By Bill Finley
With the field loading into the gate for Sunday's sixth race at Saratoga, the start of a Pick 5 sequence, it was announced that three subsequent races were being taken off of the turf. For purposes of the Pick 5, the three off-the-turf races were considered “all” races, meaning those races essentially were eliminated from the bet, turning the Pick 5 into a daily double. It paid $25.
That didn't sit well with numerous horseplayers, which didn't go unnoticed by NYRA executives.
That's why NYRA CEO and President Dave O'Rourke appeared Wednesday on the track's Talking Horses segment hosted by Andy Serling and admitted that mistakes were made.
“There is no excuse,” O'Rourke said. “We dropped the ball.”
O'Rourke described what led up to the decision, starting with a breakdown in the fourth race. In a mile-and-three-eighths allowance race on the grass, Ever Summer (Summer Front) broke down and had to be euthanized.
“After the fifth race, the jocks reached out to the racing office and said they wanted to discuss the turf course,” O'Rourke said. “Our initial reaction was to take everything off turf for the rest of the day. We had had an incredible amount of rain since we began the meet, which impacted the meet in several ways. We believe in safety first, so our instinct was to take those races off the turf.”
There was a time lag and the decision on taking the races off the grass was not announced to the betting public until the horses were being loaded into the gate for the sixth.
“They are loading into the gate for the sixth and there was a rush for time,” O'Rourke said. “So, now it's the worst case scenario. We had to make those other races 'all' races. There's no excuses for it.”
When asked why it took so long to get the information out to the public, O'Rourke said: “I can go through the time line over and over, but from the players' perspective, we dropped the ball. I can't make any other excuse for it.”
Prior to the announcement NYRA went to the stewards and asked that the entire Pick 5 pool be refunded and that there be a delay prior to the start of the sixth race so that customers could make decisions regarding other wagers involving the off-the-turf races. Both requests were denied.
“The intention was to refund everything,” O'Rourke said. “That's slightly out of the norm but we felt that it was the right thing to do. We were not able to refund the pools. The stewards ultimately make decisions in terms of what are in the rules and what are not. Once in a while you'll find gaps for strange situations, but we were not able to refund.”
While NYRA may have been well intentioned in its efforts to refund all monies wagered in the Pick 5 pool, as O'Rourke addressed, it was not their decision to make. Under New York racing rules, if a surface change is made after betting has started on a wager then the off-the-turf races are considered 'all races.' It would be up to the New York Gaming Commission to change that rule to allow for NYRA to cancel a wager.
O'Rourke said he will look into seeding some pools at a future date as a way of paying the bettors back.
“I can't fix it after the fact but I can mitigate it going forward,” he said.
O'Rourke also addressed the tragedy that took place in the GI Test S. on Saturday in which Maple Leaf Mel (Cross Traffic), who had the race won, broke down just a few feet before the wire and had to be euthanized.
“What occurred on Saturday, there are hardly words for it,” he said. “There were 43,000 people here and in a moment they were going to see a triumph but it turned into a tragedy. It shook me. It shook the entire racing world. It's nothing that I ever experienced before and hopefully never will again. We will double down on our commitment toward safety. Everything we do is about safety. All our condolences go out to the connections. It's hard to to talk about it now and it's not even a week later. This was a tough weekend.”