07/27/2006 11:00PM

Wrong time to be cheap


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - A common misconception about the pick four is that you need to beat all the favorites to make a score. The late pick four opening day at Saratoga, for example, was worth $27,636 after tough-to-figure wins by Awesome Twist (5-1), Samsincharge (11-1), Cotton Blossom (8-1), and Brilliant Cut (11-1).

Except for the proverbial little old lady with a hat pin, typical bettors don't usually have the inclination or bankroll to construct plays with that kind of parimutuel firepower. The good news is they don't need to. Even small-to-medium-scale players had a realistic chance to hit the early pick four opening day, which came back a tidy $1,308 even though favorites won three of the four races.

The first leg was a virtual free square. Rondo laid over a field of maiden sprinters based on either of his two prior races, and virtually everyone among the festive crowd of 27,346 was alive after he won easily at a paltry 35 cents on the dollar.

The key to hitting the thing was the second leg, and I knew as much going in. "Nine of these 11 New York-bred sprinters have a Beyer figure top in the 70's, so this might be a good race to spread in multi-race exotics," was the disclaimer I put at the beginning of the race analysis.

But instead of following my own advice and including those nine in my pick four, I somehow had the bright idea to scale down and use just the seven with a Beyer top in the range of 75 to 79.

What happened next is simply what almost always happens in situations like this. Busters Rodeo, one of the two horses sliced from the spread, quickly sprinted clear and showed his heels to my not-so-magnificent seven.

At better than 25-1, Busters Rodeo was not the easiest winner to come up with. However, he had enough angles - turf to dirt, second off a layoff, early speed - to be used once the decision to spread was made. It was somewhere around the sixteenth pole when I glanced down at my Racing Form and noticed that Busters Rodeo's trainer, Bobby Barbara, had a turf-to-dirt return on investment of $3.92. It is considerably more than that now.

I was spreading in the race, and therein lies a lesson I learned for the umpteenth and hopefully last time: In multi-race exotic wagers, the most potentially dangerous and volatile races are often the ones where you're using five or six horses; they are the races that by definition are not well understood.

By nickel-and-diming in a chaotic race where just about anything could happen, I left the door open for the worst kind of horrible outcome, and got what I deserved.

Naturally, my horses in the last two legs ran like trained seals.

To boost payoffs into the four-figure range, you need to recognize races with the potential to produce outside-the-box results. When you find such races, use every horse that has any redeeming virtues whatsoever. At least this way, when the race blows up in your face, you can take consolation knowing the winner was unfathomable even in hindsight.

Blink and the bias changes

Opening day produced one of the strongest inside speed biases of the year on the New York circuit. Six of seven winners on the main track set or forced the pace. The lone exception occurred in an optional claimer that could have passed for a Grade 2 stakes, when Awesome Twist lagged far behind a torrid duel between I'm the Tiger and Spanish Chestnut and snaked through on the gold rail to nail a game but spent I'm the Tiger in the final 20 yards.

Under the circumstances, Desire to Excel ran tremendously to finish second behind Cotton Blossom as the 7-5 choice in the Schuylerville, after stumbling at the start beneath Mike Smith and circling four wide to avoid traffic while rallying midway on the turn.

"It's tough to close today," said Smith after the race. "You can't make up any ground outside."

The bias was short-lived. On Day 2, Cool the Economy won the second race by circling five wide to win a juvenile maiden sprint from well off the pace. Commander Matt won the next dirt race by rallying from ninth in a field of 12.

What a difference a day makes. Had the Sanford been run on Wednesday's track, Teuflesberg would have been long gone. As it was, he came within a neck of staving off a last-ditch charge by 3-10 favorite Scat Daddy, who disliked being down inside the winner turning for home, and finally kicked in after being taken to the outside by John Velazquez.