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No Solution to Oak Tree Faux Pas : Horse racing: Investigation blames accidental scratching and reinstatement of favorite at Santa Anita on "human error." No action will be taken.

October 13, 1994|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The California Horse Racing Board, completing an investigation into the incorrect scratching of a horse last week at Santa Anita, said Wednesday that the mistake was a "human error" and that "nothing can be done to rectify an unfortunate situation."

Caesour, the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the $47,000 fifth race on Oct. 5, was bet down to 2-1 when he was pulled off the tote board eight minutes before the race. George Haines II, director of the parimutuel department at Santa Anita, said that an Autotote employee meant to scratch the No. 9 horse from the eighth race but instead scratched Caesour, who was also No. 9.

There was widespread confusion among bettors, many of whom quickly went to the windows and obtained refunds for their bets on Caesour. Other bettors who wanted to bet Caesour avoided the horse because they thought he had been scratched.

According to Haines, 2 1/2 minutes after the error and 5 1/2 minutes before the start of the race, the tote-board odds on Caesour were put back up, indicating the horse was still running. Caesour went off at 9-2, won the race by a length and paid $11.

Cliff Goodrich, president of Santa Anita, said that he wouldn't know until today how much money was refunded on Caesour during the 2 1/2 minutes the horse appeared to be scratched. Mike Manning, assistant general manager at the track, said that Santa Anita had received "a dozen or so" complaints from bettors.

Santa Anita officials said they don't know if any disgruntled bettors will take legal action.

"They're upset, and they have a right to be," Goodrich said. "But we're dealing with humans, and humans aren't perfect. Now, I don't know what we could do, because we'd be dealing with a documentation factor. The bettors who got refunds during the time they thought the horse was scratched probably wouldn't have any proof that they tried to bet the horse. We couldn't be sure who those people were, and we wouldn't be able to separate them from people who would come up just saying they bet the horse."

A bettor from an off-track satellite facility in North Dakota called the Santa Anita stewards with a complaint that seemed to be valid.

"He thought he had made an exacta bet using the entire field on top with the horse that finished second," steward Tom Ward said. "But because he made the bet while the winner was theoretically scratched, he didn't have the No. 9 in his 'all' ticket."

Ward didn't know the amount of that bet. Caesour and Luthier Fever, the second-place finisher who went off the 2-1 favorite, combined for a $2 exacta payoff of $37.60. With the 12-1 Bird Brown finishing third, the $2 trifecta for getting the first three finishers right was worth $393.60.

Karen Weisman of Glendora and her daughter, Patricia, were among the fans who were puzzled by the apparent scratch.

"My daughter actually went to the windows three times," Weisman said. "She made a bet on what would have been the winning exacta combination, but then went back to cancel that bet and change to another combination when she saw the horse was scratched.

"Then, when she saw the scratched horse was back in, she went back a third time to bet her original combination, but was shut out.

"We were in the Baldwin Club (Santa Anita's new version of the turf club), and people were really livid. A lot of them were screaming. They felt they had been taken. I've been going to the races for 20 years and I've never seen a scratched horse be unscratched and allowed to run.

"It was disgusting. And if Santa Anita and the state aren't doing anything about it, it's asinine."

The Autotote technician who made the error on Caesour was a management replacement for a striking worker. Autotote, the company that supplies the tote system at Santa Anita, has been involved in a national labor dispute with its technicians since Aug. 19. Goodrich said that about 12 management-supplied technicians from Autotote are working at the Oak Tree meet.

In announcing that the state's investigation was over, Roy Wood, executive director of the racing board, said that the technician "was counseled so that a similar mistake won't happen again." The technician was not identified.

Both Ward and Goodrich said that the stewards and the track might have handled the situation differently.

"We gave no thought to scratching the horse, because that would have been unfair to the owner and trainer," Ward said. "In retrospect, we could have announced to the crowd what had happened, and then delayed the start of the race to give them extra time to get their bets down. But that's hindsight."

Had the stewards declared Caesour a non-betting starter, they probably would have faced even more anger after the horse won.

Wood did not criticize the stewards. "They acted quickly," he said. "They took corrective action in ample time for the bettors to make their bets."

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