04/21/2011 5:25PM

Gulfstream's Rainbow 6 presents unique opportunity

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On Saturday at Gulfstream, minnows will be able to impersonate whales when a multi-million dollar Rainbow 6 pool at Gulfstream Park will finally be paid out no matter how many winners there are.

The Rainbow 6, a 10-cent bet that was tried at Beulah Park last year and at the current Gulfstream meet, is a budget version of a conventional pick six with a defining twist: The carryover pool is paid out only if there is one and exactly one winner. Otherwise, the previous carryover and 40 percent of each day’s new bets carry again – with one exception: On the last day of the race meet, the carryover must be paid out. (Gulfstream’s last day is Sunday, but the mandatory payout was moved up a day to Saturday because Sunday is Easter, when some tracks, including those in New York and Kentucky, are closed by state law.)

RAINBOW 6: Mike Welsch's analysis | PPs available now - video preview coming Friday

That makes the payout day an entirely different wagering proposition from everything leading up to it. It can be argued that the Rainbow 6 is a terrible bet any other day, with an effective takeout that can exceed 50 percent and no carryover payout should you have the misfortune to hit it along with even just one other person. When it has to be paid out on closing day, though, bettors who jump in are playing a virtually takeout-free wager and at pennies on the usual dollar.

The carryover had grown to $1.3 million as racing resumed at Gulfstream Thursday. Assuming there is not a one-winner result by Saturday, the carryover will be nearing $1.5 million and might attract two or three times that much in fresh money for the mandatory-payout card. Even if there are 100 winners Saturday, the payoff would be something like $50,000 – for a dime.

In a conventional pick six, a ticket selecting two horses per race comes out to 64 combinations, or $128 at the usual two-dollar minimum. Such a ticket Saturday, at a dime per combo, will cost all of $6.40. The cost for three horses per race comes down from $1,458 to $72.90. Even at five horses a race, what would normally be a $31,250 investment can be had for $1,562.50.

Not that going five-deep per race Saturday would provide much of a security blanket for surviving a skullbuster of a six-race sequence on Gulfstream’s seventh through 12th races. With five 12-horse fields and one with 10, including four races on the grass and three maiden events, there are 2,488,320 possible combinations. While the dime unit means that it would cost just $248,832 instead of nearly $5 million to lock it up, there’s still a very good chance of a couple of oddball results. One public syndicate planning to invest $100,000 into the pool would still have only 40 percent of the possible permutations without doubling up on preferred ones.

For players who haven’t funded the $1.3 million carryover to date, jumping in Saturday is a rare chance to play for “free money” and to play with 20 times the usual spending power. One of the drawbacks of the pick six is that the average player is usually at a serious strategic disadvantage because tickets get so expensive so quickly. The $2 pick six is thriving in only the nation’s two highest-handle markets, California and New York, where there are enough well-heeled players to make even a one- or two-day carryover a big event.

Other prominent tracks had offered a $2 pick six, but it took weeks for carryovers to become attractive to a national audience. In the last year, Gulfstream, Keeneland, and Monmouth all dropped the bet, replacing it with a more affordable 50-cent pick five that instantly proved far more popular. This is part of a belated but commendable trend by track operators to open up exotic bets to a wider audience that also includes lowering the minimums on conventional wagers such as trifectas and pick threes to 50 cents and offering dime superfectas.

The one sour note with Saturday’s Gulfstream payout has been widespread confusion about the availability of the bet in some markets. Some tracks that found the new bet confusing and of questionable value earlier in the meet and chose not to offer it were caught unaware this week of the looming Saturday bonanza. If you’re planning to play, make sure your provider of choice is handling it. The good news for New Yorkers is that the New York Racing Association announced Thursday that it will offer the bet for the first time Saturday at Aqueduct and through NYRA Rewards, the same way it does with other dime bets – through self-service machines and online but not with live tellers or telephone operators.

By Thursday, it was unclear whether all of the state’s outlets would follow suit. In this simulcast-driven era of national betting without borders, wagering providers need to do a better job of ensuring that their customers can take advantage of whale-for-a-day situations like this one.