11/19/2001 12:00AM

Two sites pounded low-paying Big A pick 4

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NEW YORK - It should come as some consolation to horseplayers that, according to Vince Hogan, the New York Racing Association's director of mutuels, NYRA investigators are looking into the shockingly small pick four payoff at Aqueduct last Thursday.

For those who may be unaware, this particular pick four, encompassing races 6 through 9, paid $1,070, or almost half of what the pick three paid - $2,097 - on races 7, 8, and 9.

It should be noted that we that are talking about sizable pools here. The pick four pool at Aqueduct that day was a little more than $117,000; the pool on the late Pick 3 was nearly $77,000. So the oddities that you sometimes see in payoffs when betting pools are small do not apply here.

Secondly, if - and that's a big if - this pick four sequence began with a 1-9 shot, you could make some sort of rationalization for a deflated payoff. But that wasn't the case, either. This Pick 4 sequence began with Seeking Greatness, who paid $8.80 as the second choice in a field of eight. It continued with Barrage, who returned $35 as the second-longest shot in a field of six; and then Nouvelle, who paid $9.70 as the third choice in a field of 10; and concluded with Yavapai, who returned $13.80 as the third choice in a field of 10.

This pick four payoff of $1,070 was nearly one-fifth of the parlay of $5,153, and most of the time, pick four's and pick three's pay more than the parlays because the takeout is applied only once. That's why pick three's and pick four's are usually good bets. For purposes of comparison, the late pick three payoff of $2,097 was close to double the parlay of $1,171.

Now, the first thought here is that there must have been some wise guy horse in this sequence. And the first inclination is to think the horse was Seeking Greatness, since he was a well-bred first-time starter from a very sharp barn. But the pick three that included Seeking Greatness - the pick three that encompassed races 4 through 6 - paid $1,778, well above the parlay of $1,091. There also didn't seem to be anything unique about the last two winners of the sequence, because the late daily double, combining Nouvelle and Yavapai, paid $73 - slightly more than the parlay of $66.90.

However, there is an interesting point concerning Barrage. Even though the late pick three that began with Barrage paid more than the parlay, the pick three that concluded with Barrage - the pick three made up of races 5 through 7 - paid only $949, which was significantly less than the parlay of $1,216.

Some could argue that Barrage wasn't truly a $35 horse, that he fell through the cracks, even in a short field, and his win odds blew out disproportionately from what they should have been. I suppose that's possible, but that wouldn't explain why the vast majority of winning tickets on this pick four came from only two places.

According to updated figures provided by Hogan, there were 82 winning $2 tickets sold on the pick four in question. For accounting purposes, the winners are broken down into $1 tickets, of which there were 164. Of those, 99 $1 winning tickets came from the betting hub in Birmingham and 49 $1 winning tickets came from Las Vegas. There were no winning tickets on this pick four on track at Aqueduct. In other words, 148 of the 164 winning $1 tickets on this pick four came from Birmingham and Las Vegas.

If we were talking about small tracks, you could say that outlets such as Birmingham and Las Vegas could account for the majority of the betting pool on a consistent basis. But we're talking about Aqueduct in New York, so there had to be plenty of local and national money in this particular pick four pool. If not, then that would be another reason to raise suspicions. Unfortunately, exactly how much Birmingham and Las Vegas contributed to this pick four pool is not yet known. Whether it becomes known, according to Hogan, depends on the cooperation of Birmingham and the outlets in Las Vegas.

Certainly, there are a lot of sharp horseplayers whose money is pumped through Las Vegas and Birmingham, which handles a lot of action placed at offshore betting outlets. These players have been lured with lower takeouts, rebates, and upgraded customer service. The question is, how were these players so sharp and correct in a pick four on an isolated Thursday at Aqueduct?

There are many sharp horseplayers in New York, too, and I say that without an ounce of provincial pride. Yet, on the same pick four where 90 percent of the winners came from Birmingham and Las Vegas, how could there have been zero winners on track and, according to Hogan, only five $1 winning tickets sold at New York City OTB?

Here's hoping the NYRA investigators comes up with the answers.