06/10/2017 10:04PM

Single-ticket jackpot payoff of $891,568 comes with controversy

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ARCADIA, Calif. – The Santa Anita single-ticket jackpot was hit for $891,568 Saturday, the first time the bet had been won since May 4. But the payoff was not without controversy.

After a series of middle-priced winners for the first five legs of the sequence, there was a single “live” ticket on comeback maiden Fly to Mars, second choice on the morning line, going into the 11th and final race.

The winning ticket, which was purchased for $1,920 at Hollywood Park, was live to two runners – favorite Lucky With You and Fly to Mars. A win by Lucky With You would have triggered multiple pick-six payouts and allowed the single-ticket jackpot to carry; the winning bettor’s ticket was the only ticket that was live to Fly to Mars.

The controversy arose a half-hour before the race when Horse Identifier Jennifer Paige discovered Fly to Mars was a gelding, even though he was listed as a colt in the track program and past performances.

Paige immediately phoned the stewards, who said they were alerted as the horses were loading the gate for race 10. Stewards quickly investigated and learned the Peter Miller-trained Fly to Mars had in fact been gelded since his most recent start in June 2016.

He was a “first-time gelding,” a piece of information that most bettors consider to be a potentially significant handicapping factor.

The problem Saturday is that no one knew Fly to Mars was a “first-time G” until after race 10 had been run.

Steward Scott Chaney said their first inclination was to declare Fly to Mars. “We contemplated scratching him, but there is nothing in the (California Horse Racing Board) rules that directs us to do that.”

The stewards’ interpretation of the rules was they did not have discretionary authority to scratch Fly to Mars, who won by a half-length. If he had been scratched, the single-ticket jackpot would have rolled to Sunday, regardless of which horse won.

None of the three stewards – Chaney, Grant Baker or Kim Sawyer – was aware Fly to Mars would trigger a single-ticket payout until learning the information from a reporter between races 10 and 11.

Trainer Peter Miller, contacted by phone after the win by Fly to Mars, said the California-bred maiden had been gelded several months earlier.

“I thought we called it in when we cut him six months ago,” Miller said after the race. “It was an oversight.”

The standard fine in similar situations is $1,000. Miller expects to be hit with the penalty, but said “there was nothing nefarious” about the change.

Beyond the first-time gelding, there were reasons to infer that Fly to Mars was well-meant in his first start back, including Miller’s high win percentage.

He also had a series of fast workouts for his comeback and had been fairly well-bet in his fourth-place debut as a 2-year-old nearly one year earlier. And, Miller entered him in the $50,000 maiden-claiming race while employing the “no claim waiver,” which allows horses off six months or more to run in a claiming race without being eligible to be claimed. That is typically a sign of confidence.

Miller said “I thought he had a shot, but he was life and death,” to win. Fly to Mars, 3-1 second choice on the morning line, went to post at 4-1. He won by a half-length.

Bettors wagered $401,157 into the pick six Saturday, chasing a traditional carryover of $96,867 and a single-ticket jackpot carryover of $534,469. It had been 23 racing days since the wager had been won.

The winning payoffs in the pick six were $17.40, $16.40, $12.80, $8.40, $14.40 and $10 on Fly to Mars.