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THE WEB, A FRIEND AND A NICE DAY'S BANKROLL

All horseplayers know the saying "I'd rather be lucky than smart."

Last Saturday, the Happy Handicapper got incredibly lucky because some other people were really smart.

It all started the previous Monday, when he settled in at his neighborhood OTB parlor for a night of jousting with the harness races at Northfield Park.

The half-mile track in Cleveland is one of the H.H.'s favorite simulcast sites. The action starts at 7 p.m. There's only about 12 minutes between races (although the Northfield slogan actually is, "Every 19 minutes the place goes crazy."). And its high purses have attracted a bunch of former Western New York trainers, drivers and horses. Plus, you get good odds whenever you want to go against the always-overbet steeds driven by Walter Case Jr., the nation's winningest driver.

While there, the H.H. ran into "Ron the Wiz," one of the more creative handicappers he knows. Ron usually concentrates on the thoroughbreds, but he told the H.H. that he'd been dabbling in the trotters and pacers after discovering a hot handicapping service on the Internet.

"They used to give out selections for free, but now they're charging $9 a month," he said. "But it's worth it." The Handicapper wrote down the Web site address (simuhelp.com) and filed it away for later.

Flash forward to Wednesday afternoon. Now the H.H. is at the Ridge Lea Road parlor (officially known as the "Amherst Turfside Sportsplex") when he overhears some thoroughbred players talking about how hot "The Computer" has been lately.

He heard one guy say, "It only gives two horses per day at each track and today it likes the three-horse in the second at Arlington."

Tired of losing with his own methods, the H.H. took a chance and put a few dollars on the animal, a 7-1 shot named Charming Eyes. Imagine his delight when the critter won and paid about $20 for a win-place combination.

The H.H. suspected he knew what Web site they were talking about and later he confirmed that it was the "Spot Plays" department of the "Handicapper's Edge" feature of the Web site called brisnet.com.

Armed with that $20 from Arlington Park, the H.H. bet $2 to win on 10 "Spot Plays" at five thoroughbred tracks Thursday. Four of them finished second but there was only one winner, a $13 payoff on Doc Knows Best at Louisiana Downs.

Encouraged by Thursday's 50 percent in-the-exacta results, the H.H. decided to give the "Spot Plays" list another shot on Saturday afternoon. And while he was looking it up on the Internet, he also took a peek at the Simuhelp Web site Ron the Wiz told him about.

Sure enough, Simuhelp charged a $9 membership fee but was also offering three free full-card samples, including its picks for Freehold Raceway, the New Jersey harness track that races in the afternoon.

At his local OTB, the H.H. was in for a half-hour of excitement. The "Spot Plays" sheet picked Little Surfer, a 10-1 filly in the first race at Finger Lakes. The H.H. bet her win and place, wheeled her in the daily double with the three favorites in the second race, and boxed her in the exacta with the top two selections of Dave Mattice, the Finger Lakes TV handicapper.

Little Surfer got off a step slow, but jockey David Rivera finally got her moving when it counted and she beat the favorite by a half length. She paid $21 to win, $8 to place and topped an $84 exacta.

A few minutes later, it was time for the first at Freehold. The Simuhelp sheet's top three picks were, in order of preference, Last Resort, Walt's Wonder and Kendal Sprocket. The H.H. bet the top choice to win and place and boxed the trio in the exacta.

When they turned for home, Walt's Wonder held a narrow lead, Last Resort was stuck in traffic, and Kendal Sprocket was nowhere. But somehow, driver Cat Manzi found a hole and Kendal Sprocket shot through and won by a length. On TV, they put his number (7) up and waited for the photo finish to determine the others.

They also put up Kendal Sprocket's odds. The H.H. couldn't believe it. The horse (which he remembered as the winner of the 1999 Hopeful Pace at Buffalo Raceway) had gone off at 75-1.

The H.H. had just finished groaning "Why didn't I bet him to win?" to himself, when they put up the complete order of finish. Walt's Wonder had held on for second and the exacta returned $535. (Last Resort finished third, so the Simuhelp trifecta box, which he didn't bet, paid $1,700.)

Next came the second race at Finger Lakes. The winner was Long Voyage, the odds-on favorite. Good enough for a $50 daily double with Little Surfer.

The "Spot Plays" wizards also liked a gray colt named Courage in the third race at Finger Lakes. No problem. He won by four lengths and paid $7.

Back to the second at Freehold. He bet Simuhelp's top selection (Pinehurst Lady) to win and again boxed the top three selections. Pinehurst Lady won and paid $8, but a non-selection finished second and his exacta bets went down the drain.

He lost a few dollars on Freehold's third (which Simuhelp had completely wrong) and another few bucks at Finger Lakes before he realized that the streak was over.

But it had lasted long enough for him to luck into a handful of $50 bills. And all the way home, he felt really smart.

e-mail: rsummers@buffnews.com

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