08/26/2002 11:00PM

Surface-switch rule proposed

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The Association of Racing Commissioners International approved a rule during a board meeting on Tuesday that is designed to protect pick four and pick six players from problems arising from late surface changes.

The rule changes will make any race that is switched from the turf to the dirt after wagering closes a "no contest" for the purposes of the pick four or pick six. Payouts would be determined based on the assumption that the race was never run.

For example, if a race included in the pick six is taken off the turf after betting closes on the bet, the wager would simply become a pick five, and bettors who had the five winners in the five remaining races would be paid out as if they were the sole winners.

Many bettors have complained this year about surface-change problems at Gulfstream Park, Saratoga, and Monmouth Park. Critics have contended that surface changes unfairly penalize horseplayers because many bettors are automatically assigned the post-time favorite after their selected horses scratch.

Under existing rules, payouts on wagers in which a race is declared a no contest are restricted to that day's bets. So any carryover would not be included in the payouts in which a surface change triggered the no-contest ruling. Carryover money would be added to the next day's pool of the wager.

The RCI does not have any enforcement power. Individual racing commissions will have to adopt the model rule to make it effective.

Tote companies have not yet programmed their systems to handle the rule change, according to RCI executive director Lonny Powell, who said the programming changes are minimal.

"Still, it won't be a light switch that we can flip on overnight," Powell said.

Denny Oelschlager, a member of the RCI's board of directors and the chairman of the model rules committee, said on Tuesday that he believes most racing commissions will adopt the rule.

Also during the meeting, the RCI elected Bill Jackson, a commissioner on the Illinois Racing Board, as its chair-elect.

Jackson will automatically take the chairman's position in April next year, replacing Cecil Alexander, the chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission.