Updated on 09/16/2011 7:58AM

. . . but what about the bettors?


HALLANDALE, Fla. - When jockeys refused to ride on the Gulfstream Park turf course in Sunday's 11th race, forcing its transfer to the dirt, just about everybody at the track was angry and upset.

The jockeys said that clods of dirt had been flying at them during the ninth race, and insisted that the turf course was unsafe.

Trainers already had brought their horses to the paddock for the race and had shod them for the grass. None of the trainers was eager to run on dirt.

Gulfstream management, already in the midst of a dismal season, was upset that the change of surfaces and three late scratches cost it some $200,000 in wagering.

Nobody was worrying too much about the most aggrieved parties - the bettors who had wagered more than $250,000 in pick threes, pick sixes, and daily doubles and were locked into selections made for a turf race. And Gulfstream management surely wasn't thinking about Warren Brubaker.

Brubaker is the type of customer the racing industry should cherish; he loves the game, and he loves Gulfstream Park. He has played the horses since he was a teenager and was so enamored with the game that he worked as a jockey agent in Florida in the late 1960's before deciding to do something respectable with his life. He now practices law in Chicago, but he is also a partner in a small racing stable and he spends as much time as he can at Gulfstream in the winter.

Brubaker was at the track Sunday, and made a play in the pick six. He consulted via mobile with his friend Rick Mortenson, who was at an Illinois off-track betting parlor, and fashioned a $192 play. Brubaker's pal Debbie Bigelow took a five percent cut of the ticket and together they watched the day's dramatic events unfold.

Even after hitting the first four winners - including a 25-1 upsetter in a field in which he had presciently included all the horses on his ticket - Brubaker didn't permit himself get too excited. He had a single horse in each of the last two races. Bluebird Day was a solid favorite in the 11th race, but his choice in the 10th, Hal's Hope, was winless since July and had a trainer who was 0 for 42 at the meeting.

When Hal's Hope led all the way, Brubaker started entertaining visions of glory. He held the only live ticket in the pick six, and it would be worth $35,258 if Bluebird Day - the heavy favorite - won.

But 12 minutes before post time, track announcer Vic Stauffer stunned the crowd by informing them: "Ladies and gentlemen, the 11th race has been taken off the turf and will be run on the main track."

The jocks' revolt had been led by Rene Douglas, who told Daily Racing Form, "I've got a black eye and was almost knocked down by a clod in the ninth race." Scott Savin, the track president, insisted nothing was wrong with the turf course. "What got me irate," he said, "was that they had ridden the sixth race on the turf and nobody said a peep. The jockeys don't run the show, and they shouldn't be able to bring it to a grinding halt."

Brubaker was irate, too. "I'm the most calm guy in the world," he said, "but I went crazy. If they're going to take it off the turf, they've got to tell you before you bet." He phoned Mortenson, his partner, who thought he was playing a cruel joke. Bigelow was crying.

A couple of minutes after the announcement, Bluebird Day was scratched, along with two other horses in the field. Under the rules for both the pick six and the pick three, a scratched horse is replaced by the post-time favorite. (Daily double bettors receive a consolation payoff.) But since there was nobody in the field with dirt form, there could be no solid favorite and Brubaker said, "I knew I was dead."

He was. An impossible-looking 24-1 shot won the ninth race, busting out any bettor who had inherited the post-time favorite.

Brubaker and partners did collect the lone consolation ticket for having five winners, worth $7,625, but not the $35,258 jackpot. Savin said, "He couldn't have been too upset if he got the consolation." Brubaker did not share the track president's opinion.

Last-minute switches of turf races are not unprecedented. Some years ago, a horseplayer named Red Tucker picked the first eight winners in the pick nine at Hollywood Park but missed a seven-digit payoff when the sprinkler system on the turf course malfunctioned and forced a last-minute transfer of the ninth race to the dirt. The sport needs to deal with such situations in a fairer way, and should do it this way: In pick threes, tracks should treat the switched race as if it were canceled and pay off on the basis of a pick two. The same would be true in a pick six; bettors who picked five would share the entire pool wagered that day, but they wouldn't be entitled to any share of the carry-over jackpot.

However, there was a larger issue than pick-six rules involved here Sunday. Nobody would question jockeys' refusal to ride under unsafe conditions; theirs is a dangerous profession under the best of circumstances. But they had ridden two races earlier in the day, and they rode in two turf races Monday, so how bad could the turf have been at 5:38 p.m. Sunday? In marginal situations, the jockeys ought to remember that the betting public has a stake in this sport, too.

Jockeys, like horsemen and management, tend to forget that the bettors make possible the existence of the racing industry. "It seems," said Brubaker, "that they have no regard for people who are making money for them." The population of committed bettors is dwindling steadily, and Gulfstream alienated a few more Sunday.

(c) 2002, The Washington Post