 7 [$1,002,939], which were domestic wagers."

That was a pretty good collective handicapping job by the Canadian pick six players, holding four of the 62 live tickets sold throughout North America. Alas for them, the race was won by No. 9, Irish Ballerina, meaning there were exactly nine winners at $111,437, all of them domestic.

One of these days, though, it will work out the other way. Let's say there's exactly a million to be divided between two tickets, one sold for $3 Canadian, one for $2 American. Instead of each one paying $500,000, the American ticket will pay $425,532 and the Canadian one will return $574,468.