06/17/2007 11:00PM

When to play the pick six


A $1 million pick six was guaranteed for the Belmont Stakes Day card and I played it without a carryover, just as I probably will play a guaranteed pick six on Breeders’ Cup Day and a few other times during the year.

Contrary to advice offered by many pick six experts, I love playing into a guaranteed million-dollar pick six when the card is sure to attract significant play on the simulcast network from a wide range of uninformed or underfinanced players.

Also, by contrast, I do not always play a pick six when it has a carryover even if it is attached to a good overall card that includes a race where the logical favorite is vulnerable to identifiable contenders.

For example, I did not play the pick six on Memorial Day at Belmont despite a $61,000 carryover going into a card spiked by the Metropolitan Mile, one of my favorite races of the year. This despite the fact that I believed favored Lawyer Ron would be highly vulnerable to two horses, Sun King and the eventual winner Corinthian, which certainly opened the door to a potential big pick six score.

I didn’t play it for two reasons that have guided me away from poor pick six investments and guided me towards the game’s best opportunities to nullify the exorbitant takeout percentages we face every day.

Those that did attack the $61,000 pick six carryover on May 28 put more than $350,000 into the pool without hitting it, which set up a carryover in excess of $250,000 for the May 31 card, which I did play.

To recap:

I passed on the Memorial Day pick six with a $61,000 carryover.

I played the May 31 pick six with a $251,000 carryover.

I played the $1 million-guaranteed pick six on Belmont Stakes Day.

My reason for providing these background details is to outline some personal standards for playing select pick sixes for players with sufficient bankrolls, along with some of the pitfalls in making such decisions.

The $61,000 carryover on Memorial Day was a borderline decision. As stated, Lawyer Ron seemed vulnerable. He has always been a natural two-turn horse who now was being asked for a career best in a one-turn mile event.

Sun King, second in this prestigious mile stakes last year, seemed ready to show significant improvement after a prep race over the track and a sharp four-furlong workout. Corinthian seemed a legit upset threat based on his facile win over 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil in a February allowance race at Gulfstream Park and a subsequent victory in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. Corinthian’s troubled start when fifth in the Excelsior Handicap over the Belmont racing surface only added price appeal to his chances.

Yet, this pick six was uninviting because the rest of the six race sequence seemed so wide open that I could not identify a legit single or any other race that could be locked up with just two or even three selections.

Adding up the number of realistic contenders in the pick six matrix, I calculated that $6,000 would be needed to cover seven different tickets with a proper assortment of prime contenders and backups. That was about $1,500 more than I usually recommend for serious play – even when I love a pick six sequence. At the bottom line, confidence was low and the cost high; so it made no sense to get involved.

Reason number two to avoid this pick six played to a basic rule I have adopted that underscores why the pick six is a great play some days and just a waste of time on others.

On Met Mile Day, the $61,000 carryover offered insufficient “dead money” to invite serious action. Through considerable experience, I refrain from play unless a carryover of $150,000 or more is on the table. This threshold is linked specifically to what large carryovers can do for the horseplayer.

When large enough, they nullify the takeout, usually 25 percent in most racing states (including New York when a 15 percent pick six takeout kicks up to 25 percent whenever there is a carryover). In this case, the $61,000 carryover seemed likely to fall a shade short of neutralizing the anticipated takeout from the $300,000 to $350,000 that would be wagered into the pool. Also, the races were so complicated I saw no value making the attempt to set up an expensive play with marginal value for my pick six wagering group.

As it turned out, I focused my own personal play on the Met Mile, but butchered a golden opportunity to cash when I left out longshot Political Force in my exactas and only used him on the third level of my trifectas. On the other hand, my abstention from a difficult pick six left my wagering partners with a good chunk of change to invest in the May 31 pick six.

The $251,000 carryover almost guaranteed that $1 million to $1.5 million would be bet into the pool, including our $3,000-$4,000. The carryover in this case seemed likely to neutralize the 25 percent takeout, and as most players know, large carryovers often create inflated pick six payoffs.

In that May 31 pick six, the $251,000 carryover generated more than $1.1 million in pick six play. We hit it, but there still was a net loss of more than $500 after the $2,463 ticket and a dozen pick fives at $38.20 each were cashed. Not a good outcome.

Yet, before the races were run, I saw potential value in a six race sequence that produced four winning favorites and two second choices.

In the third leg, won by 9-10 favorite Justy, I saw four alternative winning possibilities that could have brought about a much higher pick six payoff. Moreover, there were alternate contenders in at least three other races that also could have pushed the payoff significantly higher.

Sometimes pick six races break like that, but many similar situations have produced $100,000-plus payoffs when seemingly obvious horses in open races did not win, or even produce their best.

Conversely, when no carryover is on the table, the value in pick six play must be linked to other considerations, including windfalls generated by playable longshots completely overlooked by the crowd – or, by huge pools that can produce a life-changing score when few winning tickets might be sold. Equally inviting are pools that include a different form of dead money – money dropped into the wager by large numbers of uninformed players.

That is why I took my chances on the Belmont Day pick six when national television coverage seemed certain to attract plenty of causal players who had very little clue about the majority of stakes races preceding the Belmont Stakes. That is a good definition of dead money at the racetrack.

Unfortunately, my play was ruined in the first leg when the front-running Keyed Entry bore out badly on the turn and carried Bordonaro to the parking lot while 10-1 winner Will He Shine was given a wide open inside path to victory. Such is life. The play was a good opportunity gone wrong, but one that I readily will tackle the next time it presents itself. Can anyone say Travers Day?