01/15/2004 12:00AM

'Pick one' dilemma a toughie


NEW YORK - By one account, it took just six days to create the heavens and the earth. It has taken longer for someone to win the pick six at Aqueduct.

Thanks to weather-related cancellations and a blizzard of longshots, no one has gone 6 for 6 at The Big A since Jan. 4. The carryover began at a tiny $24,795 when no one connected Jan. 7 and grew to $97,959 the next day. A partial cancellation Jan. 9 and a full cancellation Jan. 10 carried the pool to the 11th, where it went unclaimed again and the carryover swelled to $270, 911.

More wacky results when racing resumed Wednesday, Jan. 14, pumped the carryover up to $761,021, the largest in New York in 14 years. Thursday's card was cancelled and Aqueduct was tentatively scheduled to reopen Friday. Depending on the weather and the results, the pool may have been nabbed by the time you read this, or we might all be playing for close to $2 million today - or tomorrow, or whenever the Belt Parkway thaws.

The most remarkable thing about the extended carryover was what happened Jan. 9, when racing was scrapped after the fourth race, the first leg of the pick six. Many bettors assumed that the pool would simply be refunded, since only one of the six races in the sequence had been run. Instead, there were 42,376 "winners" at $7 each of what was effectively treated as a pick one, paid from that day's pool alone with the carryover carrying again.

Some players angrily assumed that Aqueduct had made a greedy decision to grab a 20-percent commission from the pool, but officials were simply abiding by state rules, which state that "if three or fewer races are contested, the entire net pool less breaks for such program shall be distributed to holders of wagers selecting the most winners in the races actually contested," but "should one or more Pick 6 races be cancelled, no carry-overs from prior Pick 6 pools will be distributed."

Should the rule be changed?

"We agree with the current practice that the jackpot should only be distributed if all the legs are run," said Pat Mahony, the track's vice president of parimutuel operations, in a candid and thoughtful e-mail sent to customers. "We do believe the rule, as currently written, needs to be re-examined. Many jurisdictions refund the Pick 6 pool if three (or at least four) or more of the races are cancelled. The downside to this approach, however, is not rewarding those who have picked the winners of the two or three races actually conducted."

It's a tough call. On Jan. 9, the one race run was won by a first-time starter who paid $6.80 to win and actually offered a slightly higher payoff despite higher pick six takeout when the "pick one" paid $7. This does not mean that every pick six player who used the winner received 350 percent on his money. If you went four deep in the race, you ended up getting back $7 for every $8 you invested - you lost money for having gotten alive. You won, but you lost.

Worse, you lost your entire investment if you didn't use the winner. Had the full sequence been run, such bettors still would have had a shot at recouping at least some of their money with consolation payoffs had they hit the next five races.

Personally, I ducked the Jan. 9 and 11 cards as being too tough and jumped in on the 14th, with the carryover up to $270,911. I used the first two winners at $33.40 and $12 but didn't love my position the rest of the way and found myself half-rooting for a cancellation that would have given me multiple "pick two" payoffs. Unfortunately, the show went on, with $31.60 and $56.50 winners I could not have bet with counterfeit money.

Mahony is right: The rule should be re-examined. It probably should be changed so that the day's pool is refunded if fewer than three races are run. A bettor should not show a loss for succeeding - getting through a leg or two - and it's unfair to deprive people of the chance to get out through potential consolations. It's also fundamentally unfair for the track to have benefited by taking a commission of around $75,000 from the bettors' pockets for a wager that was essentially cancelled.

Would I have been annoyed if I got a refund rather than a handful of fat "pick two" payoffs if the Jan. 14 card had been cancelled after the two races where I was alive with a 15-1 and a 5-1 in the bank? Probably, but I also would have been reminded of some enduring betting wisdom about not putting all your parimutuel eggs in one basket. If you like fat-priced horses, you're probably supposed to bet at least a little bit on them to win, in addition to hoping that the snow holds off so the pick six can be completed.