07/05/2007 11:00PM

Order of races worth considering


NEW YORK - In the wake of last Monday's spectacular $10.8 million pick six pool at Hollywood Park, track executives around the country are doubtless pondering how they can cash in on the public appetite for these gigantic pools. In doing so, they may be embracing some common misconceptions about the wager that are already apparent in the way that tracks currently choose and arrange their pick six races.

Since most track managers and racing-office employees either choose not to wager or are prohibited from doing so, they may simply assume that since horseplayers like big carryovers, they must like the kinds of races that often produce them - indecipherable, mysterious events with full fields and plenty of first-time starters. Asked why he routinely carded a maiden-claiming race with debut runners as the last leg of his pick six, one track official recently said, "I don't like doing it, but my boss is happy when we have carryovers."

Such an approach, however, is ultimately counterproductive, as several cases have demonstrated. When the Breeders' Cup tried to increase the difficulty of its pick six by turning it into a pick seven, handle began to drop and it was eventually changed back. Experiments with loading up that pick six with what appeared to be the toughest races drew similarly disappointing results. At some point, the occasional player decides that even a huge carryover or guaranteed pool is insufficiently tempting if the races are simply too daunting.

There are dozens of instances of massive payouts, or carryovers, even when there is a short-priced winner in the sequence, but some tracks switch their entire cards around to keep such races out of their pick six. At Hollywood last Sunday, for example, the featured Beverly Hills Handicap was run as the third race on the card, solely to keep it out of the pick six. Instead, a 13-horse field of bottom-level claimers was run as the first leg. A track official said he didn't want to turn the sequence into a pick five by giving everyone a "free square" with Citronnade, who won the Beverly Hills as the 1-5 favorite.

But what's so terrible about getting every player alive through one leg, especially on a card that had one difficult, full field after another to navigate even if you singled Citronnade? As it turned out, you still had to come up with a $173.80 horse who might as well have been 1000-1. The integrity of the raecard should come first, with a stakes race run in its usual position.

Tracks should be positioning races for the benefit rather than the detriment of players, especially maiden events with first-time starters. While the toteboard is far from an infallible indicator of unrevealed ability, it is the best tool out there, especially at the extremes, for gauging insider sentiment on unraced horses. Tracks should always endeavor to schedule such races in spots where the pick six or pick fours begin, rather than burying them so fans are betting blindly, but few do. With increasing pressure to create carryovers, they are often put in the worst possible spot, the last race on the card.

Sometimes this is unavoidable if a maiden claimer with several firsters is the only race on the card guaranteed to have a sufficiently full field for last-race trifectas and superfectas. Some racing secretaries have gotten into the lazy habit of immediately making such a race the last of the day, even if they have other alternatives. Everything else being equal, though, races with first-timers should be positioned on the first or second race of the day (giving players plenty of board exposure and a look at daily double betting) or on the first leg of the pick six, and never as the day's finale. New York used to do an exemplary job of this, but ever since Bill Nader left for Hong Kong, the last race of the day has again become loaded with first-timers.

Friday's Belmont card, which began with a two-day $303,367 carryover, provides an illustration that became moot once the relevant races were rained off the turf course. The fourth and ninth races on the card, the first and last races in the pick six, were split divisions of a seven-furlong maiden statebred turf sprint. Both races had 12 entrants, but the first division had no firsters and 11 of the 12 had tried the grass before. The second division had two first-timers and four others making their grass debuts. The two races should have been switched, giving pick six players a look at the betting on the newcomers while using the race with more established form as the finale. This would have been fairer and more helpful not only to pick six players but also those playing the day's final pick three and pick four.

Multi-race wagering and carryovers are shots in the arm to the game, but are tough enough propositions without officials' scheming to increase their difficulty.