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WHY QUINELLAS RULE

At The Track

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I happened to hit the biggest quinella payoff I've ever witnessed—$681, first race from Del Mar on July 29, 2001—but that's not why quinellas rule. I hit a quinella for $580 once at Les Bois Park when the exacta paid only $22, but that's not why quinellas rule.

Quinellas rule because you don't have to be a perfect handicapper to pull down some serious coin. And who among us is a perfect handicapper? To win a quinella (probably from the Latin, "quinell," probably meaning "inexact"), pick the horses that win and place (first and second), and they can cross the finish line in either order.

Quinellas rule because, with every quinella bet, you get to root for more than one horse during the race. By "boxing" a quinella, you can root for as many horses as you want to. For example, when you buy a quinella box of three horses, two of your three have to cross the finish line first and second, but it doesn't matter which two, it doesn't matter in which order, and it doesn't matter where your other horse finishes. Inexact, imperfect, but a winner nonetheless.

Don't get carried away and box more than half the field, though. If there are only seven horses in a race, limit your quinella box to three horses. But if you see eight or more, you might want to try a four-horse quinella box, especially if you like a long shot or two.

The Cinco de Mayo race card at Les Bois Park (5:45 p.m. first post) features the Premier Quarterhorse Handicap at 350 yards. Les Bois Park regulars Memories to Keep, See You in Court and Ballista face invaders Dash Ta Juan, Jw Coup, Mr. Eye Will and Heartmountain Fonzy. World-record holder Cees Roan Classic is also entered to run, but won on Sunday, May 2, and so might scratch from the race. I look for the locals to sweep, and so I'll box them in a quinella: 2-5-6.

Several Thoroughbred stars, too, return to action on the Cinco de Mayo card. Thrill After Dark, winner of the 2003 Idaho Cup Distaff Derby, competes against older fillies and mares for the first time in the 7th race at five furlongs, and might find six-year-old speedster Raise a Daughter up to the challenge. Raise a Daughter comes out of two consecutive (and recent) stakes wins at Sun Downs in Kennewick. Quinella box 1-4-5.

The 6th race looks ultra-contentious: Bobbiblue Bayou, winner of three in a row early last season, including the 2003 Speed Handicap, faces Justifiable Cause, who also put together a three-race win streak last year. Royal Infantry and Hair Jordan could threaten the top two. Quinella box 3-4-6.

Others to watch on May 5: Unnamed Soldier in the 2nd (quinella box 1-4-6), Sonny's Pride in the 3rd, Exclusive Glory in the 4th (quinella box 1-2-3-7), and Dreamonier in the 5th (quinella box 2-3-7).

Watch jockey Jay Conklin, too, whose mounts won at a 30 percent clip in 2003, as he makes his 2004 debut with mounts in four races.

Racing continues on Saturday with a 5:45 p.m. post time and on Sunday, Mother's Day, at 2 p.m. The Mothers' Day race card should be a bit more interesting than you mothers are used to. For several years, the Mothers' Day card has featured trials for two-year-old quarter horses, a steady stream of sprint races down the straightaway. I love it, but it's an acquired taste, I'm sure. This year, the quarter horse trials are set for the 15th and 16th of the month. If variety is your spice, there should be plenty of Thoroughbreds in the mix this year.