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"Big Al" is the name of the new kid on the horse-picking block. And the Happy Handicapper plans to take him to school.

No, that's not a picture of the young Al Capone over his tips in the Buffalo Raceway program.

It's the drivers' license photo (Hey, they needed a shot in a hurry) of 30-year-old Allen Radominski, the only one of the three Raceway program tipsters who does not hide behind the cloak of anonymity.

Which is good because Radominski will have to sign his real name to the check he'll be forking over to the News Neediest Fund when he loses his wager with the H.H.

Here's the deal.

Big (he's 6-feet-4) Al and the H.H. (whose "Summers' Selections" appear in this newspaper) will match selections over the course of the just-opened nine-week fall meet. Scoring will be based on the $2 win payoff of each winner except for the daily best bet, which will get a $5 wager.

When the season ends on Dec. 20, the loser will donate $100 to the News Neediest. The winner will own bragging rights unless, of course, he's the type of person who doesn't go around bragging about such things.

Radominski, who was born about the time the Happy Handicapper was rooting for Damascus to win the Belmont Stakes, thinks this is going to be easy. He hit six of 11 winners on Wednesday's opening card and amassed a first-night fortune of $27.60 from an investment of $25. (The H.H. also had six winners, but made a total of $42.65).

Radominski said he first started going to the Raceway when he was a teen-ager. Guys from his Kaisertown neighborhood had horses and he would tag along and watch them run.

Along the line he discovered the computer and, after about nine years working in the health insurance business, found work at the Raceway in the computer and printing departments.

"I design the ads for the program. I run the print shop. I get the programs out on time," he said.

He also plays horses once in a while.

"I had a computer (handicapping system) I used to use all the time. I got it from the Sports Eye (newspaper)," he said.

"I would look at the top five horses the computer spit out and I would look to see why it picked that horse. Then I starting reading the program form and learning more and more about it.

"The four things I look at when I go to bet on a horse are the driver, wins for the year, if he's a fast horse that leaves or comes off the pace, and the last quarter. Those are the major concerns that I look at."

Radominski really honed his selection skills a few years ago when he was laid off from his insurance job and his working wife, Kimberly, gave birth to their daughter, Haley.

"I was Mr. Mom for a year and a half. That's how I really got into racing. When my wife would get home, I would go to the track just to get out," he said.

"I went through a lot of changes. Watching a baby from birth to a year and a half, you've got to get out of the house. You've got to get away. So I would come here to relieve the pressure.

"I'm not a big bettor. I'm a $2 and $5 bettor. I hit a trifecta here for $1,100 once. And my wife won a handicapping contest here once for $1,000. Those were our biggest wins."

After his opening-night success (which represented a profit of $2.60 on a $25 investment), Radominski said he didn't think it would be too difficult to make a net profit for the meet.

"You say nobody makes a profit, but maybe I could be the first one," he said.

Good luck to him, but this is where the H.H. thinks Big Al may be in for a big surprise.

There is almost no way anybody, using real or imaginary money, can win money by betting each and every race.

In his nine-month experience as a daily public selector, the H.H. has come up against what he calls the "29 percent barrier."

No matter what he does, he can't seem to get his winning percentage up over that level.

Since January, when he began making daily selections, the H.H. has faced 1,688 races and come up with 473 winners, a rate of just about 28 percent, or an average of just over three winners per 11 or 12-race card.

The 29-percent ceiling was there during the Buffalo Raceway spring meet, when he hit 27.5 percent of his selections. And it was there at the Batavia Downs summer meet, when his 165-for-569 record worked out to exactly 29 percent.

Of course, it's not impossible to make a profit by picking winners at this clip. All you have to do is collect an average of $6.90 per winner, or odds of just under 5-2.

It's a feat that's a lot easier said than done. But the H.H. wishes Big Al good luck in his attempt.

But he should still keep that checkbook handy.

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