Sunday at Tampa Bay Downs, I experienced one of those Abbott and Costello moments, only the apt paraphrase is more like: “They’re Off, You Lose.” “No, Wait a Minute; You Won.” “No, You Won, But, I’m Sorry, You Lose.”
For some reason that is unclear to these experienced eyes, the final race of the day, one that completed the Late 5, Pick 4 and Pick 5 sequences, was taken off the turf and rescheduled to the main track.
Three races already had been run on the grass, yet, off the turf came the finale. Even if it were the last race, it was the best one on the card, a nice allowance race featuring three year old fillies.
It was an event that was good enough to attract the favorite from the New York-based barn John Terranova, and also an uncoupled pair from the powerful grass outfit of Graham Motion.
Viewed on my 48-inch high definition television monitor, three previous grass races appeared to go without incident. The seventh race at 1-1/16 miles, run an hour before the rescheduled event, featured a winner that raced wide throughout, with his winning momentum carrying old pro Vanquisher six wide at headstretch.
The horse he defeated was a game, come-again runnerup, Themanmythnlegend, who re-rallied along the inside to briefly loom a potential upsetter.
Did I mention that between the seventh and ninth race, it never rained?
This same scenario played itself out at Gulfstream Park last winter, only it poured prior to the running of their finale. The race came off the turf and, after a bevy of scratches, the payoffs were based on the remaining entrants.
Predictably, the incident became a public relations nightmare and might have become the impetus of Florida racing law regarding rescheduled turf races being changed this summer.
Following a precedent set in New York several years ago, Florida races rescheduled to another surface after betting has closed, such as Sunday’s Tampa Bay finale, will be designated an “ALL” race for those holding tickets on sequential wagers.
Short of issuing a multi-race wagering bet slip that allows for “alternate” selections in the event of late scratches and/or surface switches, deeming rescheduled races an ALL is a fair and equitable solution.
Following the eighth race, my partner and I were alive to four horses in the Pick 5 finale, offering will-pay possibilities, with rounding, of $1,400, 600, 500 and 6,000. The straight odds on those runners, respectively, were 3-1, 3-1, 6-5 and 12-1.
Since we were alive with four horses, we would have four winning “ALL” tickets in the Pick 5 regardless of the result. Langcita moved to the lead at headstretch and held off the rally off the poor starting, much-the-best favored runnerup, Pelipa.
Motion and Terranova finished 1-2. Our $1,400 possibility beat our $500 possibility by 1-1/4 lengths.
Before we knew for certain what the rule was in this situation, I said to my partner I’d just as well take my chances rather than settle for an “ALL” if that were the case. Instead of $1,400, we collected $153 four times. You can do the math.
I also said at the time that this race never should have been rescheduled to the main track. No one wants to put jockeys in harm’s way; no one. But the Tampa stewards should have trusted their own expertise and visual evidence and done what was best to serve the betting public.
The running times of the three previous grass races appeared in line with the quality of the horses, neither aberrantly slow or fast. There was no discernible bias favoring a particular running style.
Tampa boasts one of the deepest jock’s rooms in the country in terms of sheer numbers. If riders didn’t want to ride, replacements were readily available.
I’m sure there will be a predictable explanation forthcoming deeming the rescheduling a necessity. But barring something truly unusual, the explanation will ring hollow here. Today’s stewards put the wishes of horsemen and management before those of the betting public they are paid to serve.
The “ALL” provision protected the public; the stewards should have served them.
The state of Florida did the right thing by amending racing rules governing rescheduled turf races this summer. It’s too bad that today’s racing officials too often fail to take responsibility, own the moment, and do likewise.