Bettors who have been having trouble doping out one winner at Laurel Race Course can undertake a new challenge today: picking six in a row.

The track will introduce to Marylanders the form of wagering known as the Pick Six. The objective is to name the winners of the second through seventh races. If nobody accomplishes this feat, bettors who pick the largest number of winners (whether five, or four, or three) will share the wagering pool.

Pick Six betting was made feasible by the installation of sophisticated wagering equipment at Laurel and most of America's major racetracks. When Hollywood Park introduced this form of wagering a year ago, it created such a sensation that the racing industry thought it found its salvation.

The Pick Six yielded payoffs of more than $300,000 and stimulated such interest in California that Hollywood's business soared to unprecedented levels. Quickly other tracks climbed aboard the bandwagon.

They found, to their surprise and chagrin, that their customers weren't enthralled by the Pick Six. In New Jersey, daily betting on the gimmick was often as low as $13,000. In New York, officials gave the Pick Six a two-week tryout and dropped it.

The reasons are clear why Californians embraced the Pick Six while Marylanders probably won't. The gimmick caught on at Hollywood because the West Coast had never had high-payoff bets like the triple or the big exacta; the whole concept was a novelty. And Hollywood had such a large attendance and handle that the Pick Six could provide astronomical payoffs that would stimulate more betting interest and create even higher payoffs.

At Laurel the pools will not be so large. Most of the time, no one will pick six winners, and instead of a $15,000 payoff there will be 300 people collecting $500 apiece, which is not going to stimulate any Pick Six mania.

It is a pity that Pick Six wagering seems foredoomed, because the challenge of doping out six races and the prospect of a blockbuster payoff can excite the most jaded horseplayer. The thrill of a bet usually lasts for only a few minutes; the Pick Six can stretch the drama over a period of hours.

The Pick Six not only poses a tough handicapping challenge but also creates difficult problems in betting strategy. Every horseplayer will learn quickly that it is prohibitively expensive to play all the contenders in a Pick Six. A handicapper who narrows each race to three horses must play 3x3x3x3x3x3 combinations, and even with the $1 tickets at Laurel that still comes to $729.

As a rule of thumb, a bettor should not get involved in a Pick Six unless he can narrow at least two of the races to one horse. Otherwise, the combinations get too costly.

If a handicapper can locate a couple solid winners, the key to playing the Pick Six is not so much picking more winners but finding beatable favorites. A gambler who has been playing the Pick Six with success in New Jersey came to this firm conclusion after months of observation: "People just eat up the chalk in the Pick Six. You might have a horse who's even money on the board but he'll be bet like a 1-to-5 shot in the Pick Six. And a horse who's 5 to 1 on the board might be bet like a 20-to-1 shot.

A handicapper should try to beat these overbet favorites even if he has to use a shotgun approach. In a wide-open maiden race with a shaky favorite, he might reasonably use five or six horses on his Pick Six ticket in the hope of coming up with an extreme longshot.

The possible strategies for playing this gimmick are fascinating and endlessly varied. Fortunately, by the time any Marylander begins to master them, the Pick Six may be extinct.