09/08/2004 12:00AM

Pick three players get raw deal in Pa.

A dead heat between Tattinger Rose (left) and Reforest called attention to a quirky rule.

PHILADELPHIA - When Monday's Pennsylvania Oaks at Philadelphia Park ended in a dead heat, there was no reason to suspect anything out of the ordinary - until the pick three prices were posted.

They were identical for 8-5 Tattinger Rose and 5-2 Reforest. The pick three paid $98.60 for 5-1-3 and 5-1-8. The pick three (1-3/8-4) that ended in the next race, the Pennsylvania Derby, also paid an identical amount. So did the finale (3/8-4-2), which featured a dominating performance by the soon-to-be legendary 3-year-old Jerardi.

The win prices were different. Tattinger Rose paid $3 to win while Reforest paid $3.40. The double ending in Tattinger Rose paid $13.60 while the double into Reforest paid $18.60.

So what was up with the pick three? Seems Pennsylvania has an antiquated pick-three rule that dates back to the time when the software was not available to account for dead heats. That software is now widely available. Yet, Pennsylvania continues, in pick-three dead heats, to insist on treating 20-1 shots the same as 6-5 shots.


"It's always been that way," said Joe Wilson, Philadelphia Park's vice president of operations. "It's just split rather than treated as a place pool."

Wilson absolutely understands that it's not really equitable.

"We have looked into it," he said. "There seems to be a demand to change it."

In fact, Philadelphia Park management has brought the problem to the attention of the Pennsylvania Racing Commission. The obvious solution, however, has been caught up in the Harrisburg bureaucracy and has never really gotten a serious hearing.

Any player instantly recognizes the problem. Management has received a number of complaints through the years.

The situation has never come up on such a high-profile day. Perhaps, that will get the commission more interested in something that could and should be corrected.

There was $128 sold on the winning pick three combinations ending in the Oaks. Unless you saw the pick three "will pays" before the Oaks, you would not even know which combination took more money. Once the dead heat happened, the track's software combined the money bet on both fillies in its printout.

With the magic of videotape, the "will pays" showed that the combination with Tattinger Rose was going to pay $217.60 and the one with Reforest was going to be $180.40.

Tattinger Rose was the favorite in the win pool because her jockey, Pat Day, dazzled the Philly Park fans. But the Tattinger Rose pick three players were ripped off.

An examination of the Pennsylvania Racing Commission's web site shows no apparent reference to the pick three, once known as the daily triple in Pennsylvania. Under "administrative rules subchapter 165.111, parimutuel wagering," there are references to exactas, doubles, and trifectas, but none to the pick three, under any name. Perhaps, that isn't a surprise in a section that includes multiple references to quinella spelled "quinela."

This game is difficult enough without arcane parimutuel rules that substitute post-time favorites for scratched horses on multiple-race wagers. Or treating combinations that have $10 bet on them the same as combinations that have $50 bet on them. Which is precisely what the Pennsylvania pick-three dead heat rules could do.

Players do not need or want bureaucrats thinking for them. They simply want a level playing field.

When you are right, you want to be treated fairly. You don't want to have to wonder why you didn't get what you thought you deserved. You don't want to have search for obscure racing commission parimutuel rules. You want those entrusted with the game to understand it. And when there is an obvious remedy to an inequitable situation, you would hope they would find a way to make it happen.