03/18/2009 11:00PM

Old-school handicapping with a new twist


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Recently, CNN's senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, brought to light an interesting study about doodling.

A group of people were put in a room to listen to a long and boring speech and divided into two groups - doodlers and non-doodlers. After being quizzed about what they had heard, the end result was that doodlers retained 30 percent more information than non-doodlers. The research suggested that while you're doodling, a part of your mind is working, instead of daydreaming, while another part is absorbing the material.

This may be good news for old-school handicappers who still mark up their Daily Racing Forms with multi-colored hieroglyphics. And pace-oriented players will probably want to pick up a copy of "Extreme Pace Handicapping," a no-nonsense 125-page soft-cover book written by Randy Giles, subtitled, "If You Doodle It, They Will Come."

The book is pound-for-pound as worthwhile a read on the subject as Huey Mahl's 1983 little soft-cover classic, "The Race Is Pace." It assumes a basic familiarity with Quirin speed points (there is a refresher), and the designation of pace characteristics - Early, Presser, Closer (aka Sustained in Tom Brohamer's "Modern Pace Handicapping").

Something about the "doodling" aspect, and how Giles visually lays out the Early-Presser-Closer matchup, just clicks and makes sense.

"Pace pictures are simple diagrams of running styles and Quirin speed points," writes Giles. "You could say, too, they are diagrams of equine psychology and physiology. They represent a right brain view of a race, a holistic view, a zoomed out view . . . When you doodle your pace pictures . . . it's very easy to see match-up aberrations."

Along the same pace line, the other most insightful thing I've read recently was a two-page missive that arrived via snail mail from noted handicapping essayist Joe Colville, an old-school player if there ever was one.

The piece, entitled "The Rosetta Stone of Handicapping," reaffirms Colville's genius as it pertains to pace and the psychology of bettors' ingrained habits.

"We like our selections to be finishing strong and trying to catch other horses rather than tiring and trying to hold off the other horses," he writes. "In the movie 'Seabiscuit,' filmmakers, who share our bias toward closers, showed Seabiscuit winning the Santa Anita Handicap from way behind. It was inaccurate, but it was felt this depiction would make the Big Cap more interesting to moviegoers.

"We do not need to understand the psychology behind horseplayers' overvaluation of closers to benefit from Quirin's study. We do need to acknowledge we have a bias against front-runners. Once we acknowledge our bias, we can appreciate that valuing front-runners is the Rosetta stone of handicapping."

On conventional dirt, anyway, that's something to keep in mind.

Later in the piece comes this gem, perhaps the best one-sentence advice when considering an early pacesetter for play (that never occurred to me):

"Since the horse running second in the early running has the second-best position, we do not want it to be a strong contender."

Pick-four sequence full of pitfalls

Upon a first pass through Aqueduct's sixth installment of the $250,000-guaranteed pick four, it seemed like Saturday's sequence might be the first one to produce a payoff of less than four figures (so far, they've ranged from $1,222 to $4,257).

Every subsequent look, though, reveals more potential traps.

The first leg (race 7) is a maiden sprint with six experienced runners and four first-time starters. The six with experience are a combined 0 for 39, including 10 defeats at 5-2 or less; all four new shooters offer some combination of connections, pedigree, and fast works that will force me to wait and see the betting before any final decisions.

The second leg can probably be locked up with the trio of Drowning Bear, Chilean Gem, and Revealer, whose recent Beyers are a few cuts above the others. That's the easy leg.

The third leg is the Distaff, the first graded stakes of the New York season for older filly-mare sprinters. It drew only six, but the pace promises to be furious given the presence of Secret Gypsy, the 9-5 morning-line favorite, who is freakishly fast. The uneasiness factor is that she was scratched from the Feb. 7 Pan Zareta with a swollen pastern, and hasn't run in three months.

The price horse to consider is Moonshine Alice, who has been on turf and synthetics since last winter and spring, when she won three in a row on dirt at Tampa Bay. This will be her first dirt start for Bobby Frankel, who is ever-dangerous with aggressively spotted shippers.

Moreover, she picks up C.C. Lopez, whose handling of Heart Ashley in last week's Cicada shows he's still among the best front-end riders in the game.