01/22/2007 12:00AM

One edge for small pick-six bettors


"My job is to create pick six carryovers."

- Martin Panza, racing secretary, Hollywood Park, at the University of Arizona's RTIP Tucson Symposium, December 2006

Through the initial 10 racing days of the current Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, no one cashed the pick six on five afternoons. Of the five carryovers, only one amounted to less than $100,000 and on the second day of the meeting, a slow Thursday, the pick six carryover exceeded $119,000. Whether the official attitude can be considered cynical or expedient, hypocritical or a mere sign of the times, nothing now matters more to the postmodern racing executives of Southern California than that the day's racing produce the extraordinary business that attaches to a pick six carryover.

To be sure, handicappers of all stripes and the smallest of bettors relish pick six carryovers, too, and the overarching element of suspense coursing throughout the routine coverage of the racing day on TVG and HRTV will be whether the preceding outcomes will have contributed to yet another carryover.

While it's true the architect of California racing, the man single-handedly responsible for upgrading the quality of the state's product to elite status, F.E. "Jimmy" Kilroe, would be squirming in his grave at the circumstance, the Southern California pick six has evolved as the standard-bearer of its times. Handle supersedes attendance. With the customer base stagnant, horse racing's near-future prosperity depends more than ever on creating jackpots that not only reward the regular customers, but also can rival to a degree the bulging competition for the gaming dollar.

At the same time, two overbearing factors of handicapping have converged to support the cause of racing secretaries determined as never imagined to create the pick six carryovers: cheaper racing and unfamiliar racing. It's painstakingly difficult to isolate the least slow of a 12-horse gateload of slow and slower horses.

During Kilroe's four-decade reign, 2-year-olds and maidens never were permitted to train on the turf, let alone compete on the surface. Now they routinely do as much, and inexperienced 3-year-old maidens of winter routinely will be programmed to debut at a mile, instead of the more predictable six furlongs. The unknowns and unanswered questions, of ability, of distance and surface preferences, of maturity, seasoning, and readiness, will be abundantly unclear throughout the normal pick six sequence. The effects produce the march of carryovers.

All of this manifested itself indelibly during the weekend and subsequent Wednesday of racing that culminated in Santa Anita's recent gargantuan double-carryover of $631,110, but with a surprising twist of fate that can be of abiding interest to small bettors everywhere.

Of the one dozen races that constituted the pair of pick sixes that went begging on the weekend, three featured maidens on the turf, two solicited maiden claiming types, and two more broke with $10,000 claiming horses. The $10,000 claimers scrape the bottom of the barrel at Santa Anita, such that a majority of those races will feature horses worth half the claiming tags or less. Favorites won none of the above, and the winners included horses at 13-1, 18-1, and 17-1, with one lonesome winner below 6-1.

If unpredictable results of that kind represent a pick six formula too heavily weighted in favor of the whales over the minnows, or the high rollers and syndicates over the small bettors, two-player partnerships, and smaller teams of bettors that like to challenge the truly exotic bet, what happened on the subsequent Wednesday program not only carried the cause of the little guy, but also provided a formula they can take to the pick six vault.

The pick six sequence proved cheap, a pair of $12,500 claiming races limited to new 4-year-olds and a pair of maiden-claiming processions, those four surrounding a minor stakes for older horses down the hillside turf course and a first-level allowance turf route for older fillies and mares. Still, and this constitutes the essence of the pick six approach for small bettors, four favorites and a 3-1 second choice won, a stark and timely reminder that although the cheaper races may prove unpredictable at times, at other times the favorites and co-favorites in these low-level contests dominate their opposition, winning off by comfortable lengths.

A fifth winner on the double-carryover card was the legitimate 2-5 shot, a previous Grade 2 winner, in the turf stakes. As part of the recommended formula, do not try to upset authentic odds-on favorites. The sixth winner, in the maiden claiming $32,000 third leg, would be the lonesome longshot, sent away at 14-1. The gelding eluded me, but he was on a precipitous drop-down from maiden claiming $80,000 as a 2-year-old and had flashed some early speed in his second start, a plausible stab into the maiden-claiming grab bag.

When the prices were posted, and this is the highly desirable outcome of implementing the recommended formula, potentially available to small bettors on numerous carryover occasions a season, the double-carryover returned $18,992 to 111 winners. Many bettors were stunned at the size of the payoff, and they should have been.

Assuming the win-probabilities of the six winners were estimated accurately by the bettors, which is the customary case, and they surely seemed to be on this occasion (.39 x .20 x.06 x .40 x .71 x .29), the double-carryover grossly overpaid its fortunate winners, which themselves were far too few in number. Roughly four of every 10,000 combinations purchased should have contained the six winners.

The double-carryover should have paid approximately $5,270 to each of 400 winners. Why the fantastic discrepancy?

The power of the large carryovers in combination with a single overlay-to-longshot outcome must be the ostensible and persuasive explanation. When favorites and co-favorites dominate the pick six sequence, smaller bettors will be at advantage, provided they can recognize the one outstanding result that separates their combinations from the tens of thousands of others.

While handicappers and bettors generally will achieve consensus on favorites and co-favorites (5,678 combinations hit the double-carryover's pick five - $113.20 - when probabilities that included the 2-5 winner but not the 14-1 longshot suggested the number instead might be 600), they typically will disagree on choices of overlays and longshots. No need for a handful of pricey non-favorites to rally. If the favorites and co-favorites look like today's winners, but the average punter has spotted a nicely priced overlay in the pick six sequence, that may be the formula for the score of the season. That's the moment for smaller bettors to up the ante. Cover the low-priced contenders that figure, and plug in that attractive overlay/longshot that can memorialize the day, or season. Fewer than 50 combinations may be enough. Let the heavy lifters await the days of the longshots.

It should be evident too that when favorites and co-favorites dominate in the pick six carryovers, the whales, high rollers, and syndicates will be at decisive disadvantage to the small fry. The hundreds and sometimes thousands of combinations they bother to cover only will spice the pool with extraneous unnecessary dollars. The extra dollars contribute handsomely to the generous payoffs to smaller bettors holding pick six tickets that cost less than $100, as surely occurred to several of the 111 cashing $18,992 to ring in the New Year at Santa Anita.

The counterpoint to the argument that the pick six and especially the carryovers will be spoils to the bettors that can most afford to play the bet aggressively may be unrealistically trite far more often than not, but also it should be reassuring to the smaller bettors. It's convenient to have the bigger bettors' monies swelling the pools when they're wrong, or even when several of the favorites and co-favorites come marching in.