02/23/2009 12:00AM

Much guesswork in Big A's pick four


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Last Saturday's first installment of the $250,000-guaranteed late pick four at Aqueduct was a daily double of good news. From management's standpoint, business was brisk, as the pool swelled to $339,634; and bettors who surrounded one favorite, First Degree ($5.90), with a trio of third choices received a $2 payoff of $2,373 - nearly three times the win parlay of $892.

The only downside was that all the hoopla siphoned money from the early pick four, which took in $144,636 as compared with $184,280 the previous Saturday. Even so, total handle on both pools was up from the week before ($484,270 vs. $465,822), and the early pick four was a bargain even without a guarantee: a 3-5 favorite and three second choices linked for a $2 payoff of $384.50, nearly twice the win parlay of $207.80.

Of course, the catch to obtaining all this value is mixing and matching your contenders just the right way on multiple tickets, or being a terrific sharpshooter on a stand-alone "caveman" ticket, and this is more easily said than done either way. In last Saturday's early sequence, each of the three second-choice winners scored mild upsets over odds-on favorites, any of whom might have been a logical single for tight-budgeted bettors. In the guaranteed sequence, First Degree prevailed in a tough midlevel claimer over some accomplished runners returning from layoffs, and made for a tenuous key horse, at best; moreover, Wirebuster ($10) in the cash-out leg had some ugly-looking running lines and was not the most straightforward of 4-1 shots to ever come down the pike.

Those who really desired to impress their valentines could have bought last week's whole shebang for $9,072. This week, however, the price of poker has gone up: $14,400, to be exact, to cover all the possible outcomes. And brother, you might need to invest a significant chunk of that amount to have any confidence getting through a minefield where 43 of 46 horses are New York-breds. That's right, three of the four races are restricted to statebreds, and in the only "open" race, nine of the 12 restricted claimers were bred in the Empire State.

Some thoughts:

* Race 6 (1st leg): At least this maiden special-weight with five new shooters was positioned to allow a look at the betting action and prerace physical evaluation. Among the new faces, Fairy Wand is from the profitable debut barn of Tom Albertrani, and she is a half to three multiple winners. The other four are from barns that are a combined 1 for 36 with first-time starters in 2008-09.

* Race 7 (2nd leg): Buddha Power, Honour Above Self, and Bob's Big Hope are the non-New Yorkers in a treacherous sprint where the tepid morning-line favorite, Night in Tunisia, has raced twice since an off-the-turf maiden win last fall and is being jettisoned by Pletcher, Inc. for a $100,000 discount off his original purchase price.

* Race 8 (3rd leg): Welcome to a dart-thrower of a second-level optional claimer, where seven of the 10 entrants have a Beyer top in the 85-88 range, and no one runs the same race twice.

* Race 9 (4th leg): Yes, you have two firsters to deal with. But one of them, Talking Blues, fetched the grand sum of $1,000 as a yearling; and the other, Jet Jason, is stuck out in post 11.

What makes the anchor leg so much fun is that Millirock, whose four races on the inner track happen to have earned the four best Beyer Figures in the field, is marooned out in post 12 under leading rider Ramon Dominguez.

God bless those of you who have a good feeling about week 2 of the guarantee; I'm just not that good.

So lacking anything to hang my hat on in Aqueduct's late pick four, I took a gander at the Magna 5, but came to the sobering mathematical reality that, while all the horses in NYRA's late pick four can be covered for $14,400, things get exponentially more expensive as those pesky extra races are added: there are only 39 horses in the Magna 5, but the 8x6x11x6x8 "all-all-all-all-all" ticket would run $25,344.

That's about $25,300 more than I intend to spend. And by the way, the bet would have been a lot more enticing had Leg D, a maiden special at Golden Gate where three of the six are first-time starters, not been positioned as a blind item. What exactly is a New York-based bettor supposed to do, for example, with Silent Salute, who is by a low-percentage debut sire (Saarland), but who worked sharply from the gate a couple times recently, and whose trainer (Sergio Ledezma) has more wins at the meet (8) than the other five trainers combined?

The single comes in Leg B, Santa Anita's Grade 2 San Carlos, where Georgie Boy has racked up all three of the field's graded stakes wins, and comes off an impressive off-the-pace score in the Sunshine Millions Sprint over the Pro-Ride.