05/24/2006 11:00PM

Horseplayers reconciled to reality

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A good horse got hurt, and it was sad. Racing marched on, and bets were made.

The first upset winner in the pick six last Saturday at Hollywood Park crossed the wire 45 minutes before Barbaro broke through the starting gate at Pimlico.

A 10-1 outsider, Hendrix was not expected to win the fifth at Hollywood. An odds-on favorite, Barbaro was not expected to lose the Preakness Stakes.

Things change suddenly.

By the time a 6-1 longshot won the next pick six race at Hollywood, the Pimlico telecast had turned grim. Barbaro had shattered his right rear leg.

"That's horse racing," Frank Stronach summarized at the Preakness trophy presentation.

Back at the Pimlico barn, Barbaro was sedated. His leg was immobilized. At Hollywood, it was post time for race 7.

Indy Weekend won at 5-1, the third straight upset. The pick six pool was $271,416. Halfway through the sequence, few tickets were still alive.

Barbaro was transported to the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania. His fate was uncertain. At Hollywood, the final three races Saturday included two more double-digit winners. No one hit the pick six.

The carryover into Sunday was $150,701. It would be a welcome diversion from the Sunday morning sports pages, and a good-sized pot to aim for.

Also on Sunday, veterinary surgeons went to work piecing together the leg of Barbaro.

Barbaro came out of the six-hour surgery with 27 screws and a metal plate in his leg. The initial prognosis by doctors was that Barbaro had a 50-50 shot to survive.

Sunday at Hollywood, horseplayers pumped $838,448 into the pick six. The odds were stacked against them. Favorites blanked. No one hit the pick six. The double carryover into Wednesday was a generous $616,240.

Barbaro made it through his first night post-op in good shape. And while veterinarians early this week provided detailed reports on the condition of Barbaro, the country's handicappers went to work, analyzing the Wednesday pick six at Hollywood.

The odds are even money that Barbaro will survive. There is hope.

The odds are always stacked against hitting the pick six. But there are dreams. Sparked by the biggest carryover of the spring-summer meet, bettors pumped another $2.4 million into the Hollywood pick six Wednesday.

Apparently, the Preakness did not negatively impact the pick six handle.

Barbaro survived his first four nights, and remained in stable condition Wednesday when the first leg of the pick six was run at Hollywood.

It was won by Blind Harry, one of the favorites. There were cheers from the Hollywood crowd of 4,597. The focus Wednesday was on betting, not on Barbaro.

Racing is filled with contradictions.

"Good luck, Barbaro." Those words were printed in crayon on handmade greeting cards delivered to Barbaro.

Horseplayers on Wednesday filled in bubbles on pick-six wagering cards, and hollered, "Come on with the 3!"

Is racing a sentimental sport or an instrument on which to gamble? Or is it both?

Racing always recoils when stars get hurt, but it happens often. And it is strange that the most widely hyped race of the year leads to so much oblivion. Once a horse reaches the top by winning the Kentucky Derby, there is only one way to go.

Giacomo has not won since his 2005 upset. Smarty Jones ran twice more and retired in 2004. Funny Cide, the 2003 Derby winner, is still running. Well, sort of. War Emblem won the 2002 Derby, two more Grade 1's, and retired at the end of the year.

The 2001 Derby winner, Monarchos, lost three times afterward and retired. Fusaichi Pegasus, Derby winner 2000, won 1 of his next 3 and was whisked off to stud.

Charismatic broke down in the 1999 Belmont. Grindstone won the 1996 Derby and never ran again. Only two of the last 10 Derby winners - 1997 winner Silver Charm and 1998 winner Real Quiet - distinguished themselves as older horses.

Based on recent history, Barbaro's early exit was not a surprise.

It was shocking and sad, yes. It was a blow to racing, yes. It cannot be a surprise when it happens every year. Careers are short.

Wednesday afternoon, veterinarians reported on the good condition of Barbaro, and the pick-six sequence commenced at Hollywood. There was a big pot to shoot for.

Form returned. The results were mostly predictable.

After Blind Harry ($7) won race 3, the remaining pick six races were won by Swiss Arrow ($6.60), Ellwood and Jake ($24.20), Rude Behavior ($8), Andover the Cash ($10), and Swiss Rose ($12).

The pick six paid $50,526.60 to each of 39 winning tickets.

Everyone hopes Barbaro makes it. Thursday, things looked good. The hope is it stays that way.

Also on Thursday, a two-day pick-six carryover at Belmont Park was up for grabs - a pot of $230,996.

With or without the Kentucky Derby winner, the game marches on.