In the annals of bad beats at the racetrack, what happened Saturday at Louisiana Downs has to go down as one of the worst ever.
Heading into the final race on the card, the will pays posted on simulcast screens and betting websites showed one ticket alive to the #1 horse, Tsavo, in the Super Pick Five. The wager requires bettors to pick the winners of the final five races, but it only pays the entire “jackpot” if there is one unique winning ticket. If there is more than one, half the pool for that day is split while the other half is added to the growing jackpot.
By Saturday afternoon, the pool had grown to $488,000, and if Tsavo won the last race, the will pays indicated that the holder of that one ticket would take down the entire pool. More than 1,100 miles away in West Virginia, Billy Kennedy and Jimmy Appell were brimming with anxiousness. They held that one ticket, a $240 wager they had placed through Kennedy's Twinspires.com account.
Appell, a lifelong fan and Thoroughbred owner, watched the race from Charles Town, while Kennedy, a jockeys' agent, saw it unfold from home.
Tsavo was making his third career start after losing his first two races by a combined 38 lengths. Still, the 3-year-old son of Lion Heart, who was stretching out from sprints and making his first start on turf, was bet down from his morning line of 6-1 to be the 8-5 post-time favorite. He broke sharply, went straight to the lead, and held off all challengers to win by a length and three-quarters.
“And it will be Tsavo, a two-length winner taking down the Pick Five!” exclaimed track announcer Travis Stone.
Back in West Virginia, Kennedy, Appell and their friends were going nuts.
“We're all jumping up and down of course, yelling and screaming,” said Kennedy. “Everybody knew at the track. They're all slapping high fives, they're all calling congratulating me.”
But when Kennedy went to the Twinspires website to see the windfall appear in his account, the payout was $11,983 before taxes, not $488,000. Thinking there must have been a mistake, Kennedy called Louisiana Downs and “got the run around” but eventually spoke to Stone, who also works as the track's mutuels manager. Stone promised to get to the bottom of it.
“It turns out there was a ticket placed early Saturday morning through Arlington that used one of the scratched horses in the race,” Stone said. “And based on the rules of the wager through the Louisiana Racing Commission, that particular ticket also got placed to (Tsavo), which nullified the jackpot payoff.”
Stone said the Arlington ticket-holder singled a 30-1 longshot using “Quick Pick,” a random assignment of picks. The horse was a vet scratch later in the morning, meaning the Arlington ticket-holder, alive going into the final race, would get the post-time favorite. When the will pays were announced before the race, the favorite was #11, Adamo, but by post time, Tsavo had been bet down to favoritism, meaning there were actually two tickets alive to Tsavo and no possibility of a jackpot score, despite what the previous will pays suggested.
“I'm never the conspiracy guy,” said Kennedy. “But it just sounds real fishy to me. I know Louisiana Downs wants to keep the (jackpot) going. They get no money in their pools.”
Stone called Kennedy Sunday morning and promised there was nothing nefarious and no mistake. The probable payouts just changed when Tsavo became the favorite.
“I feel awful for this guy and his partner,” Stone said. “But there was no foul play, nobody did anything wrong, there was nothing incorrect or unlawful about what happened. It was just a really bad sequence and set of circumstances.”
On Sunday, Louisiana Downs turned off the will pays for the Super Pick Five, and Stone said that would be the procedure for the rest of the meet. He said he won't proclaim a jackpot winner during a race call, either.
“We're dependent on the information we get from the tote, so it's kind of tough for us,” he said. “It all depends on scratches, and at any point, the whole scenario can change. It can change right up until the race is off.
“I don't think we will ever in our lifetime come across a worst beat for somebody.”
Kennedy said in hindsight, if he had known the real scenario, he would've tried to bet money on the #11, Adamo, to make him the favorite instead of Tsavo.
“With a chance at $400,000, I'll come up with the money. I don't have many friends, but I have a couple!
“If I could talk to the person with the other ticket, that would ease my pain a little, not thinking that I got screwed. If I was him, I'd be upset,” Kennedy said. “If I got beat by the Quick Pick, I got beat by the Quick Pick. What can you do?”
Kennedy said the experience has soured him on Louisiana Downs and its owner, Harrahs, but not on betting the races in general. In fact, he played a Pick 4 at Saratoga Monday, and it hit for $1,500.
“It's like, I got to hit that 400 times to make up for what they just cost me,” he said. “I'm trying to grin and bear it, but it's a life-changing score. That's what I'm playing for, a life-changing score. That's what we're all playing for, I think.”
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