07/25/2007 11:00PM

Low-takeout pick four too good to pass


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Wednesday, horseplayers bet $334,594 into the late pick four on the opening-day Saratoga card. At Del Mar, $439,868 was bet into the late pick four.

Unfortunately, less than 10 percent of the Del Mar total was wagered yesterday on the Ellis Park pick four, a total of $42,599, despite the bet there offering a 50-cent minimum base wager and an astonishingly low 4 percent takeout.

The Ellis Park pick four handle, while more than the $16,000 or so average from last year, deserves to be higher. If bettors want racetracks to lower takeouts, thereby giving horseplayers a chance to turn a profit, they need to embrace a wager like this, not bypass it.

Admittedly, Ellis Park is not Saratoga or Del Mar in terms of its quality of racing. But it is a track where players can win.

Throughout the meet, their pick four wager - adjusted to a $2 payoff - has often returned 2 to 2 1/2 times what a $2 parlay on the four winners would have paid. On a couple of occasions, it has paid even more than that.

The opening-day pick four (adjusted to reflect a $2 wager) paid $10,858 when a parlay would have paid $1,318.68 for horses that returned $9, $4.80, $6.60, and $37. And another time on July 8, one 50-cent ticket took the entire pool, returning $19,924 - when a $2 parlay would have paid $9,663.67.

Considering that pick four wagers at many tracks regularly have a takeout of 20 percent or more, the rewarding payoffs at Ellis Park are not surprising.

This Saturday, with a wide-open renewal of the Audubon Oaks headlining the Ellis Park card, here is how I plan to play the wager.

Race 8, maiden special weight

A 5 1/2-furlong turf dash, this race drew a field of 10, plus one also-eligible. Nootka Sound (No. 3), coming off a runner-up finish on dirt behind next-out winner Counselled, looms the likely favorite.

I will use Nootka Sound on my tickets, but hope to cash with a bigger-priced runner - Forebearer (9), who ran greenly when debuting at Churchill on July 8, finishing 12th after a slow break. He faces a much easier group Saturday, and coming off a bullet half-mile breeze in 46.80 seconds, seems ready to improve. He also has a 388 turf Tomlinson rating.

I'll also throw one other horse on my tickets, Vesuvian (10), who ran fifth in a similar race July 4 in his debut and, like Forebearer, should benefit from the start.

Race 9, maiden special weight

The racing shifts back to the main track for the next race, a 6 1/2-furlong straight maiden race in which La Bala (5) and Tis a Man (3) appear to be the most logical winners.

La Bala finished full of run to grab second in a maiden race July 14, and came back with a slow maintenance work for trainer Steve Asmussen. La Bala, a son of Distorted Humor, does not have much speed, but appears to be improving.

Tis a Man, meanwhile, looks ready to rebound from a seventh-place finish in his seasonal bow at Churchill Dows on July 8. He has subsequently trained well, working six furlongs at Churchill Downs in 1:12.80 on July 10. Last year he crossed the wire first in the James C. Ellis Juvenile at Ellis Park but was taken down and placed third for interference.

Race 10, Audubon Oaks

Bel Air Beauty (12), winner of the Grade 2 Alcibiades last year, seeks to rebound in this turf race from a poor performance in her lone start as a 3-year-old. Racing against first-level allowance competition at Churchill on June 14, she was aggressive early and came up empty in the stretch, fading to seventh, beaten more than 15 lengths.

Having proven herself on Polytrack and being a daughter of Smart Strike, she may take to the grass and will be on my tickets.

My top choice is Katerbug (5), who comes off a runner-up finish in a stakes-quality turf allowance at Churchill Downs on June 17, and who is proven over the Ellis Park course, having won her debut here last August.

I'll also take a shot with the consistent Alice Belle (10), who won the Lone Star Oaks on June 30.

Race 11, $4,000 claiming

A low-end claimer with 11 entered, this has the look of a race in which all but a couple could win. Dancin' Dennis (3), Classic Beach (7), and Bogey Free (6) are my top three selections, but I'll go five deep, also using Oblat (9) and Thunder Boot (11).

The ticket

Playing the horses outlined above - 9, 3, 10 with 5, 3 with 5, 12, 10 with 3, 7, 6, 9, 11 - at the base wager of 50 cents, results in a $45 wager.