05/02/2002 11:00PM

Pick six lives, but without guarantee


CHICAGO - Like a daytime soap opera, there was daily serial drama played out afternoon after afternoon last season at Hawthorne Race Course. Unlike the endlessly drawn-out soaps, Hawthorne found a sad conclusion to the plot at the end of almost every day.

At the heart of the story was a guaranteed pick six, put up by Hawthorne last spring to entice play from national simulcast bettors accustomed to channeling their bankrolls elsewhere.

With a $100,000 guaranteed pool and a $1 minimum base bet, action flooded in, and the attention of many players across the country turned, for a change, to Hawthorne.

"I'd never paid attention to Hawthorne," said Washington Post turf writer and longtime horseplayer Andy Beyer, who was drawn in by the guaranteed pool. "It wasn't on my radar screen."

But even at the height of its popularity, Hawthorne's bet did not attract enough action in a single day to cover the guarantee. The track needed carryovers. But what it got was a string of pick six hits, right from the very start.

"It was my own personal saga, I guess," said Hawthorne general manager Thomas Carey III, who made the call to offer the guaranteed pool. "On the other hand, it was an extremely beneficial circumstance that got us noticed on a national level."

Several people hit the pick six opening day, May 1. There was one winning ticket on the meet's second day, two on the third. Three days, no carryover, and Hawthorne, which had to make up the difference between the money actually bet into the pool and the guaranteed payoff, started getting antsy.

Racing officials would contact Hawthorne's mutuels department as a day's pick six sequence neared its conclusion. Who were the horses with live tickets on them? What numbers carry it over?

Finally, a respite. A carryover on the meet's fifth day, then another the following racing day. But the bet was hit again three of the next four days, making the bettors 6 for 9 to open the meet. Hawthorne had seen enough, and it pulled the plug on the guarantee.

Yet the guaranteed pick six was back again in the fall, this time in a scaled-down version, with a $50,000 guarantee and a $2 minimum bet. Still it fell prey to savvy bettors, who scored on four of the meet's first five days and brought the experiment to another crashing end.

There is pick six wagering this spring at Hawthorne, but there's no guarantee.

"I'm glad it's over," said racing secretary Gary Duch, who was chiefly responsible for deciding which races would constitute the pick-six sequence. "I don't know how many times there was a big longshot that would have carried it over, and they'd miss by a nose."

Beyer himself hit the bet early in the spring meet. He applauded the track's efforts at catering to players, and even sent Carey a postcard during a vacation paid for with profits from his pick six score.

"It was a noble idea," Beyer said, "but perhaps somewhat ill-conceived. Their mistakes were that there wasn't enough of a local pick six tradition to support the guarantee. Second, they instituted it with a $1 bet. And, they didn't necessarily card the hardest races. It was too easy to hit. But certainly, it attracted new people to the Hawthorne product."

This year, Hawthorne hopes those converts will continue paying attention during its abbreviated spring meet - even without an unfolding pick six soap opera.