06/19/2003 11:00PM

Confirmed losers are for losers

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LEXINGTON, KY. - It is an easy mistake to make while constructing exotic tickets. You do the math and realize that a multi-race bet costs more than you had planned on spending. You realize that a race on which you would rather use two or three contenders must be turned into a single. Other times, a race that would otherwise be unplayable becomes playable by keying a favorite on top and looking for overlays in the bottom slot in the exacta, or in the place and show slots in the trifecta.

What wagering flaw is commonly exposed in these two situations? Too many times, a horse who would not make much sense as a stand-alone win bet becomes a single or a key in exotics. Romantic Trick, who ran in the second race last Sunday, is a good example.

Romantic Trick was the 4-5 favorite in a $15,000 maiden claiming sprint for fillies and mares. The 75 Beyer Speed Figure she had earned in her last start was much higher than the second-best number, a 48 Beyer owned by No Kowtowing. Although Romantic Trick had lost that last race by three lengths, there was an impressive 10-length gap back to the third filly. Better yet, she was ridden by leading rider Cornelio Velasquez, and trained by meet leader Dale Romans.

Unfortunately, there was a catch. Romantic Trick owned an 11-0-3-1 record, with seven of those defeats at odds of 5-2 and lower. Although she appeared to be hard to beat, it was hard to argue that she was worth 4-5 after having found ways to lose in her first 11 tries. As it turned out, she did not threaten for the top spot while finishing second, beaten by four lengths.

It is significant that the winner had a very different record. There were three first-time starters in that race. Skokiaan was sent to the post at 46-1 despite the presence of Calvin Borel in the irons. Angel's Refrain was a 32-1 longshot, which was surprisingly high, since the popular Shane Sellers was aboard. Shelly's Pride was the only debuting runner who came up warm on the board as the 6-1 second betting choice. She paid $15.40 for her victory.

Two races later on the same card, Giacobbe was the 2-1 favorite in the male equivalent of the second race, another $15,000 maiden claiming sprint. Like Romantic Trick, he had been threatening to break through for his first victory for a while, with an 11-0-4-3 record. There were other similarities: He also had just finished second last time, and most of his losses had taken place at low odds.

Giacobbe settled for third in this race. The winner was the lightly raced Telephone Talker, who was returning from a nine-month layoff. He hadn't shown much while finishing sixth and seventh last year in his two starts as a 2-year-old. So it was interesting to see that he took enough betting support to be only 5-1 today.

Some of the respect he received might have been due to his connections, trainer Ronny Werner and Sellers, but his odds might also have been construed as an encouraging sign that he was well meant as he made his comeback. To be fair, American Original also deserved to be used in this race as a first-time starter at contending 4-1 odds. Both could have been covered profitably, since Telephone Talker returned $12.40.

Sure, favorites like Giacobbe and Romantic Trick will occasionally win. But there is much more value in starting multi-race exotic bets or playing exactas and trifectas by keying on a lightly raced runner who is warm on the board, then there is in betting on a horse who has too much experience in the maiden or maiden claiming ranks.