08/04/2005 11:00PM

Pick four no time to pinch pennies


PHOENIX - Lost amidst the beach, sun, and big stakes at Del Mar is the reason for being at the track - to make a score. Every Saturday and Sunday, Del Mar is offering a $500,000-guaranteed pool for its $1 pick four, usually comprising of the last four races of the day. Sunday's pick four looks hittable with a reasonable expenditure.

Rather than put together a single ticket, I'm going to designate key horses in each leg of the bet and put together four tickets based on them. This means that for a few dollars more, there is a chance to hit the bet four times, instead of just once.

Race 6

Off two strong races, Da Stoops is the horse to beat in this 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight for 2-year-olds. I'll use him in my bet, but he'll be severely overbet. Beat him and you knock out much of the crowd, sending payoffs through the roof. So my key horse here is Beautifier. He ran decently in his debut June 25 at Hollywood, finishing fourth, some seven lengths behind Da Stoops. He can benefit from that race, takes off the blinkers, and has been working in super fashion since. I'll also use Swiss Sonata, who has shown plenty of talent in his only three outings.

Key horse: Beautifier.

Contenders: Swiss Sonata, Da Stoops.

Race 7

I'll spread out in this race, a one-mile claiming race on turf. My key will be Juniper Kris, not only on his own merit - he's won 3 of his last 6 - but also because he was claimed in his last start by Ron Ellis. Ellis is super when he takes a horse. He's freshened Juniper Kris since a troubled run at Hollywood May 30, and Ellis saddles a phenomenal 48 percent winners off this length of layoff.

I'll use five others in the race: Labamta Babe, who is a tough old dude; Fabulous West, who looked super beating similar at Hollywood in gate-to-wire fashion; Sea Harbor, who isn't in great form but who posted 2 of his 3 career wins over this course; Sujimoto, who poses a late threat; and American All Star, who is sharp, though he may prefer shorter. Should also-eligible Reel 'Em In get in, I'll use him instead of American All Star.

Key horse: Juniper Kris. Contenders: Labamta Babe, Fabulous West, Sea Harbor, Sujimoto, American All Star or Reel 'Em In.

Race 8

I love Valentine Dancer. All she does is run her guts out every time, regardless of surface or distance. She couldn't get to Alphabet Kisses in the A Gleam at Hollywood last time, but that was a sprint. In this race, the Grade 2 Clement Hirsch for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles, she's going two turns, and while Alphabet Kisses still figures awfully tough and is a deserving favorite, the move to Del Mar and to this slightly longer game can help Valentine Dancer turn the tables - and she won't even be favored. I will also toss in Girl Warrior, who impressed this past winter and comes off a layoff. Her trainer, Neil Drysdale, is strong off the bench - and after some tough-luck results he's due for a bit of good fortune. Maybe it comes here.

Key horse: Valentine Dancer. Contenders: Alphabet Kisses, Girl Warrior.

Race 9

Mighty Will appears to be headed the right way, and he won't get many chances better than this 5 1/2-furlong maiden claiming race. He has ample speed, and while he faltered a bit late last time, remember that was going seven furlongs. Also, the horse who beat him, Rusty Nail, came right back to win. Erin's Bear has certainly worked in solid fashion for his debut, and it's not like he'll have to be a world-beater to be a player here. J. T.'swildweekend showed more speed and interest last time, and it's conceivable he's ready to turn the corner.

Key horse: Mighty Will. Contenders: Erin's Bear, J. T.'swildweekend.

On each of the four tickets, I'll take a key horse from one race and hook up that horse with all others. So, ticket No. 1 is 1x6x3x3 ($54). Ticket No. 2 is 3x1x3x3 ($27). Ticket No. 3 is 3x6x1x3 ($54) and ticket No. 4 is 3x6x3x1 ($54). To play one ticket with all the horses (3x6x3x3) adds up to $162, but if it hits I cash only once. With the multiple-ticket system, I spend a bit more ($189), but if all four singles hit I cash four tickets. If three singles hit, I cash three times, and so on. Of course, the negative to this method as opposed to the single-ticket system is that one of my singles must win.

Still, I'll take my chances on my handicapping. The name of the game is to maximize your win potential. Some good handicapping can help you take a stand, and may be able to get you into that wonderful IRS line.