10/20/2004 11:00PM

Same math problem, two different answers


ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita horseplayers could be excused for being confused after the final race on the California Cup card last Saturday.

While handicappers are well accustomed to the interpretation of conflicting signals, this particular quandary was not about class versus condition, or hot-and-cold horsemen.

Instead, it was a $77,168 discrepancy that caused puzzled bettors to wonder how pick six carryovers and consolation payoffs are calculated. For a short time Saturday afternoon, Oak Tree racing officials wondered the same thing.

The problem resulted from a $1 million guaranteed pick six pool on the wide-open California Cup card. When no bettor could identify all six winners, a juicy carryover rolled to Sunday. But exactly how big was the carryover?

Bettors were shown one amount, told another, and left the track scratching their heads at the inconsistency. Even while the infield tote board posted a $555,240 carryover into Sunday, track announcer Trevor Denman was telling fans the carryover was $478,072.

Meanwhile, Oak Tree officials scrambled to resolve the inconsistency and arrive at a reasonable determination of the carryover amount. Under normal circumstances, it is not a difficult calculation. But there was nothing normal this day.

The track fell $138,980 short of the million-dollar guaranteed pick six pool by handling $861,020. No problem. Oak Tree and other racing associations that offer guaranteed pick six pools take out insurance to cover just such a shortfall. Had there been a pick six winner Saturday, the insurance company would have made up the $138,980 difference.

But things got complicated when no one picked all six winners. The track faced two choices regarding the carryover amount and consolation (five of six) payoffs. It could calculate the carryover and consolation payoffs based on a $1 million pool, or compute the amounts based on "live money" of $861,020. The track chose the lower figure for the carryover, the higher figure for the consolations. Some fans objected and suggested the track should have used the $1 million figure for consolations and carryover.

Pick six carryovers are calculated first by subtracting the takeout, which in California is 20.68 percent. From the net amount remaining, 30 percent is distributed to consolation winners and 70 percent is carried over.

For a $1 million pick six pool, a carryover would be calculated as follows: $1,000,000 gross pool minus $206,800 takeout equals $793,200 net pool minus $237,960 consolation payoffs (30 percent) equals $555,240 carryover.

The $555,240 amount initially was posted Saturday on the infield tote board. The announcement was premature however, because the live money in the pool was only $861,020.

For the first time anywhere, a track had fallen short of a guaranteed pool with a carryover. There was a lack of clear rules on how to handle the bet in such case.

"The fair thing was to pay the guys who had the consolation . . . who were entitled to think there was a million-dollar pool," said Sherwood Chillingworth, Oak Tree's executive vice president.

That is where the guarantee ended. Bettors who went 5 of 6 received payoffs based on a $1 million pool. The carryover amount, however, was based only on live money.

"A fair-minded person would have to say we did the appropriate thing, we did the ethical thing," Chillingworth said, "We thought about it, and talked to everybody that was knowledgeable. And even the state auditor agreed that was the way to do it."

In making the ruling, Oak Tree established a precedent. Guaranteed pools apply only to bettors who win that day. A guaranteed pool is only a single-day guarantee.

The 37 winning consolation tickets returned $6,431.20 instead of the $5,537.40 they would have been paid based on the actual $861,020 wagered. The difference, which the insurance company paid, was slightly more than $33,000.

While no one can dispute the track did the right thing in calculating consolation payoffs, the carryover amount left some bettors annoyed. The amount was calculated based on the actual dollars wagered. It was calculated as follows: $861,020 minus $178,058 (takeout of 20.68 percent) equals $682,961 net pool.

Based on the $682,961 total amount, the carryover into Sunday was 70 percent of that - or $478,072. That is the amount that the announcer was telling fans on Cal Cup Day. The mistaken early figure on the tote board later was corrected.

This was not the first time Oak Tree has missed the mark. In fact, the track has missed three guarantees. The first guaranteed pick six pool was offered in June 1998 at Hollywood Park, and tracks occasionally do fall short of the mark. That is the reason for taking out insurance on the pool. Now that Oak Tree has missed three times, it begs the question - has the bet run its course?

"We've missed it three times, so we're re-thinking about whether it's a good thing to continue," Chillingworth said.

Probably not for long, because one look at the Sunday pick six pool pretty much answers the question.

The pick six pool Sunday mushroomed. Buoyed by the $478,072 carryover, new pick six wagers totaled more than $1.2 million.