Updated on 09/17/2011 10:02PM

Bad karma strikes in pick four


PHILADELPHIA - The racing gods must have been getting even with me for having the temerity to attack the $2 bettors. How else could one explain what went down last Friday at Saratoga.

As I drove to the Spa Friday morning, I was already trying to envision how much the early pick four might pay. It did not look terribly complicated.

The first and third legs were a split maiden special weight for 2-year-olds on the grass, the definition of "wide open." The second leg, a six-furlong allowance for 2-year-olds was dominated by a Stanley Hough-trained second-timer, who had gotten a 93 Beyer Speed Figure in his debut. The last leg, a maiden special for 3-year-old fillies, was distinguished by the fact that there was no obvious early speed. I saw only two possible winners.

The bet seemed obvious: all, Sensation (Hough's 2-year-old), all, Winged Wishes (a Dale Romans-trained horse by Fusaichi Pegasus who had shown real promise in his lone start last November) and Mountain Legacy (a Kiaran McLaughlin-trained firster by Mt. Livermore who I hoped might be the speed).

Mathematically, it was 8x1x9x2x$2 - $288 in all.

When the 8-1 Church Service won the first leg as the fifth choice with 8-5 Tasteyville seventh and the 3-1 Todd Pletcher-trained Straight Run second, I was feeling smart, smug and, yes, lucky. (But you use "all" with the intention of being lucky in races in which anything seems possible.)

In leg 2, when 8-5 Sensation blew away the field in the stretch, I knew I would be alive going into the last leg. I also was astonished that the bettors had made Joint Effort the 11-10 favorite. She finished fourth. This was looking very good.

Another Hough-trained horse, 5-1 Mystic Ruler, the fifth choice, won the third leg. It seemed unlikely to me that many bettors would have strung those three horses together.

Everything was going perfectly until they posted the pick four will pays. The pick four with Mountain Legacy was fine ($2,747). I kept staring at the pick four with Winged Wishes, thinking it just could not be right. It was going to pay $330.

I thought back to Belmont Stakes Day. Taking the easy way out, I made the pick four ending with the Belmont into a pick two that I could not lose - Lost in the Fog, Afleet Alex, all, all. With a 5-2 and a 14-1 winner in the "all" spots, that pick four paid $490. I could not imagine that this could pay less.

The result, of course, was pre-ordained at that point. Winged Wishes was bet down to 4-5. She was the speed. She won by 7 1/2 lengths. Mountain Legacy finished last.

Hitting a pick four, I had managed to turn $288 into $330, which should put me into some kind of betting hall of fame. Being a cynical player, I wondered if some of those pick-fixers were back in action. Apparently, there were no unusually large hits at any one jurisdiction, not even the Catskill OTB. Still, before cashing my ticket and trying not to be embarrassed by it, I made a copy of the ticket, just in case.

So what to make of all this? Well, the payoff simply did not make much sense. The best explanation is that perhaps the Hough bettors fired hard, singling the two horses along with Winged Wishes and spreading in the first leg. Otherwise, I just don't get it.

Or maybe it was the racing gods getting even, as they always seem to do. I was thinking my transgression was not truly significant. Apparently, they thought otherwise.

After seeing all the to the editor as the result of my get rid of the dime superfecta column and its final few lines - "They should search everybody who comes into the track. If you have less than $100, you should be sent home. Really, what purpose do you serve? Get out. And take your dime supers with you" - I have come to a different conclusion about the searches.

Make it $50.