09/19/2006 11:00PM

Getting carried over at the L.A. fair


PHILADELPHIA -- After the Breeders' Cup one year at Santa Anita, I drove east toward Ontario Airport to catch a flight to Phoenix for a forgettable Eagles-Cardinals game. I think I may have passed Pomona. I did see a Ferris wheel in the distance, so that must have been the 543 acres of the Los Angeles County Fair. That is the closest I have ever been to Fairplex Park.

Why then have I been looking at Fairplex past performances for the better part of two days? Well, there is the matter of all that cash on the line for Wednesday's pick six, a rare Southern California three-day carryover. And just because they are running at Fairplex does not mean they stop betting in Southern California. By Day 3, there was nearly a million in the carryover. So, I had to look.

What exactly did I find? I'm not quite sure, which is a serious problem.

I do know that until the carryover began piling up last Saturday Fairplex had the most formful racing in America. Yes, they were cheaper horses, but they ran right to their form. And then everything changed.

Saturday's pick six was blown up by consecutive 9-1 shots, followed by a 29-1 shot. Sunday, it was a 13-1 and then a 15-1 first-time starter and a 30-1 bomber. Monday, it was a 20-1 firster to start. Then, came a 16-1 and 9-1. There were just two live tickets going into the last race Monday, both to the heavy favorite, a horse who ran eighth. At the other end of the race, the 9-1 held off a 49-1.

Jockey Martin Pedroza owns the joint. Not on Monday. That day, he rode three favorites that finished eighth, eighth, and seventh.

It was with that bit of background that I pored over the Wednesday card.

The first race was a nonwinners-of-two for $5,000, followed by a nonwinners-of-three for the same nickel. Then, it was a nonwinners-of-two for $8,000, followed by a starter allowance that had some interesting conditions (a horse must have won his maiden for $25,000 or less and never won two races). The $65,000 Black Swan was a stakes for 2-year-old fillies going long (a prescription for chaos in mid-September). The ending was perfect: maiden claiming 2-year-olds for $32,000 with a high Beyer Speed Figure of 46.

After briefly calculating the price of an all (10x9x8x8x10x9x$2) ticket ($1,036,800), I tried to make sense of six races that offered a handicapping challenge quite a bit different than the Breeders' Cup. Many hours later, I had a splitting headache and concluded that there had to be easier ways to make money.

Think about it. Where else would you invest so much money when the most likely outcome is a return of nothing? Only at the track.

Which, of course, never stops any of us from trying.

On paper, this was the kind of pick six where one could put up $20,000 and be out after the first leg. Singles did not jump off the page. Marginal backups looked nearly as good as obvious favorites because nothing was obvious.

The fundamentals of the bet never change. It is about identifying which races are most likely to have a random outcome, finding the right vulnerable favorites, and being right about those races where you have a strong opinion and very little coverage.

By the time you read this, somebody may have found the right key to unlock the Fairplex pick six door. Assuming the Fix Six guys are not back in action, whoever solves this riddle will have earned their cash. There may have been lots of money in play, but they definitely were not giving it away.