09/05/2002 12:00AM

It cost a lot to learn these two lessons


ELMONT, N.Y. - Home. What a concept. And by the way, that old saying "good things come in threes" is dead wrong, because after enjoying profitable meets in 2000 and 2001, this summer at Saratoga was a bloodbath.

Zigged every place I should've zagged. Zagged every freakin' place I should've zigged. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Bad karma began to snowball with the opening Saturday pick-four first-leg Diana Handicap, where I wound up keying Voodoo Dancer and using the Bobby Frankel-trained Beefeater Baby on back-up tickets.

Sorry, wrong number. And wrong Frankel, whose Tates Creek was forsaken in the belief she was suspect at nine furlongs. Hindsight made it easy to see that was a mistake because she was also one of just two in the field that Voodoo Dancer hadn't already thrashed, the other being a 43-1 no-hoper.

The rest is history. Tates Creek got the most perfect of perfect trips and outbobbed a wide Voodoo Dancer, who was in front a stride before and a stride after the wire. The remaining three races broke just the right way, as if the horses were trained seals, so that even with Tates Creek as a back-up the pick four payoff of $643 would've been collected, and perhaps the remaining 32 days would've been totally different.

From six weeks of parimutuel wreckage, two pieces of wisdom were salvaged.

The first is that I need to tighten my standards as to what makes for an attractive win bet, because it's easy to see "value" in way too many longshots at Saratoga. Value or not, these types can easily trigger long run-out streaks, and there's no worse habit to get into than making token bets on horses you only like a little bit because they're big prices. At the end of the day, you've made too many bets on too many marginal horses, and you become numbed-out and desensitized to the whole process.

My resolution for win bets at Belmont is to eschew this kind. No more $10 or $20 fliers on impulse. I have to like the situation enough to wager $50, and the horse has to be at least 4-1 because the percentages grind you into powder at anything below that.

From 4-1 to 6-1 the bet is win only.

From 6-1 to 10-1, I will bet $35-40 to win and make $10-15 worth of saver exactas underneath one or more contenders, depending on the situation.

The occasional longshot who looks irresistible at 12-1 or better will also have some of that $50 reserved for the third slot in trifectas. I might slice it up $20-25 to win, $10-15 in saver exactas, and perhaps $15-20 using the longshot in the third slot of tris, depending on how chaotic the race looks.

The second piece of wisdom, spurred by the following e-mail that was waiting for me at home on Tuesday, is to start paying closer attention to my own horses to watch list that appears in DRF Simulcast Weekly:

"To Dave Litfin: Thanks for Indoughtery'shonor. I didn't hear you tout him at the Siro's seminar, but I put him on my Stable Alert because of your horses to watch list at the end of Belmont meet. 'Saratoga bomb,' you called him. And he was. Never would have bet him otherwise. With the DD and pick three, I got even for what has been a terrible meet betwise. Hope you did likewise."

For the uninitiated, Indoughtery'shonor made the watch list in the July 8-14 edition because of a fifth-place finish in which he altered course and galloped out strongly past the wire of a six-furlong maiden race at odds of 104-1.

A lot of other bettors at Belmont on July 10 must've seen it too, because he was 3-1 when stretched to a route just 10 days later, and he wound up fifth after dueling for the lead to the stretch.

Indoughtery'shonor was still only 7-1 on Aug. 9, and after contesting the early issue in this two-turn route, he backed up to finish eighth and last, checking in some 32 lengths behind front-running winner Tamusky.

With everyone now off the scent because of those two poor routes, trainer John Gross turned back to seven furlongs with Indoughtery'shonor in the last race on the last Friday card of the meet, and he responded with a gate-to-wire upset at $42.80. It's hard to tout a horse at Siro's off such an ugly-looking running line, but hindsight (again) makes him haveable if you simply go back to his most recent sprint race of July 10.

Needless to say, unlike my e-mailing friend, I did not have the $277 double using him with Spinaway winner Awesome Humor; nor did I catch the $892 pick three linking those two with venerable horse for course Pleasant Breeze, a 7-year-old gelding who wins annually at Saratoga for Jim Bond.

That's because by the time Indoughtery'shonor rolled around, things had long since deteriorated to the point where I had revoked my action-bet privileges on 20-1 shots with questionable recent form.

Ah, well. Timing is everything. That's one saying I can't dispute.