02/16/2009 12:00AM

One way to plot out Magna 5

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At the reduced $1 unit put into play this year, the Magna 5's growing appeal is rooted in a simple, almost diabolical fact: Payoffs are often high because no one in America possibly can apply true local knowledge to all five races in the weekly Magna 5 sequence. Not for a bet that usually begins with a race at Laurel Park in Maryland and shifts down to Florida and out to the West Coast for the remaining four races at three other Magna-owned tracks - Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita Park, and Golden Gate Fields.

Maryland-based fans of course are likely to have some realistic insights into the Laurel race that usually kicks off this special Saturday bet. Likewise, a good percentage of other Eastern horseplayers might know something about the horses involved if the Laurel race that begins the rapid sequence is a stakes. That seemed the case when the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap led off the sequence on Feb. 14. But, not too many who contributed more than $415,000 into that Magna 5 pool may have known much, considering that Royale Michele posted a 10-1 upset for relatively low-profile connections and led to a Magna 5 payoff of $9,944.

Fans in south Florida who saw the troubled performance by Duke of Homberg in a turf race at Gulfstream last month probably were all over that 3-1 shot in the Hallandale Beach, second leg of the Magna 5. Those players who had pushed the "all" button in the first leg were infinitely better off than those who pinned their hopes on two or three highly regarded favorites in the Maryland race.

Both the Maryland-based players and the Florida- or Eastern-based players might have believed they could find legit contenders in the two Santa Anita races in the Feb. 14 sequence. But, it is doubtful they knew anything about the horses in the optional claiming race at Golden Gate Fields that was leg No. 4.

Indeed, the Magna 5 played out in a way that may serve as a guide to players for the future. For one thing, It seems important to focus on at least one race in which you believe you have a legitimate edge due to the intensity of your observations. This would include any advantage gained from your familiarity with the way the track has been playing; or various trip notes you may have collected, or the relative quality of horses, jockeys, and trainers involved.

If you are an East Coast handicapper, the Laurel or Gulfstream races probably will be your preferred races to build a sensible play. If you are based in the West, your daily handicapping focus may be on Santa Anita or Golden Gate Fields, in which case you will have two or three races to build upon.

No matter where you are based, Gulfstream Park races - especially Gulfstream stakes - hardly will be foreign to serious players based anywhere in America. The same is true for Eastern players who maintain familiarity with stakes at Santa Anita. That said, Western-based players may have a built in advantage while attacking the Magna 5.

Not only will the Western player have workable handicapping insights into two or three California races, he should know something about the horses in selected Gulfstream Park stakes. When this is so, Southern California- and Nevada-based players may only be in the dark about the race in Maryland and perhaps in the shade about the one at Golden Gate.

Given those parameters, you still might pick losers with your Maryland or Florida selections - see the Barbara Fritchie result - but, you will stand a better chance building a winning Magna 5 play from fewer selections in races at a familiar track than you would in races at tracks you have not been following closely.

A Southern Cal-based player with good Florida stakes knowledge could buy most or all the horses in Maryland race and at least half the field in the Golden Gate race, or vice versa. This will allow for a moderate level play based first on one, two, or at most three contenders in the two Southern Cal races and no more than three in the Florida race.

If you are Northern Cal-based and have some knowledge of Southern California racing, but only limited knowledge of the Florida or Maryland circuits, you can proportionately set up your tickets based on those realities .

Given the moderate $1 unit needed to play the Magna 5, here are some sample layouts to consider for a budget of less than $300, which is about one-fifth to one-tenth the size of a serious-minded attempt to play the pick six. Obviously any or all of the suggested layouts below can be altered to conform to the relative strength of your handicapping opinions.

The general principal I employ when deciding how many horses I must use in a given race in a multi-race wager depends upon this fact: How many horses are required for me to feel I have at least 50 percent of the race covered by my selections in that race?

While backup tickets and a larger playing budget certainly can add to your winning potential, the 'cave man' layouts below - which include no backups - rely strictly on the geographically weighted principles outlined above.

If you are based in the East with solid knowledge of Gulfstream and reasonable familiarity with Laurel (or vice versa) and moderate knowledge about Santa Anita racing, but no insights into Golden Gate Fields, consider either of the following basic layouts (with the number of horses for each leg).

Fla.Md.So.Cal.No.Cal.So.Cal.

134 83= $288

with a GP single.

31483= $288

with a LRL single.

Or:

Fla.Md.So.Cal.No.Cal.So.Cal.

124 103= $240

with a GP single.

214103= $240

with a LRL single.

If you are based in the West with good knowledge of Santa Anita racing and moderate knowledge of Gulfstream stakes, but relatively limited knowledge of Laurel or Golden Gate Fields, consider the following basic layouts, with obvious opportunities for modifications.

Fla.Md.So.Cal.No.Cal.So.Cal.

38341 = $288

with a SA single

3814 3 = $288

with a different SA single.

Or:

Fla.Md.So.Cal.No.Cal.So.Cal.

38152 = $240

with a SA single

38251 = $240

with a different SA single.

No money-back-guarantees come with these approaches, but they are grounded in probable local knowledge for a wager that usually provides oversized payoffs linked to horses few players can possibly know anything about.