03/04/2008 1:32PM

Scratching Post


Gate scratches in the last race of the day at Aqueduct and Santa Anita last weekend cast a welcome spotlight on the inconsistent and sometimes illogical rules governing late scratches and multirace wagering. While there are a few relatively easy fixes, it's a thorny issue where it's hard to make everyone happy.

The first incident was Saturday on the Big 'Cap card, where the 11th race was the last leg of a $1.1 million pick-six pool and a $796k pick-four pool. One pick-six ticket and hundreds of pick-four tickets were alive to Lotacat, and when he was scratched those tickets were transferred to the post-time favorite, who was....well, no one really knew until the race went off. Wine on the Porch, the eventual winner, and firster Victor's Cry both went off at 3.90-1. Unfortunately for those transferred to a mystery post-time favorite, it was Victor's Cry, who ran 8th, who had about $600 more bet on him, sinking all the transferees.

Another variation of this problem came Sunday at Aqueduct, when 3-1 Archie Boy was scratched minutes before the finale, with a $356k pick-six and $261k pick-four pool on the line. There were several pick-six tickets alive to five of the eight remaining horses in the field, and the scratch gave those same players a second live ticket to the post-time favorite, Kiln Creen, who ran fourth. Those players surely would have wanted instead to transfer to the shortest price among the three uncovered horses -- Statesman, who won at 12-1, creating a $265k carryover into Wednesday's card at Aqueduct.

There are several different issues involved in these and similar incidents. The first is the lack of an "alternate selection" option in the pick-six for late scratches. This idea was gaining popularity a few years ago but was widely discontinued after the 2002 Fix Six scandal as tracks had new security concerns. It is unclear why it has not been widely instituted five years later outside of those using pick-six slips at the California tracks, an option not available to offtrack players.

Next question: Should there be an alternate-selection option in the pick-four as well? If so, what about the pick-three? Doubles? Where do you want to draw the line? In general, tracks have one set of rules for the pick-four and pick-six, which they treat differently from multirace bets with only two or three legs. In pick-threes, players usually get either a refund or a consolation when there's a scratch, but in pick-fours and pick-sixes they get transferred to the post-time favorite. The thinking apparently is that the pick-four and pick-six offer potentially life-changing payouts and a player should be kept in the mix instead of just getting a conso or a refund.

As the comments on the last entry here illustrate, players have different takes on what would be the fairest thing to do. I lean toward the following patchwork solution: 1)Institute the alternate-selection option for the pick-six; 2)treat pick-fours like pick-threes rather than pick-sixes, with a consolation payoff through late scratches in legs 2, 3 and 4 and a refund if the scratch is in the opening leg. It also would be helpful if a single rule governing these situations, however imperfect it might be, were adopted by all jurisdictions. There is no need for regional differences in these rules, and in the simulcast era players shouldn't have to wonder how their bets are being redirected after a late scratch depending on whether they're playing New York, California, Florida or Kentucky.

--With two dark days for players to replenish their bankrolls and study the pp's, that $265k Aqueduct carryover should draw well over $500k more in Wednesday bets, but tomorrow's card is one grim affair. As David Grening points out , 29 of the 50 horses in the sequence were beaten by at least 10 lengths last time out, and three of the races are for maiden claimers. May good fortune be with you.

If you can't make heads or tails of it, you might instead want to get an early start on Saturday's 13-race Lousiana Derby card at the Fair Grounds, which deserves three cheers from players for having drawn the card five days in advance. In addition to Pyro vs. Majestic Warrior and Tale of Ekati in the main event, and Indian Blessing-Proud Spell III in the four-filly Fair Grounds Oaks, there are four other stakes including Daytona vs. 9 in the $500k Muniz, an all-stakes pick-sixfive and a pair of 50-cent pick-fours. It's a terrific card in a terrific city I haven't visited for way too long, so I'll be there.