11/11/2002 12:00AM

Other bets open to manipulation


NEW YORK - It is important to remember that even before the Breeders' Cup pick six scandal came to light, the confidence of the betting public in the parimutuel wagering system was somewhat shaken. Why? Because of situations like this:

Horse X is 3-2 in the run down the backstretch. Even though Horse X is in close contact with the early leaders, with the way the race is unfolding Horse X's chances of winning don't look good. Then, suddenly, the leaders give way, and Horse X assumes the lead. In an instant, Horse X goes from looking iffy to a cinch. In another instant - and I do mean instant - Horse X's odds go from 3-2 to even money. Horse X pays $4.10 to win after drawing off late to score by nearly four.

This is not a fabrication, or an embellishment to prove a point. Horse X is Grab Bag, and this is what happened during the seventh race at Aqueduct on Oct. 30. That was four days after the Breeders' Cup pick six scam, but there are numerous examples of midrace odds drops on eventual winners well before this year's Breeders' Cup.

In fact, there were numerous examples of this well before the 2001 Florida Derby at Gulfstream. But it was the high profile of that race, run in March of last year, and the big victory by Monarchos, who went from 5-2 to 7-5 during the running, that first encouraged people to speak out about this matter.

If you recall, this midrace odds drop was attributed to a North Dakota bettor and his computer link, which supposedly enabled him to make sizable last-second punches. Racing officials told the betting public, sometimes in a condescending way, that there was no way anyone could bet after races had started, and that these late odds drops were merely because of congestion from all off-track sites reporting their final wagers. Of course, in the days immediately following the announcement that this year's Breeders' Cup pick six was being investigated, some racing officials told us in the same way that there was no way that their betting systems could be violated.

It turned out to be much worse than that. It turned out that wagers could actually be amended after several races - as many as four in the pick six - were already run.

Win bets are not scan bets, like pick six wagers. Unlike the pick six, both the amount of a win bet and the horses included in a win bet are supposed to be relayed into the host pool once betting is closed. But, who is to say that with delays in reporting final wagers because of network congestion there isn't a window somewhere for some sort of manipulation in the win pool? And even if it is gospel that there is no room for manipulation of win pools, with all that has gone on the last couple of weeks, who wouldn't still be suspicious?

And, even though it's a complete aside, what is the North Dakota bettor up to?

Midrace odds changes are bad enough. But, they can also have a profound impact on the more popular exotics pools, specifically the pick six, the pick four, and the highly popular pick three. Although there are some provisions in some jurisdictions for alternate selections in the case of a late scratch after the pick six is under way, the standard rule in multirace wagers, particularly the pick three and pick four, is that in the event of a scratch after the bet sequence has begun, live tickets get the race favorite.

Considering that most tracks now offer rolling pick threes throughout the card, the situation of late scratches switching tickets to the race favorite happens with some frequency. Combine that with the way odds fluctuate during races - at times bringing the identity of the favorite into question - and you have situations where a bettor, if alive in a multirace wager that has been impacted by a late scratch, may not know who is carrying his money, and whom to root for, until after the race is over.

This is unacceptable because it opens the door to a whole other type of parimutuel manipulation. In this scenario, a big win bet could make a beatable horse the favorite in a race affected by a late scratch in a late leg of the pick six, and an even bigger pick six score would result when a more logical nonfavorite winds up winning the race.

Consequently, I tip my hat to Churchill Downs and its network of tracks, which includes currently open venues like Hollywood Park and Calder. Churchill has decided, effective Wednesday and for an undetermined period of time, to close wagering at least 1 1/2 minutes before post time. This will allow enough time for all offtrack wagers delayed by network congestion to be reported before a race actually starts, which means no more troubling mid-race odds drops. This is the first demonstrable step taken to restore bettor confidence, and for taking such a gutsy step - the New York Racing Association and the Magna tracks did not follow suit - Churchill tracks deserve extra consideration for our business.