02/25/2005 1:00AM

It's time to get on the dime


NEW YORK - When 48-1 Senor Guapo held off 28-1 Spearsville to win the ninth race at Sam Houston on Feb. 17, while odds-on Nekoda Gold salvaged a dead heat for fourth, the tote board lit up the Texas night with some baffling exotic payoffs:

$2 trifecta 11-9-all: $7,040.20
$2 superfecta 11-9-2-5: $186,686.80
$2 superfecta 11-9-2-12: $93,344.40

Did you know the superfecta pools on a Friday night at Sam Houston are over $200,000? They're not, of course, and the pool on this race was only $24,891. But thanks to the new mechanism that triggered these payoffs, Sam Houston's superfecta pools are growing.

The Feb. 17 card was the first with 10-cent superfectas, which the track now offers on every race with seven or more betting interests. The three winning tickets sold on the race were all 10-cent bets - two winning dimes on the 11-9-2-12 combo and one on the 11-9-2-5. The actual payouts were one-twentieth of the posted two-dollar prices, meaning the returns for a dime were $4,667 one way and $9,334 the other.

Ten-cent supers, an idea derived from similar fractional-betting options in the United Kingdom and Australia, made their American debut at Hinsdale Greyhound Park last August and are under consideration at other progressive tracks, including Keeneland. They have quickly served to nearly double Sam Houston's superfecta handle, and horseplayers are jamming internet boards with discussions of dime-betting strategies and requests for similar opportunities at other tracks.

There are at least three reasons why every track should be thinking about adding dime supers to their wagering menu:

First, they make a super-exotic bet that is beyond the bankrolls of most players a uniquely affordable proposition. A six-horse superfecta box, which would cost $720 for $2 or $360 for $1, can now be had for $36, and a partwheel that would otherwise cost $192 or $96 can be had for a ten-dollar bill - with 40 cents change headed back your way.

Second, they provide a way for tracks and their customers to dodge the illogical and punitive Internal Revenue Service withholding requirements that take money out of circulation and bankrupt players who are taxed on gross payoffs rather than net profits. A $93,344 superfecta payout on a $2 bet triggers withholding of around $25,000 depending on where you live and bet. A return of $4,667 is reported but unreduced by taxes.

Third, they allow players to weight their wagers rather than merely play a boatload of combinations in equal strength. In an exacta, for example, a $100-a-race player who likes a 4-5 shot and a 10-1 shot and thinks they are most likely to finish in that order might make a $70 exacta and reverse it for $30 so that he'll get about the same return either way, rather than making a $50 box and rooting for the upset. With dime bets, a player could similarly take some likelier short-priced combinations for 20 or 30 cents each and others for 10, rather than betting a single dime on everything and hoping for chaos.

Racing faces a problem in that new and exotic bets are its only growth areas, yet those bets are generally unaffordable for many customers. Reducing unit betting costs not only opens those markets but also leads to increased handle by distributing payoffs more widely while sheltering them from government seizure. Reducing betting minimums from $2 to $1 has only increased customer interest and grown handle, and reducing it tenfold on superfectas will only lead to more of the same.

Oscars pick six

The $8 pick-six play recommended for last year's top six Academy Awards was a winner, but this was hardly a spectacular bit of touting since the final "Lord of the Rings" movie was such a cinch in so many races. Sunday night's Oscars are a more contentious proposition.

Our two singles are Jamie Foxx as Best Actor and "Million Dollar Baby" as Best Picture. We need to go two-deep for Best Actress (Hilary Swank, Annette Bening), Best Supporting Actress (Cate Blanchett, Virginia Madsen), and Best Director (Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese), and three-deep for Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman, Thomas Haden Church, Clive Owen.)

That works out to a $48 ticket at a $2 minimum - or $2.40 if you can get it down for a dime.