05/28/2008 11:00PM

Belmont Day an exotic feast


It's interesting to note the paucity of exotic wagering options from back in the day.

According to the official track program for Secretariat's Belmont, there was a daily double on the first two races; and there was a new-fangled bet called the "exacta" offered on the fourth, sixth, and eighth races. That was it.

Things were essentially the same for Affirmed/Alydar five years later, with one new wrinkle: one daily double; three exactas; and a "triple" (now known as the trifecta) on the ninth and final race.

A quarter-century later, next Saturday's noon-to-dusk marathon will offer 13 races and 58 - that's 58 - exotic pools: exactas and trifectas every race; 11 pick threes; 12 daily doubles; three pick fours; two superfectas; two quinellas; one pick six; and one grand slam.

Though the fields obviously aren't etched in stone a week out, post times and the wagering menu for the six Grade 1 or Grade 2 stakes look like this:

True North(Race 6, 3:08 p.m.; WPS, EX, TRI, P3, DD, P6): A $1 million guaranteed pick-six pool may kick off with a short field of older sprinters. Among 21 nominations, only Abraaj, Benny the Bull, and Thor's Echo were considered definite. Benny the Bull, arguably the best sprinter currently in training, will be off a 10-week layoff after winning the Dubai Golden Shaheen for Big Brown's people; Thor's Echo, the 2006 sprint champion, has also been idle since the Golden Shaheen - last year's running.

Just a Game (Race 7, 3:46 p.m.; WPS, EX, TRI, P3, DD, GS): If you love someone in the Manhattan, here's your chance to improve on the win price by tabbing in-the-money finishers in the Just a Game, Woody Stephens, and Acorn. Newly upgraded to Grade 1 status, the one-mile Just a Game is attracting a salty set of fillies and mares. The three fastest look to be Vacare, Lady of Venice, and Criminologist, but Bayou's Lassie, Bit of Whimsy, Sharp Susan, Spenditallbaby, and Ventura aren't far behind.

Woody Stephens (Race 8, 4:25op.m.; WPS, EX, TRI, P3, P4, DD): This seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds begins a pick four with a $1 million guaranteed pool and is likely to get last year's Hopeful exacta of Majestic Warrior and Ready's Image; Hirsch Jacobs runner-up Silver Edition; Fatal Bullet (3 for 3 this year at Woodbine); Groomedforvictory (winner of an overnight stakes for New York-breds); and J Be K, the Bay Shore winner and Withers runner-up, who looms the one to catch.

Acorn (Race 9, 5:04 p.m.; WPS, EX, TRI, P3, DD): Indian Blessing's championship juvenile campaign included a score in Belmont's one-mile Frizette where she rated just off an early pacesetter and took over around the turn. A similar scenario may play out here, depending on what happens with Dance Gal Dance and Sherine, who are questionable. Dance Gal Dance has led early in all five of her races, and Sherine has been the early leader in her last eight starts, including a victory in the Comely Stakes. Also eyeing this prestigious race, and hoping the pace is hot, are the stalkers Game Face, winner of the Old Hat and La Troienne; and Zaftig, a big-figure winner of the Nassau County during Belmont's opening week.

Manhattan (Race 10, 5:44 p.m.; WPS, EX, TRI, P3, P4, DD): One of two double-barreled races (along with the Belmont) for pick-four players, because it is leg 3 of the $1 million pool on races 8-9-10-11, and also starts a late (and we mean late) pick four on 10-11-12-13, the outcome of which will not be known until nearly 8 p.m. Better Talk Now nailed eventual Eclipse champion English Channel by a head last year, and the 9-year-old has been training steadily at Fair Hill since failing to fire in the Dubai Sheema Classic. He'll have a tough time repeating against a prospective lineup that should include Einstein, a two-time Grade 1 winner this year; Out of Control, a close second to Einstein in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic; and Pays to Dream, who earned the season's top grass Beyer Speed Figure (108) while steamrolling his rivals in the Dixie three weeks ago.

Belmont Stakes (RACE 11, 6:25 p.m.; WPS, EX, TRI, P3, DD, SUPER): Nowadays, an exacta box of Big Brown and Casino Drive isn't looking quite so "exotic," but even so, a ton of money - two $1 million guaranteed pools just for starters - will be riding on the outcome.

Even if you don't get the desired result, take heart: There's a late double afterward.