02/12/2008 12:00AM

New exotics suddenly the rage

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There were two carryovers going into the Feb. 11 program at Santa Anita Park - $173,821 in the pick six and $82,493 in the $1 Super High Five.

A victory by 81-1 shot Peace Pledge in the final race Feb. 10 created the carryovers in both bets and both were scheduled to be decided on Monday's final race. Naturally, that race - a six-furlong sprint with 14 statebred maiden claimers - was put there by design. Almost without fail, every track that features a difficult, multi-race or multi-horse wager is virtually guaranteed to put a large field of relatively cheap horses in a strategic spot to encourage the possibility of more carryovers.

This is considered good marketing by racetracks. It is part of the current schematic to entice the race-going public with blockbuster bets the same way the casino industry has been doing for years.

A lot has changed in racetrack betting since the 1970s, when there was no simulcasting, no pick six, no pick four or pick three, and each track's menu strictly consisted of straight win, place, and show betting; a daily double on the first two races; and perhaps a few exactas or quinellas. Even as recently as the mid 1980s, very few tracks offered more than a daily trifecta or two.

All that stated, racetracks are straining to develop or find new and more exotic bets. That is what drove Magna Entertainment - owner of Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park, Laurel Park, and Golden Gate Fields - to create the Magna 5, a pick five that involves three or four of those tracks each week in a linked multi-race wager. Likewise, it was behind Magna's decision to introduce the Super High Five at Santa Anita - a five-horse superfecta-style bet that features a carryover without a consolation payoff should no one pick the top five in precise order, as occurred on Feb. 10.

Interestingly, there is another, nearly opposite trend taking a foothold in racetrack betting, a trend that makes some difficult wagers more accessible to budget-minded players.

Where $2 was the standard wagering minimum for all wagers for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the base unit for all but the pick six now is $1 per ticket. Moreover, despite some resistance throughout the racing industry, the unit of play for superfectas at many tracks has been lowered to 10 cents, not $1. This sensible reduction has accelerated interest in a wager that was beyond the realistic reach of all but the highest rollers in the game.

Fact is, the dime superfecta is even having a positive impact on players with enormous bankrolls. While I personally do not possess such deep pockets, I play aggressively in many exotic pools and have learned to cover a wide range of saver possibilities with extreme longshots at the 10-cent minimum while buying my preferred combinations (which may include some of those longshots) in units well in excess of a dime per ticket.

A small unit of play also has been a staple part of a few other exotic bets that receive very little attention, mostly because they are only offered in one region or at one specific track.

The $1 place pick all has been around for more than a decade in Southern California, but has not caught on anywhere else. On days when there are eight races, the place pick all involves all of those races. On days when there are nine, 10, or more races, only nine selected races are used.

In each instance, a player's ticket remains alive so long as a horse on the ticket finishes first or second. If no one picks a first- or second-place finisher in each race, the winning payoffs are distributed to those with the most correctly picked races.

The weekly Magna 5 is not only a $2 minimum, five-race bet on Saturdays, it also features a $500,000 guaranteed pool and a carryover provision. The bet usually begins with a selected race at Laurel Park and in a span of an hour or less, goes through a race or two at Gulfstream, Santa Anita, and Golden Gate Fields. While the speed of this unique multi-race bet is an attractive feature, the heavily advertised Magna 5 often fails to reach its $500,000 minimum. This is probably due to the unfamiliarity fans in the East have with Golden Gate Fields racing and a similar lack of knowledge by Western-based players for racing at Gulfstream Park, much less Laurel.

Nevertheless, the handle may rise significantly on Saturday, Feb. 16 when a carryover in excess of $265,000 will be on the table from last week's Magna 5 that was not hit. That is what carryovers do for handle, as we all know. Still, as players tend to seek out wagers with carryovers, it is one thing to have "dead money" on the table and quite another to lack the inside, local knowledge to take advantage of it.

This is a common mistake committed by most players seeking to make the big score in a pool enriched by a hefty carryover. Putting this another way, even if you are a highly skilled player, when you lack important local knowledge, you are likely to be a major contributor to the dead money pile that you were chasing in the first place.

There are other betting options that are only available at specific tracks. For example, Beulah Park in Ohio, has a bonus attached to winning its pick six, when you are the only one to hit it. The "Fortune Six" as it is called, is a 25-cent wager that usually takes a long time to reach an attractive target. Yet, it did payout $364,589.50 on Jan. 30, 2007 after no one hit it for much of the race meet.

The flaws in this wager include its general unavailability to most wagering outlets outside Ohio and the need to be the only winning ticket holder to collect the carryover sum. Other than that, it is a priceless marketing tool for a track that is mostly known for the vivacious blond "Beulah Twins" on the simulcast network.

At New York's major racetracks we can find the Grand Slam wager, a sequential four-race bet that invites players to pick a horse to finish third or better in the first three legs but does not pay off unless the ticket includes the winner of the final leg in the sequence, usually the featured eighth race on a nine-race card.

While this bet has performed far below the expectations of track management, some astute players do use it to boost the price-getting potential of a well-bet contender in the feature.

For example, on Sunday, Feb. 10, when the Grand Slam wagering pool was a paltry $24,000, the featured eighth race was won by the 2-1 favorite Astoria Sweetheart, and the Grand Slam paid $11.20 for $1. This after the 7-5 betting favorite finished second of six horses in the fifth race; the 2-1 second betting favorite won the sixth race and the 9-5 favorite won the seventh for a very formful sequence.

Obviously, the Grand Slam has not caught on with enough players for it to be introduced at other tracks, but the interest in new exotic wagers continues unabated at virtually every track in the country. So, at the bottom line, consider this, all you horseplayers who have often thought you had the perfect wager to recommend to your favorite neighborhood track: If you have a creative idea for a new, exciting bet, preferably one with a carryover provision at an affordable wagering unit, now is the perfect time to write up the specifics and send them to racetrack management for evaluation. For the first time in many years, the game is looking for several new and enticing wagering options that will spike interest and handle from coast to coast.

In the meantime, serious-minded horseplayers also should take a closer look at the dime superfectas, which among all the recently introduced new wagers offers the best big-score potential at affordable cost.