04/12/2010 11:00PM

Late surface switch upsets track, bettors


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Gulfstream Park submitted a request earlier this month to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to change the rule regarding multiple-leg wagers in cases where there is a late surface switch from turf to dirt in one or more of the races in the sequence. Unfortunately for Gulfstream Park president Ken Dunn and his customers, that request came too late to help alleviate another frustrating situation here Sunday, which was similar to the one on Feb. 27 that initiated the track's desire to change the rule.

A carryover of more than $62,000 into Sunday's pick six attracted plenty of interest in the wager, which concluded with four consecutive turf races. But Dunn realized trouble was brewing when heavy rain began to fall as the third leg of the pick six, the seventh race, was in progress. The trouble really began to percolate after the jockeys failed to appear in the paddock for the eighth race, which had been carded over the inner turf course.

After spending more than 10 minutes trying to convince the jockeys to venture out and inspect the inner course, Dunn decided to switch the last three races from the turf to a sloppy main track. Dunn had track announcer Larry Colmus deliver the decision to the crowd in the following manner: "Due to the jockeys' refusal to ride on the turf, the final three races have been switched to the main track."

The last-minute surface change led to numerous scratches in each of the final three races on Sunday's program. All wagers on any of the scratched runners, by rule, went to the post-time favorite in each race. The eighth and ninth races were won by the favorites, Speight of Hand and Lunar Fleet. But when the 13-1 Show Trial upset the finale, the overwhelming majority of the approximately 200 live tickets in the pick six were gone. The pick six was hit and produced a payoff of $28,262.20.

Dunn was livid at the turn of events that led to that decision.

"I was greatly disappointed in the decision-making of the riders on Sunday," a calmer Dunn said the following morning.

"I also reminded them of an agreement we made at the beginning of the meet and one we talked about when this happened the last time the jockeys refused to ride on the turf, that as soon as they have any concerns about the surface they are to call the stewards immediately."

But according to rider Joe Bravo, who served as spokesman for the jockeys, those who had ridden in the seventh race - conducted on the outer turf course - felt it would be dangerous to race again on the turf, especially the inner course. The jockeys were willing to consider riding the ninth race if it were switched from the inner course to the outer course.

"It rained hard for nearly 20 minutes prior to and during the seventh race and the riders in that race who had just come off the turf said there was substantial water on it and unanimously agreed it could be dangerous," Bravo explained Tuesday. "And the inner course, with its tighter turns, can be especially slick and dangerous in those situations. We appreciate all that Gulfstream management has done for us this year and we want to work with them as best we can, but when it comes down to a safety issue versus the pick six, I don't think it was a difficult choice to make."

Bravo also said the jockeys did contact a track official, director of racing Bernie Hettel, almost immediately after the riders had returned from the seventh race, and they voiced their concerns over the safety of the course.

Dunn thought the jockeys should have given the course a closer inspection before deciding not to ride.

"I tried all I could think of to get them to at least come out and inspect the course," Dunn said. "I even told them there was time for a couple of jockeys to get on ponies and ride the course to see if it was safe. But they had no interest. According to our rain gauge, we'd received less than a half-inch of rain up to that point and our track superintendent felt the course was very safe. In my mind, it was a disgrace to the owners and trainers who'd prepared their horses to race on the turf and the customers who'd already wagered on these races."

"The change in the rule we requested the state make is simple," Dunn explained. "Any time there is a surface change from turf to dirt during a multiple-wager sequence, it creates an 'all' situation in that race. It's the fairest solution for everybody concerned."

Dunn said the process typically can take several months from the the time the request is submitted until a change in the state's parimutuel rules can finally be implemented. He also said he will meet with the jockeys and stewards prior to Thursday's first race to discuss what transpired Sunday, in the hopes of preventing any future situations of a similar nature from occurring. The 2010 Gulfstream meeting ends April 24.

Lopez returns in search of first title

A week ago, it appeared jockey Paco Lopez was a shoo-in to win the 2010 riding title. But after missing the entire week due to personal reasons, Lopez could have a battle on his hands with Elvis Trujillo before clinching his first Gulfstream riding crown.

Lopez will return Thursday with an eight-win cushion over Trujillo, with seven days remaining in the meet. Trujillo narrowed the gap considerably after riding nine winners last week.

"Missing a week threw us a curveball we never expected," said Lopez's agent, Corey Moran. "But we still have a pretty good lead, and it would be great for his career to win a prestigious title like this."