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The Utah/USC Finish: What if that had been a horse race? (Updated)

UPDATE: Apparently the horse racing world didn't like being overshadowed by those in the college football relm.

Kentucky Downs had their own Pac-12 moment when they paid off the wrong Superfecta on Saturday due to the placing judges (well, one of the placing judges) misreading the photo. From the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Because of a placing judge’s error, the wrong horse was placed fourth instead of fifth in Saturday’s seventh race at Kentucky Downs, resulting in the wrong superfecta payoff.

No. 9 Night Party, who went off at $13.70-$1, actually finished fourth by a nose over No. 6 Heiden ($12.80-$1).

A total of $17,862 was bet into the superfecta pool, with the $1 superfecta paying $210.70 on the numbers 2-4-1-6.

Similar to the events in Vegas with regards to some of the casinos and the USC/Utah game, once the race became official, and the improper result paid out, the matter was essentially closed with respect to the bettors. Under Kentucky pari-mutuel regulations, the results of a race can not be changed once it becomes official, even if the wrong result is paid out.  According to the Courier-Journal report, the track did pay out fourth place prize money to both Heiden (the "official" 4th place finisher), and Night Party (the actual 4th place horse). If only the bettors were as fortunate.

ORIGINAL POST: If you watched last night’s Utah at USC college football game, you saw one of the wildest finishes to occur in a long, long time, at least with respect to the gambling portion of our population. How many times do we see an administrative decision (actually, several administrative decisions) completely change the complexion of a game within a matter of minutes?  Or, more importantly, how often do we see a decision come down over two hours after the game finishes that completely changes the result, at least with respect to the gamblers?

Let me set the stage:



USC was an 8.5 point favorite to beat Utah in the Coliseum (yours truly had USC minus the points… and I don’t know why since USC killed me last year every time I took them).  It’s late in the fourth quarter, USC leads 17-14, Utah has the ball, and it’s 4th and 10 with the ball right around the midfield mark.  Utah has :26 seconds on the clock.

Utes quarterback Jordan Wynn completes a pass to Dress Christopher that is marked about a yard and a half short of where he caught the ball by the typically incompetent Pac-10 , er 12 official. (Actually, I’ll give the ref a bit of slack as he was behind the play and had a poor view of where the ball should be spotted.) The measurement comes up short and USC takes possession. 

Now at this point, I pretty much feel like the cause is lost.  USC will take a knee, the clock will run out, and everybody with Utah +8.5 will cash their tickets.  Even if Utah had got the first down, I didn’t feel very good.  After all, I needed USC to score, not the Utes.

So things are looking bad but, lo and behold, the Pac-12 decides to get administrative.  First, the ball spot came under review by the replay booth where it was correctly determined that the ball should be placed about a yard further.  The new spot is enough to convert the 4th down, and Utah is back in business. From that point on, things become even more bizarre.

On the next play, USC is flagged for a 15-yard pass interference penalty, which moves the ball all the way to the USC 24 yard line.  With only 11-seconds on the clock (and the play clock running down), Utah hustles to the line to attempt a game tying field goal.  At this point, I still have zero thoughts of cashing this bet except for one glimmer of hope: block the FG attempt and take it back for a TD.  That’s it.  That’s all I’m holding on to.


Utah lines up for the field goal and, luck of all luck, USC blocks the kick, picks up the lose ball, and returns it all the way for a touchdown.  As Torin Harris is running down the field I’m thinking, "I can’t believe they are going to cover this!". 

Then I see a yellow marker on the field.  Penalty.

Instantly, I knew I was screwed.  The new celebration/taunting rule in college football stipulates that if the violation occurs during a play, the result of the play is nullified, and the penalty is marked off from the spot of the infraction.  I figured SC was celebrating during the runback and would, appropriately, have the TD taken off the board.

The lead official turns on his mic and states exactly what I feared the most: USC committed a sideline violation and the game was over.  The TV showed a final score of 17-14. Internet scoreboards showed a final score of 17-14. Las Vegas casinos showed a final score of 17-14. Off-shore gambl… well, you get the idea.  Everyone believed that USC won 17-14 and didn’t cover the 8.5 point spread.  Except, they didn’t.

A couple hours after the game, the Pac-12 Conference announced that Torin Harris’ touchdown did count. Apparenlty, the sideline violation, because it didn’t involve an active player, is a dead-ball penalty.  As a result, the final USC touchdown was valid, leaving us with a final score of USC 23, Utah 14, a nine point win for the Trojans.

So, to re-cap: I went from losing the game, to winning the game, to losing the game, to ultimately winning the game two hours after it was over.

Now, to bring this whole discussion to our world, what if something like this had happened during a horse race? In terms of gamblers claiming they are getting screwed right and left by the man, horseplayers sit near the top of the list. We moan about the stewards, about bad rides, about countless other factors that contribute to a single loss (sometimes many are legitimate).  But what if, as in the situation above, four different administrative rulings too place that made a player go from a winner to a loser?

Think about the sequence in the Utah/USC game: 1) an overturned spot, 2) a pass interference penalty, 3) a sideline penalty that appeared to wipe out the final TD, and 4) a ruling by the P12 conference reinstating that final TD and those six all-important points.

While horseplayers can always find things to complain about, we should probably be thankful that racing officials don’t change their minds multiple times and, to top it off, alter the final result of the race almost two hours after it became official, by which time most of us would have torn up our tickets.