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Scandal puts horses back on front page

Nov 5, 2002 5:28 AM

   Racing is back on the first sports page again.

   All it took was another scandal.

   The scam from the Breeders’ Cup Ultra Pick Six at Arlington Park on Oct. 26 has made headlines from coast to coast. That’s when a 29-year-old owner of a computer service, Derrick Davis of Baltimore, bought six identical $2 Pick Six tickets, singling horses in the first four legs and all eight horses in the fifth leg and all 12 in the sixth.

   He hit. The winning tickets were worth $428,392 each. Coupled with 108 consolation tickets (five of six) at $4,606 apiece, Davis stood to collect $3,067,800. The bets were made through, which allows access to Catskill OTB’s telephone account wagering system in upstate New York. Catskill OTB initially maintained that the bets were legitimate, having been placed some 23 minutes before the first Pick Six race.

   Turns out the money in the Pick Six pool was tabulated before the first Pick Six race, but the selections weren’t until after the fourth Pick Six race. That’s how Davis and Chris Harn, an Autotote employee who had access to breach Autotote’s totalizator system and alter Davis’ selections to make his bet a winning one, allegedly rigged the tickets. Turns out too that both men were fraternity brothers together at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

   The ruse has prompted an all-out probe by racing officials. Everyone this side of Sherlock Holmes is investigating. Racing’s big shots plan to create a task force to prevent such acts from happening in the future. After all, the integrity of the game is at stake.

   Any horse player worth a torn mutuel ticket could never accept as factual such a bold stroke of handicapping luck as Davis alleged, not even in the movies. Take it from professional gambler Gary Young, who rarely misses a Pick Six carryover opportunity.

   “This gives racing a black eye on its biggest day of the year,” Young said. “It’s like that term ”˜greedy as a pig,’ in the movie, ”˜Snatch.’ This guy should have put the ticket in once instead of six times, and he shouldn’t have singled the first four races.

   “His thinking after the fourth race when he put the ticket in probably was, ”˜I’m going to ”˜all’ the last two races to make sure I have it. But his thinking was that logical horses would win the last two legs, and there would be about 40 or 50 tickets worth about $60,000 apiece, and he’d have six of them and it wouldn’t cause any suspicion.’

   “Well, when Volponi won (the Classic at 43-1 as the longest shot in the race), it turned out to be good news/bad news for him. The good news was, he made a lot more money than he thought, but the bad news was, all the flags went up.”

   Young had a ready explanation as to how Derrick was able to “single” the two longshots. “It’s real easy,” Young said, “when you put the ticket in after four races in the Pick Six have already been run.”

   Makes sense to me. All my horse-playing life, I assumed all the Pick Six pools closed before the first leg was run. Not so, it turns out. Now they tell me.

   I don’t play the Pick Six often, but next time I do, I might be looking for a bookie.

   THE HOMESTRETCH: Bob Baffert is resigned to the fact that Azeri will be named Horse of the Year in light of her impressive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, coupled with War Emblem’s eighth-place finish in the Classic. “Azeri had a great year,” Baffert said. “She ended up with a bang, and our last two races were disastrous. I think I cooked War Emblem when I ran him back at Del Mar (sixth in the Aug. 25 Pacific Classic). Azeri is a really great mare. If she gets it, I don’t have a problem with it. The difference is, we didn’t have the luxury of picking our own races. We had to run, run, run. I wouldn’t trade War Emblem with Azeri for the year. When you win the Derby and the Preakness, that’s pretty fantastic. I don’t have a problem with Azeri getting Horse of the Year, but War Emblem definitely should get 3-year-old (male honors). If he doesn’t, from now on we’ll just put our horses away (early). He would have got Horse of the Year if I put him away the rest of the year (after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown and the Haskell Invitational, all Grade I races). He won the ones that counted, and just because he’s had his problems and went south on me, you can’t hold that against him.” . . . Midas Eyes, a recent purchase by long-time Bobby Frankel client Edmund Gann, is stabled at Santa Anita with Frankel assistant Sally Lundy and expected to start back on Dec. 1 for next year’s important 3-year-old races. The son of 1997 Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold was second in his debut at Calder, then came back at the Florida track on Aug. 17 to break his maiden by eight lengths as the 9-10 favorite . . . Advice to bettors on the switch in racing surfaces from Santa Anita to Hollywood Park: “Santa Anita is more of a dirt surface,” said trainer Wesley Ward. “Hollywood is a little deeper. If you look at workout times, horses work faster on average at Santa Anita. In general, the best horses will win, even if they run on a pavement, but there’s a little edge to the horses training at Hollywood.” Adds Jack Carava, who just won his first Oak Tree training title at Santa Anita: “I have some horses at Hollywood with (trainer) Marty Jones and that track is deeper. It’s probably no big deal to a fit horse, but I’ve found first-time starters usually need a race over the Hollywood track. But old claiming horses that have been running all year can transfer their form OK at Hollywood.” . . . Don’t look for Pat Valenzuela this month at Hollywood Park. The 39-year-old jockey has decided to serve his time for three separate five-day suspensions for riding infractions--two dating back to the Del Mar meet and one from Oak Tree--which will put him on the sidelines from Nov. 6 through Nov. 24.