08/24/2006 11:00PM

Swinging for the pick four


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - For a number of reasons, Sunday will be my favorite day of the meet.

The Travers hoopla will be over.

My house has resembled a Holiday Inn for the last several weeks, but after breakfast Sunday the Litfin family bids a fond farewell to the last guests of track season. Have a safe trip and toodle-oo.

Best of all, it is not a work day, so that will be me wearing sunglasses and a Funny Cide T-shirt, hanging out by the paddock rail.

My very short to-do list includes a swing at the late pick four, because for my money (and yours, too), the pick four provides a good bang for a modest buck. This past Thursday, for example, the early pick four linking three favorites and a third choice paid $755; the late pick four consisted of three favorites and a second choice, and paid $474.

You don't have to be brilliant to make a little score, but what you do need to do after figuring out who you're going to bet is to take time to figure how you're going to bet.

What I usually do in the more difficult races is split the contenders into "A" horses deemed most likely to win, and "B" horses that are more marginal types.

Pending late-breaking scratches and weather and track conditions, this is my preliminary plan for races 7-10 on Sunday's card.

Race 7 - You can thank the racing office for positioning this maiden special weight sprint as the first leg, which gives players an opportunity to see the betting action. Assuming there is no hot "steam" horse on the tote board, I have managed to whittle nine betting interests down to five.

Because I am leery of 3-year-old first-time starters this late in the season, my key "A" horses are two that have run previously, Pleasant Hill (No. 2) and Bemused (No. 4).

My back-up "B" horses are the firsters - the Todd Pletcher-trained entry of Jessamy Lane (No. 1) and Maizelle (No. 1A); Kiaran McLaughlin's Diamantina (No. 8) and Gary Contessa's Forest Star (No. 9).

Race 8 - Summer Palace (No. 3) and Mama Theresa (No. 7) ran in a freaky first-level statebred allowance on Aug. 9 that Her Royal Nibs won with a 99 Beyer Speed Figure, which was far above her previous best and practically unheard of in this condition.

The figure gained some support when Mama Theresa, who finished nine lengths behind with a Beyer of 76, returned six days later to win a restricted claimer with a 75.

Summer Palace, a $300,000 purchase as a 2-year-old, ran third with an 87 in the Her Royal Nibs race, and will probably be odds-on. She's an obvious "A," but Mama Theresa runs her best races on this track and is just as obviously the most likely upset chance, so she stays in as a "B."

Race 9 - The Ballerina is a fascinating race in which the two best horses, Stormy Kiss and Dubai Escapade, are need-to-lead sprinters very closely matched on early speed. An enervating duel seems preordained, so I'm going to toss them both and look for someone to come rolling late.

Malibu Mint (No. 5) swung five wide and was rapidly gaining on Stormy Kiss in the Honorable Miss, and that was a day when the rail was very good. I'll make her my "A" horse, but will also take three back-ups: Nothing But Fun (No. 2), the lone entrant turning back from routes; Grecian Lover (No. 6), who has improved recently for trainer Allen Jerkens; and Indian Flare (No. 7), who, though making her stakes debut, drew the outside post and may get to sit in the garden spot off the duel.

Race 10 - A typically inscrutable turf sprint featuring sprinters trying the turf and routers trying a sprint. Assuming the main body of 12 remains intact, I have expertly narrowed it down to seven.

I'll take three "A" horses: Golden Knolls (No. 5), Forest Code (No. 7), and Winning Toast (No. 9).

The four "B" horses are: Smart Crowd (No. 2), Why Worry (No. 6), All Bets Down (No. 8), and Brushed Bayou (No. 11).

If I bought one so-called Neanderthal ticket using all picks, a 5x2x4x7 play would be 280 combinations, which is a) too expensive, and b) makes no distinctions about handicapping opinions. If I "insist" on being right with my "A" horses in two of the four legs - any two - I can buy 11 tickets and trim the cost by nearly 50 percent, down to $145 as follows:

Ticket 1 - 2,4/3/5/5,7,9 ($6)

Ticket 2 - 2,4/3/5/2,6,8,11 ($8)

Ticket 3 - 2,4/3/2,6,7,/5,7,9 ($18)

Ticket 4 - 2,4/7/5/5,7,9 ($6)

Ticket 5 - 1,8,9/3/5/5,7,9 ($9)

Ticket 6 - 1,8,9/3/5/2,6,8,11 ($12)

Ticket 7 - 2,4/7/5/2,6,8,11 ($8)

Ticket 8 - 2,4/3/2,6,7/2,6,8,11 ($24)

Ticket 9 - 1,8,9/3/2,6,7/5,7,9 ($27)

Ticket 10 - 2,4/7/2,6,7/5,7,9 ($18)

Ticket 11 - 1,8,9/7/5/5,7,9 ($9)