11/08/2004 12:00AM

Scratch raises betting quandary

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A late scratch of the stronger half of a favored entry in the first race at Churchill Downs on Sunday left some bettors with little time to cancel or alter their wagers, sparking a discussion among the stewards regarding wagering rules in Kentucky and whether they need to be changed.

Cape Hope, the consensus choice among public handicappers and one of two Overbrook Farm-owned horses racing as an entry in the first race, was scratched at the gate of the seven-furlong race for 2-year-old fillies. This left bettors playing the Overbrook entry with Coastal Falag, a filly who had finished third in each of her last three starts.

The stewards delayed post time two minutes, and Coastal Flag, who had been 3-5 when paired with Cape Hope, drifted up to 6-5. She finished seventh. Second betting choice Mille Lacs, who had been around 5-1 shortly before Cape Hope was scratched, won the race at odds of just over 5-2.

Because of a racing regulation, state steward Mickey Sample said the stewards could not delay post time longer than two minutes. Kentucky Horse Racing Authority rules state that the post parade shall not exceed 12 minutes "except in cases of unavoidable delay." A pony had fallen in the post parade minutes earlier, backing up post time, and further delays would have been unfair to the horses running in the first race, Sample said.

"We were hoping they had time to change their tickets," he said. "Evidently some did and some didn't."

In some jurisdictions, such as New York, stewards can elect to have a horse run only for purse money when an entrymate is a late scratch. Sample said there is no precedent for such action in Kentucky, and he found no authorization for such action in a search of state racing rules and regulations.

Sample said that when he meets next with Jim Gallagher, the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, he will discuss adding a rule that would give stewards in Kentucky this option. Gallagher, telephoned at his office in Lexington on Monday, could not be reached for comment.

Mille Lacs returned $7.80 to win, $4.20 to place, and $5 to show. The exacta to 6-1 fourth choice Stephie's Cat returned $83.20; the trifecta including 27-1 Red Queen paid $1,311; and the superfecta ending with 10-1 Terribletwos returned $2,868.60.