03/04/2008 2:32PM

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.

John L More than 1 year ago
Steve, A few years back when I was hounding NYRA to give us pick 6 will pays, one of the excuses was that with alternates it is not possible to accurately display the potential results. Going on to the favorite because of a gate scratch is not a good solution. The biggest problem we have in New York is the inept gate crew. I have seen more horses flip in the gate in the last two years than in the previous 25 years. This problem can be VERY costly.
Flip Dawson More than 1 year ago
There are a lot of posts missing from Steve's blog entitled SCRATCHING POST. The counter shows 13, but there are more than that. Did they disappear or what?? The date on the last one is Mar. 4/08 posted by Travis Stone. I like to read all of them. Please add the missing posts at the bottom of SCRATCHING POST. Thanks in advance. Flip Dawson
kevroc More than 1 year ago
BRUTAL I score with both of my singles (Double Delta and Spurrier) but, decide to go with Ghost and Alotofappeal instead of What's Your Point (which figured to benefit from duel) and get 5 of 6 twice... On a $192 investment, I LOSE money.. when a 6k score was a plum ripe for the picking... GAH!
PP More than 1 year ago
Can someone tell me where one can go to play the entire card simulcast races of Mountaineer and Sam Houston after live racing at the Big A is finished?
Jerry Dorbin More than 1 year ago
In what jurisdiction or on what bet are late scratches reconciled by paying bettors who hold the scratched horse as well as those who pick the eventual winner? What am I thinking of? Unfair to holders of a winning longshot, but so is the late scratch! As one who constantly displays his maturity by betting almost exclusively on longshots in exotics, I have wondered about exactly the topic of your column. I would not have "wanted to transfer to the shortest price among the uncovered horses." I would have wanted my play in the leg automatically shifted to any longshot I could make a remote case for which I hadn't already named. So I might have a biggie all to myself. All the stronger argument against being shoved off on the post-time favorite. As you said, the only apparent solution is to name a provisional in each leg as one places the bet, unhandy as that might be for mutuels programmers. After all, who would have realized before 2002 that computers couldn't soak up all of everything before the first leg of a Four or Six! -gams
vegan More than 1 year ago
prizboy, I did indeed consider that, but I have since found that one party had *5* and another had *6.* Here's the funny part --- the guy singling *6* is my old classmate. Another consideration --- what if he wanted to ensure that *6* should NOT go favored? Why, pound several thousand on the next lowest runner (*13* in this case), thereby risking several thousand and leading to one of two outcomes. Either he gets the whole pool instead of half, or a third horse wins and he gets 5-o'-6 minus the several thousand.
Flip Dawson More than 1 year ago
I like the post by bob_failla. He states that the track should not be picking a horse for the bettor if a scratch occurs. Those of us who play non-faves certainly do not want a fave in our shirt pocket. I really like the part where a track picking a favorite for us has never been tested in court.Love it!!! Perhaps if the COURT has the VISION to give a conso payoff, we can ditch the favorites. That's about the only way I'll ever have a favorite--have the track assign me one. Otherwise, I'm staying with non-favorites on my own personal betting card. Best of luck at Aqueduct. I won't be part of it unless the track is sloppy, and maybe not even then. Weather in N Y calls for rain all day. Snow is boxing me in here in a section just east of Toronto. Snow could be in NY, and the card cancelled. Tell me, what does the track assign me for 2 feet of snow on the backstretch??
rawlawltd More than 1 year ago
I agree with the concept of an alternate selection when a horse scratches in the P6 sequence, but think the way I play would make it unwieldy. I was alive to 4 horses at the Big A & certainly didn't want the favorite twice. By my calculation, it would have given me the winner twice if the favorite won, but the amount of tickets "transferred" to the favorite would have cut the payoff almost in half. So the scratch really hurt, and would not have helped if the favorite won. The problem, as I see it, was that I put in 22 separate tickets, with the A, B & C designations. To have an alternate for every race x22 might take forever; factor in late scratches & you've really got a headache! Consolations are probably the best way to go.
Arazi More than 1 year ago
The ideas floated by Steven is the voice of all. The bigger question is how will that happen? As mentioned, SA institued P6 alternate selection several years back but who should be responsible to make it available for out-of-California and internet customer. Is it the State regulators? NTRA? Individual Tracks? the ADW Companies? or who else? With so much division within the industry about medication, jockey weights and etc. I don't believe the althernate selection is even on the agend. The only thing we, the bettors, can do is to either keep playing the races and whine about it or launch a collective boycott internet campaign so our voices could be heard. Remember the website by an unhappy race fan against opening different AWD accounts for differen tracks?
C More than 1 year ago
I've never understood what the Fix Six scandal or security has to do with this. Alternates are specified when you place the bet, so they are encoded on the ticket and in the system just like any other selection would be. Also, why should the P4, P3 or even daily doubles work any differently? I'm actually surprised tracks are willing to give refunds. If you don't want to bother selecting alternates, then you can have the post-time favorite.