09/15/2004 11:00PM

How to be wrong and still hit pick four

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POMONA, Calif. - Fairplex Park's $200,000 guaranteed pool in the pick four Saturday would ring hollow without competitive races that make up the exotic wager.

Thankfully, the racing office delivered. Races 9 through 12, which make up the pick four, include good-sized fields, potential knockouts, and an opportunity for small bettors make a big score. It is hardly news - the pick four has surpassed the pick six in popularity, and the nation's racetracks are picking up on the wave.

Whereas the pick six has stagnated (1.2 percent of the nation's handle in 2002 and 2003), the pick four continues to expand. The pick four accounted for slightly more than 1 percent of the nation's handle in 2002, and grew to 1.3 percent in 2003.

At racetracks big and small, bettors are teeing it up. At Fairplex, pick four pools have more than doubled in the last three years. Of course, a large pool does not equate to an advantage for bettors. The right time to play is when a handicapper can leverage a particular opinion into a potential jackpot. That could be the case Saturday.

Barring scratches, three of the four program favorites will be listed at a relatively generous 2-1 - Proud Hope in race 9; She's Salty in race 11; and Holy Request in race 12. None is certain to win. In fact, the only pick four favorite I picked on top is Blazing Bartok, 3-1 to win race 10.

Strangely enough, the most frequently used pick four strategy is a simple-minded cookie-cutter scheme that uses only one ticket rather than multiple back-up tickets. The pick four requires more innovation than, for example, going 4 horses by 3 by 1 by 2.

In failing to play backup tickets, bettors place unreasonable expectations on their own handicapping. Flexibility is required. Saturday's pick four at Fairplex provides a fine example.

Barretts Debutante favorite She's Salty is vulnerable, and will not be included on my main pick-four ticket. Nevertheless, race 12 outsider Carta Brava has a genuine chance to spring an upset. If the opinion on Carta Brava turns out to be accurate, it would be foolish to blow the pick four because of a mistaken opinion about She's Salty. That is what back-up tickets are for - they allow a bettor to be wrong, and still make a score.

The first step in playing a pick four is to identify the contenders. The odds below are the track's preliminary morning line, before scratches.

Race 9

Proud Hope (2-1), No. 2, and Award Winning Team (3-1), No. 3, stand out in the Cal-bred N1X allowance sprint. Both are in sharp form, recent Beyer Figures suggest they fit at the class, with complementing styles. Proud Hope will set the pace, Award Winning Team will rally. Award Winning Team was compromised by a pro-inside bias last out, and is preferred over maiden winner Proud Hope. Both will be used on the main ticket; Award Winning Team will be a key horse on secondary backup tickets.

Two others who might win and who will be included on back-up tickets are At a Boy Luther (5-1), No. 5, and Swordfish (6-1), No. 6. They are substitute horses, referred to as "subs."

Race 10

Blazing Bartok (3-1), No. 8, and All Thee B (5-1), No. 7, are the choices in the sprint claimer for 3-year-old fillies. Blazing Bartok was claimed by a winning trainer last time, likes Fairplex, and gets runaway leading rider Martin Pedroza. All Thee B beat older at Sacramento, and will fly late.

Two others who could win and will be included on back-up tickets are front-runner Great White North (12-1), No. 4, and Roar of Africa (4-1), No. 9. The other six will be used on a secondary backup ticket that singles Award Winning Team in race 9 and a bomber in the last leg.

Race 11

This is where a bettor can separate from the crowd. She's Salty, No. 2, was flattered by a pronounced speed bias July 31 at Del Mar, and may have been exposed when unplaced in the Del Mar Debutante. She could win the $120,000 Barretts Debutante, but because her odds will be low, she will be relegated to sub status.

Front-runner Commitisize Me (4-1), No. 4, and late-runner Bertha Jo (5-1), No. 7, are keys. Both have trained super since they raced and both have aimed to this race for weeks. The rest are inseparable. Aside from She's Salty, the other seven will be used on a small backup.

Race 12

Here is the knockout. Carta Brava (10-1), No. 10, ran the best race of her career second time out, and returns Saturday second start following a layoff. Front-runner Festival of Fun (4-1), No. 2, entered a four-furlong race several days ago, but did not draw in. Her stamina is dubious going six furlongs. Carta Brava should be first over. The favorite is 0-for-24 maiden Holy Request (2-1), No. 5. If the speed stops, she will be there.

Backups include Sugartime Gal (6-1), No. 3; Sharp as a Fox (5-1), No. 4; and Easy Question (8-1), No. 8.

All a bettor must do now is put it all together.

The $24 main ticket: 2, 3 with 7, 8 with 4, 7 with 2, 5, 10.

The $24 first-leg backup uses subs in the first leg: 5, 6 with 7, 8 with 4, 7 with 2, 5, 10.

The $24 second-leg backup uses subs in the second leg: 2, 3 with 4, 9 with 4 ,7, with 2, 5, 10.

A $12 secondary backup uses all others in the second leg, and singles the first and last leg: 3 with 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10 with 4, 7 with 10.

The $4 third-leg backup uses She's Salty, and singles the longshot in the fourth leg. It is structured: 2, 3 with 7, 8 with 2 with 10.

A $14 secondary backup uses all the others in the third leg, whittled down in other legs: 3 with 7, 8 with 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 with 10.

Finally, the $24 fourth-leg backup uses subs in the fourth leg: 2, 3 with 7, 8 with 4, 7 with 3, 4, 9.

That's it, for a total play of $126. Can a bettor be wrong, and still make a score?

In the pick four, you can count on it.