04/12/2006 11:00PM

Dumb rules for dead heats

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NEW YORK - Last Saturday's 10th race at Aqueduct was not the most important one on the Wood Memorial card, but it had the closest finish and the most confusing aftermath.

The one-other-than allowance sprint ended with a photo finish between Megatrend, the 2-1 favorite, and Karakorum Tuxedo, a 27-1 shot who came flying in the final yards. It looked too close to call, and it was: The race was declared a dead heat, that bittersweet parimutuel outcome where you usually get about half of what you expected. It's better than nothing, a kiss through a screen door, a half a loaf, but a seemingly fair compromise for what would have been an all-or-nothing outcome had a nose bobbed an inch differently either way.

In the win pool, Megatrend's backers got $4.10 while Karakorum Tuxedo paid $22.20. In the pick three, the 7-2-3 combination to Megatrend paid $184 rather than the $368 had he won the race alone, while the one to Karakorum Tuxedo paid $941 instead of $1,882. In both cases, the pools were simply split in half, reducing the payouts while preserving the idea that those who backed a 27-1 shot deserved a higher return than those who had a 2-1 favorite.

In the pick four, however, something entirely different happened. Before the race, the posted probable payoff to Megatrend had been $801, while the pick four to Karakorum Tuxedo alone would have been $5,205. Rather than splitting the pool and reducing those payouts to something like $400 and $2,600, however, all tickets alive to either horse were declared equal and you got a $690 payoff either way.

The principle of dividing the pool and therefore rewarding those who used the longer-priced horse applies to win, place, exacta, trifecta, superfecta, daily double, and pick three bets, but not the pick four or pick six. This is the way the parimutuel laws are written in New York and several other states, and they are just plain wrong.

There is no reason for this distinction among bet types. It is a holdover from the early days of more primitive tote calculations and completely unnecessary today. Pick threes and pick fours are nearly identical propositions, and dead heats should be treated the same in each. Instead, there was the absurdity that the pick three ending with Karakorum Tuxedo paid $941 while the pick four ending with him paid just $690.

In the pick four, Karakorum Tuxedo ended up being treated exactly the same way he would have been had he been scratched at the gate instead of running a huge race at 27-1. Had he been scratched, the tickets on him would have been transferred to the winning favorite, producing the same number of winning tickets as the dead heat and the same $690 payoff. So people who actually liked Karakorum Tuxedo got zero credit for his dead-heating for first. It can not possibly be the intention of the parimutuel rules to pay people the same for a dead-heat victory as for a gate scratch.

The same evenhandedness would have applied in the pick six had anyone hit it, which also would have been wrong.

Suppose the race had been the final leg of a pick six where, after takeout and consolations, $150,000 was going to be distributed to the 6-of-6 winners. Suppose there had been five tickets alive to Megatrend for $30,000 each and just one to Karakoum Tuxedo for $150,000. What would have been the equitable distribution after a dead heat?

Under current rules, the horses would be treated equally and there would be six winning pick-six tickets at $25,000 each. This means that the people with Megatrend who were going to get $30,000 would get just 17 percent less at $25,000 each. The person who was going to get $150,000 also would get $25,000, an 83 percent reduction in his payoff. The fairer thing to do would be to split the $150,000 into two $75,000 payout pools - just as is done in all the other pools except the pick four and pick six. The five Megatrend backers would get $15,000 each, while the lone Karakorum Tuxedo backer would get $75,000.

Every other pool in racing is cut in half and divided among an unequal number of ticketholders when there is a dead heat. The pick four and pick six should be treated the same way.

In addition to fixing this glitch, racing in general needs to agree on and implement nationally standardized multirace wagering rules. Currently, when there is a late scratch in a multirace sequence, there is a baffling array of conflicting rules depending on what state the race is run in, whether it's a pick three, four, or six, and whether it's the first, middle, or final leg. The typical customer has no idea whether he is going to get a refund, a consolation, or a transfer to the post-time favorite. It shouldn't be that difficult for racing commissions to agree on one set of fair and consistent rules to end this ongoing confusion.