07/03/2007 12:00AM

Fifty-cent pick five makes splash at Monmouth

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OCEANPORT, NJ - It's offered for the first time at Monmouth Park this year, and it's a daily topic of discussion among local players. Interest seems to grow each day, and track officials are very happy with how the 50-cent pick five has been received thus far.

Breeders' Cup 2007? Sure, that's gonna be pretty big . . . in October. But the 50-cent pick five, offered for the first time this year by Monmouth Park, is what has garnered the interest of horseplayers daily here since it was introduced at the start of the meet on May 12.

Monmouth Park officials tried to come up with a new wager this year that would capture the imagination of horseplayers everywhere, with the Breeders' Cup looming this fall. Bill Knauf, the track's assistant vice president of market operations, was part of those discussions this winter, and he was cautiously optimistic coming into the meet that the new wager would be a success.

"When we came up with the bet we were hoping that it would just do equally as well as the late pick four that we offer," said Knauf. "The reality is, when we have a carryover in the pick five, it actually has done better than the pick four."

Knauf points to the pick five on Sunday, June 24, as a defining moment in the young history of the wager. Several longshot winners on the previous day's card caused a carryover pool of $15,748, and Monmouth bettors poured a staggering $49,773 into the pool on Sunday. That single occurrence gave track officials enough confidence to, in cooperation with Television Games Network, offer a $50,000 guaranteed pick-five pool on this Saturday's card, which features the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes. On Haskell Day, Aug. 5, another guaranteed pool will be offered.

So what has made the pick five so popular? It's certainly a challenging bet, and the takeout (25 percent) is not very bettor-friendly, but with significant pool totals and a low minimum base wager, it's the type of bet that draws interest from low-level players as well as those with sizable bankrolls. According to Knauf, figures indicate that about 80 percent of the total handle generally comes from offtrack sources, and that is in part an explanation for the pool's failure to reach $10,000 on May 19, as bettors nationwide were likely distracted by the undercard on Preakness Day at Pimlico. The only other race day where the handle failed to reach five figures was Juneo20, a Wednesday afternoon card that featured the first sloppy track of the meet.

Clearly, the low cost and the large payouts are what keep bettors coming back. There have been two occasions thus far at the meet where one ticket has taken down the whole pool, including a $12,932.25 payout on June 10, and there have been four carryovers. On such occasions, the rules are the same as they are for Monmouth's pick four: 25 percent of the handle (after takeout) is paid out, and 75 percent is carried over to the next racing day, creating an inviting opportunity for players to shoot for inflated payouts, thanks to the "seeded" money in place.

Playing the pick five is similar to any other multi-race exotic bet in that it's best to identify key horses in each leg, and spread out as deeply as possible in those races which are fairly indiscernible. Bettors constructing a pick three ticket with a strong play in one leg, a middling opinion in another, and no real idea in the final leg can still put something together with a few dollars and a prayer, for better or worse. But stringing together five consecutive winners without a solid game plan is not easy and can be expensive, even at two for a buck. In fact, without taking a stand in at least one race, a bettor is hoping to simply "move the chains" in five consecutive races, an unlikely feat at any price. These "wide net" plays are precisely what has led to some large pools - and a few carryovers - in what so far is the surprise hit in what will be an eventful year at the Jersey Shore.