03/24/2016 10:56AM

Crist: Sumptuous feast for fans and players


The racing industry used to waste a lot of time and effort debating whether it is a sport or a gambling game. The correct answer, of course, is both, and there’s no need to declare one the winner over the other. Exhibit A is Saturday’s racing, which offers the most outsized examples of both.

First, at 9 p.m. in the United Arab Emirates and 1 p.m. in New York, there’s the richest horse race on the planet, the $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan. About five hours later, the largest parimutuel payoff in American history could be decided by a maiden-claiming race at Gulfstream Park.

The World Cup, relevant to American racing again after mercifully being returned to dirt last year, drew five strong American entrants led by California Chrome, Frosted, and Mshawish. A victory would jump any of them to the top of the polls as the nation’s top runner and the very early favorite for Horse of the Year.

There is wagering on the World Cup and the rest of the strong Dubai card, but stateside bettors will spend much more chasing Gulfstream’s Rainbow 6 wager, which as of Thursday morning had a $4 million carryover after going unclaimed since January. Saturday has been set as the mandatory payout day for the bet, which means the pool will be paid out regardless of how many winners there are. Usually, the pool continues to carry over until a day when there is just one winning ticket.

Assuming nobody prematurely takes down the carryover on the Thursday or Friday cards, Saturday’s pool is expected to climb over the $10 million mark. In theory, a horseplayer could have an even better day than the owner who wins $6 million for finishing first in Dubai.

The Rainbow 6, with just a 20-cent minimum, consists of Gulfstream’s last six races Saturday, and the sequence has been designed for quantity over quality, with 86 entrants before scratches in races 7 through 12 (preliminary fields of 14, 15, 12, 14, 11, and 16). Five of the six races are on the grass, all at a mile or less, and five are for maidens or claimers. It’s not easy, but what fun would that be?

The size of the pool could produce a one-winner payoff even higher than the North American record of $10.87 million at Hollywood Park in July 2007. More realistically, the appeal for most bettors – in addition to the 20-cent minimum and the $5 million or so in free carryover money – is that so many whales and syndicates will be investing huge sums that a logical set of results could produce a massively overlaid payoff.

Sport or gambling? On Saturday, it’s the biggest of both.

Sick 6 at Churchill

Speaking of carryovers, here’s hoping someone hits the pick six on the Kentucky Derby card at Churchill Downs on May 7. Otherwise, a game of parimutuel three-card monte will kick in under a scheme unfortunately approved this week by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

To see how it works, let’s suppose that the Derby pick six pool, where the minimum bet is $2, is exactly $1 million. After the usual 22 percent takeout, that leaves $780,000 that’s supposed to be paid out – $190,000 in Derby Day consolations and $570,000 that normally would be up for grabs in a carryover pool when racing at Churchill resumes on Thursday, May 12.

Instead, Churchill will add only half of that $570,000 to the May 12 pool, which will be conducted with a 20-cent minimum and with a mandatory payout. The other half of the pool will be carried over to Friday, May 13, to seed a new Rainbow-style “Single 6” pool that Churchill is beginning that day. That pool is paid out only when there is a lone winner, so it’s entirely possible that the Derby Day carryover money won’t be paid out until June.

This is dangerous policy that disrespects the integrity of the wagering pools. It makes the effective pick six takeout on Derby Day a whopping 49 percent, with $220,000 from that $1 million pool going to standard takeout and another $270,000 in carryover money going into an entirely different kind of pick six pool starting almost a week later. It is also messy to have a carryover pool from a $2 minimum wager paid out several days later on a 20-cent-minimum wager.

It amounts to diverting money from a parimutuel pool into a marketing scheme to promote an entirely different wager, a scary precedent that could enable tracks to seize money from parimutuel pools for their own promotional use. Churchill makes more than enough money on the Derby to seed its own pool for a new wager without confiscating it from bettors who deserve to be paid the full carryover the first time the pick six is hit after Derby Day.