10/09/2006 11:00PM

You can take it to the bank


A couple of days after the outstanding Banks Hill at 6-1 had won the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf by a sixteenth of a mile (or was it a mere six lengths), and the predictable superfecta had paid $44,000, I plopped down in the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association’s library in Arcadia and reviewed the charts of the Breeders’ Cup races for the past six years (maybe it was 10 years). Indeed, my motivation for the exercise was greater.

When Johannesburg had won the Juvenile of the same year at 7-1, the superfecta paid $56,000. An hour later that day, when the two best horses in the world, Tiznow and Sakhee, had finished one-two by noses in the Classic, the Superfecta paid an astonishing $25,000. It has been like that ever since, and will be again this year. Talk about crushing the races, this is the day of days, the time to imagine making a year’s salary, not unrealistically, and not by chasing longshots, but by handicapping and playing exceptionally well.

The library session contributed to a number of personal conclusions. One, on this extraordinary afternoon, in generosity and probabilities alike, the trifectas supersede the pick threes, and the superfectas supersede the pick fours. Two, the key horses to win can be 6-1 and lower, and occasionally favorites, provided they have not been severely overbet. Three, and this is the kicker, the third and fourth holes will be filled more often than not as a function of random selection.

Of the third finding, conventional handicapping does not apply. In trifectas and supers, once the key horse(s) and place hole have been covered as intelligently as know-how and skill allow, handicappers must cover all the double-digit horses to finish third and fourth. This is the key to the BC vaults. These are talented horses, and any of them can finish third or fourth, and most frequently they do. The risk is that other horses below 10-1 will finish third or fourth, but that’s an acceptable risk. If handicappers prefer, they can cover all horses at 8-1 or greater, but the costs will rise significantly, while the payoffs will not.

The pick threes and pick fours cannot be ignored. The year’s salary may prove out of reach (or not), but a five-figure profit awaits handicappers who can roll the serial bets successfully. In rolling pick threes and pick fours, an effective strategy selects a key horse in each leg and combines that horse with the contenders in the other legs. One of the key horses must win, of course, but in pick fours notably, most handicappers will be capable of selecting one of four keys who do win. In the other legs, cover the A and B selections, to be sure. And following Steven Crist, in his provocative book, “Exotic Betting,” cover the C selections to win in the most competitive legs on backup tickets at the minimum amount.

By this strategy, and this is its inherent power, if two or more key horses win, handicappers can cash the pick threes and pick fours more than once. Getting three or four keys to win in a row might deliver a sizable portion of that year’s salary in a day, after all. It happens. Whenever the key horse in a serial bet doubles as a key horse to win, double down in the serial combinations linked to that horse.

In races where favorites, second choices, or third choices will be conspicuous overlays, the exactas and rolling doubles (if available) should be covered. In contentious exactas, as in everyday play, the basic strategy is plain: Box the overlays, and play each on top of the underlays. If handicappers prefer, reverse the combinations a couple of times.

In contentious doubles, cover the A, B, and C selections to the A’s, B’s, and C’s in the other halves in varying amounts. A pro of San Francisco once advised me that combinations of A horses in serial or combination bets deserve 10 times the investment as do combinations of A and B horses, so I pass the advice along as another crutch for crushing the Breeders’ Cup card in the top hole. Needless to note, top selections to win who will be underbet, a la the standout Banks Hill, should be backed to win.

All of this costs money, of course, significantly more money than the customary day (or week) at the races. As a rule, the BC investment should be 10 times as great as on a player’s normal day, but 20 times as great may do better yet. My optional money management plan is elementary, and seems perfectly reasonable to me.

I have little to recommend on the pursuit of the Ultra Pick 6. Still, it bears repeating that in 2003 a pair of poorly funded Midwestern handicappers who rarely bet at all submitted an $8 ticket, and emerged as the only winners, despite having covered just one lonely longshot among four singles and two pairs. The two interlopers have been living happily among us with the $2.6 million they collected, and may not have wagered $500 since.

I mention this in part because Aragorn has looked very much like the best turf miler since Lure. That’s one of my keys to the vault who will be hard to deny, and although such a key should be overbet to win, on this special day the payoffs on the surrounding serial and combination bets can still amount to thousands. As to the longshot(s) who will win, and trigger the million-dollar payoff, I haven’t a clue.

Of course, if Aragorn should lose in an upset, a small number of pick six, pick four, pick three, trifecta, and superfecta players should experience the wildest financial windfalls of their lives. It’s a great, great day.