01/02/2002 1:00AM

At the time, it sounded like a great plan


PHILADELPHIA - When there is already more than $600,000 in a Santa Anita pick six pool and a Saturday card is next up, the number $2 million begins to form in one's mind. And even if you don't regularly play Santa Anita, $2 million sort of demands involvement. With another $1.8 million bet into the pool last Saturday, the pool was as massive as expected.

There were several ways to approach the carryover. Do you spread the maiden races with all the first-time starters and hope for a bomb that blows all but the very rich out of the pool? Do you watch the tote board in the fourth race (first of the pick six), throw out all the firsters not getting bet, and focus on one that was getting pounded? Do you hope none of the first-timers fires and use the few horses in the maiden races that have shown anything at all? Do you have an unlimited budget and feel supremely confident that you will get it if you spend enough?

After some discussion, my partner and I agreed on a strategy. We would try to have one of the few live tickets by punching the "all'' button on two of the three maiden races, searching for a bomb or, hopefully, two bombs. We would single the first in the sequence if a hot first-timer appeared on the tote board. We would use five in one difficult race. We would single a top Beyer Figure horse in one race and a filly who was fast enough to outbreak Xtra Heat in another.

We were out after the first race when the hot first-timer was engaged in a speed duel and faded in the stretch. We almost got a reprieve when the horse's entrymate looked like a winner in midstretch. But here came the amazing Laffit Pincay, on his 55th birthday, urging a horse with decent form on the outside. I closed my eyes because I knew Laffit was getting there.

Our five in the "difficult'' race were the only horses around at the finish. The figure horse got up late to win. The two other maiden races did not go to longshots. They did not go to favorites either. They were both medium-priced winners.

The seven-furlong La Brea Stakes was the most interesting choice. Did you just lock in on favorite Above Perfection? She had not been out since July and there seemed to be some other speed in the race. But this filly was fast enough to outrun Xtra Heat for a time in Prioress. If that was the case, she had to be the only speed.

If, however, you expected a speed duel, Affluent was a daring single. Her last eight races were around two turns. Her last two were on grass. But she had won Grade 1 and Grade 2 races. She raced against the best of her generation all year.

How would she do at seven furlongs on dirt? One of my few absolute pick six rules is never single a stone closer. Too many things can go wrong and the potential aggravation is overwhelming.

We were long gone by the La Brea. Being speed guys, we had singled Above Perfection.

Somehow, 48-1 shot Royally Chosen went right with Above Perfection. The fractions were too fast and the duel way too much to overcome. For unknown reasons, Royally Chosen survived the duel and finished second. Above Perfection faded in the stretch.

Flying on the outside was Affluent. Once she caught stride, there was no doubt. She won comfortably. We only had four winners, but it was not all that uncomfortable.

I love the pick six for two major reasons. First, there is the potential for a major score. Second, it tests your decision-making ability. Really, this game always comes down to decisions.

As it turned out, our decisions were flawed. Looking back there is always some second-guessing. But when you think with some serious luck that you might have a shot at $2 million, or at least a large portion of it, you can live with some flawed logic. And try to do better next time.