01/28/2004 12:00AM

Tale of a not so superfecta

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PHILADELPHIA - Just as I was beginning to congratulate myself for an enlightened wager on last Saturday's $1 million Barretts'/CTBA Classic, I realized I had almost made a gigantic mistake. Only it did not cost me anything other than cold sweats.

I was sort of minding my own business waiting for the final race of the Sunshine Millions when I glanced at the toteboard. Peace Rules was 1-1. Why did he have to win?

Peace Rules was your classic RIP (Reputation Induced Phenomenon) horse that I have described in this space. He had not won since the Haskell. He had not raced since October. He was not going to make the lead or be fast enough to prompt the pace. There was no way to know for sure how he would react when he was caught behind several horses, but it was not difficult to develop a strong suspicion. He was simply a horse that you had to try to beat.

Meanwhile, Southern Image had looked great in winning the Malibu. If he ran back to that form, he was going to be very hard to beat. He was 3-1.

So, here's the scenario. There is a dead favorite and a live 3-1 shot. One could bet to win. Or one could do his civic duty and start considering exotic wagers.

I did my civic duty. As I looked over the field, I kept looking at one horse, Pay the Preacher, who had just won an allowance race at Philadelphia Park three weeks earlier. Now, the "PHA" is rarely the point of entry for horses about to embark on a journey with a $1 million purse.

But several things intrigued me. Pay the Preacher had gotten a 105 Beyer in that race, one point less than Southern Image's 106 in the Malibu and similar to what Peace Rules had gotten during his best races of 2003. Pay the Preacher was owned and trained by Michael Dickinson. If he thought this Florida-bred belonged in this spot, who was I to tell him he was wrong? And even if I thought he was wrong, the horse was 40-1. At those odds, thinking is out. Just go to the windows.

So I did, betting a little on Pay the Preacher to win and a lot on an exacta box of Southern Image and Pay the Preacher. It was a terrible bet, the wrong bet in a situation that demanded much more aggressiveness and entry into another pool entirely.

If you don't like the favorite at all, there is only pool for you. That is why they invented superfectas. As Ray, my superfecta professor, told me several years ago: the best time to play a super is when you do not like the favorite.

With the understanding that many players may not have the bankroll for the super, the play in this spot should have been clear. If you thought Southern Image (8) was the winner, you should have bet him first with Pay the Preacher (13) second, third, and fourth with the field. On three tickets, it would have looked like this (8-13-all-all, 8-all-13-all, 8-all-all-13). In a 12-horse field like this one, each of the three $1 tickets would have cost $90 (1x1x9x10) for a total of $270.

If you thought Pay the Preacher could even win (as I did), you could have put the 13 on top with the 8 second, third, and fourth. The combos would have looked like this (13-8-all-all), 13-all-8-all, 13-all-all-8) for another $270 and a total of $540.

When the field hit the far turn, front-runner Excess Summer was being pressured by Pay the Preacher with Southern Image looming just behind them. The other nine were far back. I thought I was a winner.

I kept yelling for Excess Summer to stop, forgetting that he was trained by Jeff Mullins, whose horses know nothing about stop signs. Instead, Pay the Preacher finally got tired in the stretch.

Southern Image won easily by three lengths. Excess Summer was a clear second, five lengths in front of the third horse. In my ignorance, I did not realize the drama that was playing out behind the top pair. The Judge Sez Who closed for third at 44-1. Right near the wire, Peace Rules passed Pay the Preacher for fourth.

The superfecta pool was $195,965. After the 20.18 percent takeout, there was $156,420 left to pay out to those with winning tickets. There were 61 winning $1 tickets at $2,564.20 each

If the result is 8-10-11-13 instead of 8-10-11-1, there might not have been any winning tickets, other than the one I should have bet. Certainly, there would not have been many winning tickets. When the odds are 3-1, 7-1, 44-1, and 40-1 in a 12-horse field - with a strong favorite off the ticket - it has immense possibilities, maybe even 156,420 possibilities. Which would have been quite a bit more helpful than just another mundane exacta box.