01/28/2005 12:00AM

Nobody wants to bet a 'pick one'

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NEW YORK - If you played the pick three or pick four in the second race at Aqueduct on Thursday, and were smart enough to use Delta Sea at $37.60 in the first leg, you have every right to complain about what happened next.

After meeting for 20 minutes after Thursday's first race, the jockeys had notified track officials that they would ride the second but not the remainder of the card, due to bitter cold and strong winds. Fair enough. What wasn't fair was for NYRA to continue accepting multirace wagers starting with the second race, already knowing something that the public didn't - that these bets would be paid off on the basis of one result and two or three "alls."

Hard up as the New York Racing Association may be for funds these days, this seemed more like a case of confusion than a diabolical plot to fleece the customers. Everything was happening quickly and chaotically, and there's an argument to be made that canceling the bets entirely with a few minutes to post might have caused more problems than it would have solved. Refunding the pools after the fact would have been even worse, infuriating people who had used the $37.60 winner and now would just get their money back without having been given the opportunity to switch to a win bet.

The problem is that NYRA effectively conducted win betting on the race in three different pools, two of them at a 25 percent takeout instead of the 15 percent mandated by statute in the real win pool. So the $37.60 winner paid only $28 in the 4-all-all pick three, and $27.40 in the 4-all-all-all pick four. It was a little bit like the time Gulfstream disingenuously allowed trifecta wagering on a three-horse race, rendering the trifecta an exacta that should have been taxed at a lower rate.

There's a pretty easy solution here. If a multirace wager is paid off like a win bet on the basis of one race, the payoff should be calculated on the basis of a win-pool takeout. If it is canceled after two races, it should be taxed as if it is a daily double. This is so straightforward and simple a rule change that it should take no more than a year or two to make it through the regulatory bureaucracy.

Plenty to cheer, little to jeer

There wasn't much to complain about at the Eclipse Awards last Monday night. Ghostzapper's Horse of the Year victory over Smarty Jones with 64 percent of the vote, a bigger landslide than any modern American presidential election, was a reassuring triumph of quality over hype.

John Servis, Smarty Jones's popular trainer and a deserving winner of the Big Sport of Turfdom Award from the Turf Publicists of America earlier Monday, missed the point when he made the following case for his colt at the awards luncheon: "If Ghostzapper is Horse of the Year, it will be on every racing publication around. If Smarty Jones is Horse of the Year, it will be on every sports page across America. That's the difference."

By that logic, Funny Cide or Zippy Chippy deserved the trophy last year because they were mentioned more often than Mineshaft in Sports Illustrated.

Logic was also absent from the selection of Speightstown over Pico Central as champion sprinter. Pico Central had a 3-1 edge in Grade 1 victories and trounced Speightstown the only time they met. The only redeeming factor is that Speightstown was an unusually admirable horse who was just as good as many recent sprint champions, so it's no disgrace he got an Eclipse, just a shame that Pico Central didn't.

It would have been better had Ken Ramsey confined his remarks about his recent Kentucky suspension to two sentences rather than two pages, but he deserves credit for addressing it at all, unlike Frank Stronach, who defended Ramsey but should have left well enough alone.

One exceptionally nice though less-publicized moment came when John Velazquez, likably candid and clearly emotional while receiving his first Eclipse as outstanding jockey, insisted that Angel Cordero Jr. join him on the stage. If you came of age when Cordero was ruling New York racing, there's a good chance you think he's as good a rider as you ever saw, and now there's a case to be made that his work as a booker and mentor to Velazquez makes him nearly as successful an agent as he was a jockey. Cordero has had some rough times since his glory days in the saddle, and it was good to see him back on top and beaming on a night of champions.