02/02/2007 12:00AM

Sometimes the smart play is to pass

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PHILADELPHIA - It is Wednesday morning. I should be formulating my Santa Anita pick six ticket. There is three-quarters of a million in the carryover. Given that all the players have had since Sunday evening to do the work, formulate opinions, arrive at a strategy and make withdrawals, they are going to bet it up to more than $2 million by the end of wagering in a few hours.

And I am not playing. It is embarrassing and un-American. It is also, I think, intelligent.

Whenever people ask me about the chances of making money at the track, I always tell them it is possible. It is also incredibly difficult. And you better know what you know and what you don't know.

I know I have no edge over the big money that is going to pour into this pool. I have not followed Santa Anita at all this winter as I am chasing basketballs around the country.

Trying in a few days to make up all the ground on the players that have been paying attention simply is not possible, especially if you want to do this right. I have gotten beyond the gambling aspect of all this. I really don't need the action. If I am in, I want to be in with a reasonable chance at success.

Looking back on my playing career, I can't remember a single big score I have made without doing the work, all the work. There is heartache even when you do everything right. It is simply the nature of the game we play. I can handle that. I can't handle just playing to play when I know I am overmatched.

To do this right, your handicapping opinions should be reasonably automatic based on your study through a meet. If you have to spend an insane amount of time looking at videos, trying to deduce track biases and all the rest of the fundamentals, you are taking time away from formulating your tickets. And you are probably doomed before you start.

If you have been doing the work, some horses will jump off the page, positively and negatively. It becomes instinctive. You just know. And when you know something that few others know, you have separated yourself. And that is the key to the pick six.

I know some general things about Santa Anita, but very few specific things about this meet. So I am folding before I look at my hand. There will be no flop. No nothing.

What I have always liked best about this game is that is not ambiguous. Score is simply kept. You either have more money than you started with or you don't.

You can make excuses. You can whine about your bad luck. You can relate your bad beats. We've all done it.

It doesn't change anything. You either win or you lose.

Last I checked money not lost also counts. In the end, money you still have spends. Money you should have does not spend.

As much as I enjoy the emotional thrill of the hours before a pick six and the hours during one if I remain alive, I simply can't justify this one.

I am thinking I would just be donating money to more powerful betting interests with better opinions. I don't mind losing when I have an opinion based on study. I hate losing when I know I didn't do enough.

Call it gambling maturity. Call it not having enough time to do it right. Call it capitulation. Call it whatever. I am out.

Hope there was just one winning ticket and somebody got rich.

Me? I am heading out to buy a Powerball ticket. That's a game where nobody has any edge over me.