01/09/2003 12:00AM

Two-single method is pick four magic


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - As of Thursday, Aqueduct's inner track hasn't been fast to start a program since before the Christmas break, and horseplayers have apparently become quite adept with their slop and mud picks. Last Saturday, the public choice swept Aqueduct's last six races. Through Wednesday, the crowd had landed on the winner 60 times in 201 races, a strike rate close to the accepted universal average for favorites.

What did we ever do before Tomlinson Figures?

This is not to suggest, however, that winter racing in New York is like ice-fishing in a barrel. Big fields of lightly raced maidens and 3-year-old claimers make up a good part of the cards these days, and these situations have afforded ample opportunities for longshot players as well. During one recent stretch, 16 of 17 winners returned double-digit mutuels, and there has been a regular supply of bombs that handicappers could only catch by using the hatpin method.

In fact, Thursday's 13-12-2 trifecta combination in the fifth race, headed by the inscrutable stretch-out Napoleon Solo at $55.50, came back a whopping $48,476, nearly twice as much as last year's top-paying trifecta. This is not meant as a knock on cheap racing, because if you will recall, New York's biggest tri of 2002 was keyed by 70-1 shot Sarava in the Belmont Stakes - "The Test of the Champion."

This is the reality of racing these days: Favorites win at the same rate as they have for the last 100 years, but when they don't the results can be utterly stupefying to even the most seasoned and expert players.

The bet that best exploits this situation, and is also within the realm of affordability, is the pick four, provided that it is not approached in the typical manner of trying to cover all the logical winners in the sequence. You know what happens when four logical winners make up the pick four? Just revisit last Saturday's Aqueduct results, when four winning favorites combined for a $37.20 payoff.

Your attitude about such a result should be, "Throw it back."

Results are similarly disappointing for the ticket that goes 3x3x3x3 for $81 and uses the most logical-looking horses in each leg. The chances for a tote-rocking payoff are slim and none, and, to paraphrase racing essayist Joe Colville, slim has left the building.

The same $81 has a far better chance to make hay by going 1x1x9x9. By taking a stand in two races, it allows for the possibility of a chaos meltdown in the other two legs. And make no mistake, the key to bagging big pick four payoffs is stepping outside the box.

The parimutuel power of the two-single method was driven home at Saratoga last summer, when a weekend guest left for the track one Sunday with only two opinions: He liked the lukewarm favorite Balto Star in the eighth race, and he thought Orientate had to fall down to lose the A.G. Vanderbilt.

Instead of wise-guying himself away from Orientate at 2-5, he used the mortal lock to construct a pick-four play with Balto Star and wheeled the other two legs, which were both very contentious turf routes.

The ticket of 10x1x1x9 required a $90 outlay. After Balto Star ($9.90) and Orientate ($2.90) were sandwiched in between Play It Out ($36.20) and Gayle's Glory ($15.80), the investment bagged half of the $3,978 payoff for $2, or nearly twice what the parlay was worth.

An equivalent $90 spent as a win bet on Balto Star would have returned only $445.

Which do you prefer, $445 - or $1,989?

Aside from the all-chalk pick four last Saturday, the two-single method worked quite well at the Big A during the first week of 2003:

Jan. 1 - Even with three winning favorites in the sequence, the pick four paid $920 after Infiltrator ($32.20) won the second leg as the longest shot in a six-horse field. If that was one of two legs in which a bettor decided to spread, it was eminently hittable.

Jan. 2 - If you picked the right singles, Go Rockin' Robin ($6.40) and Resolve ($4.90), and went "all" (12x10) in the remaining two races, you bagged half of a $33,508 pick four thanks to Toga's Triumph ($90.50) and Brave One ($11.20). The parlay was only $3,973.

Jan. 3 - By singling Laser Con ($3.70) and either Montana Cat ($7.60) or Lorraine's Secret ($5.50), and catching Itsmyfinalanswer ($27.20) on the spread, the payoff was $1,105, more than twice the $525 parlay.

Jan. 5 - After lukewarm favorites Green Jeans ($6.70) and Raise Devil ($6.40) won the first two legs, those who concluded "all-all" sat back and collected $5,968 - more than three times the parlay - when Lizzy Cool ($19.40) and Jimmie J ($17.80) went wire to wire.