01/10/2002 12:00AM

New year rules: Pick four focus, pace study expansion

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JAMAICA, N.Y. - It's nice to see nothing much has changed during the past couple of weeks.

First day back from a Disney World vacation on Wednesday and presto, Aqueduct's pick four combination of Migrating ($7.40), Coast to Coast ($11.40), Dancing Fool ($5.60) and Mission Control ($31.20) pays $3,843.

For those of you scoring at home, that works out to just over twice a $2 win parlay, and it was triggered by just one hard-to-have horse, the kind of horse who can really make a horseplayer's month.

I had no stake in the outcome, because after two weeks away I'm not quite ready to make informed betting decisions, to say nothing of the damage Mickey and his insidious little friends inflicted on my bankroll. Slowly but surely, though, I am whittling through an imposing stack of Daily Racing Forms and DRF Simulcast Weeklys in the hope of soon catching up on two weeks' worth of news and results.

As far as New Year's resolutions of the horseplaying variety, the two at the top of my list are as follows (though I'm not sure "resolutions" is the right word, because they are merely aspects of my game that must change with the changing times):

1. I am revamping my entire betting philosophy because of the pick four. For players with limited bankrolls, the bet (which was instituted in New York last May) is the perfect instrument for making occasional windfall scores that can actually upgrade quality of life.

To play the pick four properly means constructing multiple tickets that weight contenders according to their relative strengths. That course of action won't set you back like the pick six, but it still demands a fairly significant commitment, so I project roughly 75 percent of my play during 2002 to be directed at the pick four. In my humble opinion, it is the best bet currently available to horseplayers.

My remaining 25 percent is mostly earmarked for the familiar win and exacta pools, but here too my percentages undergo a change. That is because my costliest mistakes invariably involve betting too much on "action" horses and not nearly enough when positive-expectation situations present themselves.

In the past, if my maximum investment for a prime bet was $60, I was still willing to bet $40 on routine plays and as much as $20 on flyers, hunches, and all the other last-second rationalizations that seldom pan out.

The cold hard truth, at least according to my own personal records, is that the game's formidable percentages grind action bets into sawdust.

My maximum win/exacta bet remains at $60, but only when the lightbulb goes on and the path to value is shining brightly.

Everything else is deemed an action bet worth no more than a token $5, just for the sake of some rooting interest. And I allocate only four such losing bets per day, which effectively puts a $20 cap on my losses during afternoons when I simply don't have solid contrarian opinions and wind up betting out of sheer boredom as much as anything else.

2. After reading Tom Brohamer's revised edition of "Modern Pace Handicapping" last winter, I began making my own pace figures for New York.

The exercise has proven to be well worth the time and effort. So much so, in fact, that in addition to New York I am adding one out-of-town track to make figures for. Currently that track is Gulfstream. I assume Gulfstream will be followed by Keeneland and Churchill Downs in the spring and summer, then the Kentucky circuit again in the fall, or perhaps The Meadowlands, or perhaps both, depending on how things are going.

Brohamer's Quirin-style figures shed new light on the abilities of developing allowance and stakes horses, and they are also an indispensable tool in maiden races and low-level claimers where early pace is always a value-loaded weapon.

And as DRF's Brad Free has illustrated, declining pace figures may provide horseplayers their first clue that a marquee stakes horse has lost a step.

It's a simple one-two punch: Invest more heavily in the pick four while cutting back on the bad action bets; and cultivate more decent value plays through the use of pace figures at an additional out-of-town circuit.

This year it was Disney World; next year it's Maui or bust.