ELMONT, N.Y., JUNE 8 -- When Shinto Maniac and Snaps Lewin fought to the wire in a head-bobbing photo finish at Philadelphia Park today, much of the crowd thought the 42-to-1 Snaps Lewin had put his nose in front.
But the number of Shinto Maniac went up on the tote board, the "official" sign was lighted, and mutuel windows started paying off happy and surprised winning bettors.
Seventeen minutes later, the public-address announcer advised the crowd: "Please hold all tickets on the sixth race." And 15 minutes after that, bettors were told that winning tickets on both Shinto Maniac and Snaps Lewin would be honored.
Snaps Lewin had actually won the race -- the placing judges had misread the photograph of the finish.
There weren't any ambiguities in the photo; all three judges blew the call badly. "They put up the wrong numbers," said General Manager Robert Bork. "There's no excuse for it. You hope it doesn't happen, but it did."
The judges realized their mistake quickly, but Philadelphia Park employs the same "fast official" system that Laurel uses, and the "official" was already on the board. The judges told the stewards of their mistake, and the stewards called management asking what to do.
When a similar error occurred at Saratoga involving a now-famous filly named Allemeuse, New York officials refused to pay off on the rightful winner. Philadelphia Park officials, however, decided to make full win payoffs of $86.20 and $18.60, but split the exacta pool among holders of both combinations, with each paying $445.
"This is what you call fan appreciation day," Bork said. He estimated that paying off on both horses would cost the track $30,000 to $40,000.
While people who had bet on the loser were appreciative, plenty of others weren't. Those who boxed the top two finishers in the exacta and cashed a ticket immediately would have collected $445, but would have had two winning combinations, worth $890, if they had waited a few minutes. People who immediately cashed an across-the-board bet on Snaps Lewin surrendered their tickets without getting the $86.20 win payoff.
Tom McCully of Springfield, Va., had bet Snaps Lewin to win, and when his horse's apparent loss was made official, he threw away the ticket.
"When they announced 'Hold all tickets' the scrambling that went on for tickets was frantic," McCully said. "People were diving into every trash can in the place."