07/13/2008 2:38PM

Why the 4th?



Kip DeVille, the reigning Breeders' Cup Mile winner and the nation's leading grass miler, is based at Aqueduct but made his first start ever at a New York track in the Poker Handicap Sunday afternoon. So why was the race buried as the fourth on a 10-race card instead of being given proper respect and scheduled later on the card as the afternoon's featured race?

Califonia tracks sometimes run their most important race of the day as the 4th or 5th but this is done largely to accomodate the national simulcast-betting audience. A 2:30 pm rather than 5 pm Pacific post time makes midwestern and eastern bettors more likely to play the race at 4:30 or 5:30 local time, amid their local live racing, rather than at 7 or 8 pm. But a 2:30 eastern post time for the Poker did just the opposite, since the race went off at 11:30 a.m. in California.

The other reason California sometimes does this, and presumably the only reason Belmont did it today, is to keep a race with a small field and an odds-on favorite out of the pick-six sequence in the hopes of increasing the chance of a carryover. This is a rinky-dink move and a completely unnecessary and misguided one. What in the world is wrong with having an odds-on favorite in a pick-six sequence? If two people hadn't hit the carryover at Belmont Saturday and there had been a $234k carry into Sunday's card, more rather than fewer people would have taken a shot with a seeming free bingo square through Kip DeVille in the sequence.

Instead, in the 9th-race slot where fans expect to see the best race of the day, and weekend fans expect to see a stakes race, Belmont presented what is becoming its signature race: a turf sprint for New York-breds. I can't imagine that this, coupled with the loss of California betting on the Poker, resulted in a net business gain, but that's supposed to be besides the point.

Part of the NYRA's argument for its franchise renewal was that it is a not-for-profit entity managed by people with a high regard for the sport, as opposed to craven casino operators who would just as soon be running pig races or jai-alai matches if the profit margins were higher. Running the Poker as the fourth race Sunday does not reflect that position.