08/28/2003 12:00AM

Answers to questions worth reviewing


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Hardly anyone from my old neighborhood on Long Island ever had the faintest idea what I do for a living. I was just an anonymous face at the Olive Garden and the checkout line at Wal-Mart.

Saratoga Springs is different. For six weeks this is the center of the horse racing universe. Total strangers often smile and strike up a conversation with something like "How's your meet going?" or, "What were you thinking picking against that Todd Pletcher-trained 2-year-old?"

Many pertinent inquiries are also made at the end of the free Siro's seminars, enough of them to make up an "Ask Dave" column.

Q: Do you feel the pick four still offers value?

A: Yes, under the right conditions. Through the first 31 days at Saratoga, favorites had won 122 of 282 races, an extraordinary win rate of 43 percent that is 10 points above the universal average. When the chalk is winning four of every nine races there's a good chance at least two of them will be in the pick four sequence. That makes for small payoffs like the record-low $31 that included the Bobby Frankel-trained duo of Sightseek and Zenda on the first Sunday of the meet.

Even at this chalky meet, 21 of the first 31 Saratoga pick fours exceeded the parlay, including four of the five guaranteed Saturday pools, one of which paid nearly 2 1/2 times the parlay. Seven pick fours paid lower than a parlay, and three were virtual ties.

During the past two weeks, Aug. 14 and Aug. 20 were the best days to have the pick four.

On Aug. 14, win mutuels of $11.20, $10, $8.40, and $7.30 produced a whopping $1,566 payoff that was nearly twice the parlay ($858). The reason: the two shortest-priced horses in the sequence, Combanchera (7-5) and Guardian (even-money), lost.

On Aug. 20, win mutuels of $18.20, $14.40, $7.40, and $4.70 combined for a $2,571 payoff that was more than twice the parlay ($1,139). The reason: Saint Stephen, the only odds-on horse in the sequence, finished second.

Strategy: Play the pick four when you think there's a better than average chance to beat two favorites, or to beat one odds-on favorite that will be singled on most small tickets.

Q: Why are first-quarter times so fast in 6 1/2-furlong races?

A: This was a hot topic of discussion after the Adirondack and the Saratoga Special, which opened with respective splits of 21.37 seconds and 21.28. The key is that the "run-up" from the gate to the timing pole is twice as long, and sometimes more, than at six or seven furlongs (seven-furlong races begin at the very end of the chute, so the run-up is necessarily quite short).

Take nothing away from the winners of the Adirondack or Special, though. Whoopi Cat and Cuvee are top-notch juveniles who brought their "A" game on slop and mud that was producing fast split times.

My Quirin-style figs were 109-102 for the Adirondack, and 109-105 for the Special. For purposes of comparison, here are figures for some other notable 2-year-old sprints at the meet, listed in order of best final number: Chapel Royal (108-108); Everyday Angel (103-107); Read the Footnotes (102-106); Ana's Lady Bird (109-105); Cat Buster (105-105); Hasslefree (104-105); Birdstone (101-105); Flushing Meadows (108-104); Lissau (102-104); Society Selection (102-104); Value Plus (107-103); Deb's Charm (103-103); Home Court (103-103); Silver Wagon (98-102); Ashado (105-101); Caught in a Pinch (105-101).

To digress further, an aside about two horses in Saturday's Hopeful: Chapel Royal's Sanford was run in the slop. Birdstone's debut on Whitney Day was officially listed as a muddy, but the track was drying out and had just been harrowed for that race, and was then listed as good for the next three races before being upgraded to fast for the eighth race.

Q: Have any of the angles you wrote about in the Saratoga Players' Guide done any good?

A: Funny you should ask.

"Play suitably bred 2-year-old longshots on turf."

There have been five such races through Thursday. The winners all paid 9-2 or better: Fiddlers Fancy ($11.80), Commendation ($30.60), Galloping Gal ($16.20), Tynan ($21.20), and Soaring Away ($63.50).

Commendation (Tomlinson 290) and Tynan (345) are textbook examples who lost their respective dirt debuts by 24 and 36 lengths, and returned immediate dividends on turf second time out. Young horses with turf pedigree rebound like this all the time.

"Watch for longshots owned by Flying Zee Stables. . . . In 2001 they sprung Hangingbyamoment ($82.50). Last year's bomb was Thunder's Luck ($32.20)."

Flying Zee runners have won three times, including Formal Attire ($15), who had been away since the Florida Derby, and He's Bluffing ($36.40), who was tough to figure by any means other than this owner-to-watch angle.

"Pat Day in chute sprints."

This has been a meal ticket so far. Day has shown a flat-bet profit at 6 1/2 and seven furlongs every year since I've been keeping such records, and will do it again in 2003. With five days remaining as of this writing, Day's record in long sprints stood at 8-5-5 from 32 mounts, returning $97.40 on $2 flat bets of $64 - a profit of more than 50 percent. Among Day's runner-up finishers was Great Notion, who fell a neck short after setting the pace in the King's Bishop at 16-1.

"When all else fails, box the three longshot shots in steeplechase races."

This works at least once every summer at the Spa. Usually it pays off early, but this year angle players had to wait until the last week, when Bonnie's Bag, Snuggle, and Rather Be, the three longest prices on the board in Wednesday's opener, ran one-two-three to trigger an exacta of $132 and a trifecta worth $575.

I bet this angle every week for five weeks, to no avail. On Wednesday it finally came in and where was I? On the way back from taking my daughter to college in Ohio, that's where.