No one predicted a one-hour power failure yesterday afternoon in the AmTote headquarters in Hunt Valley.
But it seemed like just another mini-crisis to overcome as racing executives, auditors and computer specialists prepared and tested equipment for horse racing's initial foray into a mass electronic betting pool.
When the first National Pic-6 is introduced today, the hub of the 40-track operation will be located in the three small rooms in the back offices of AmTote, one of three companies in this country that provides racetrack wagering equipment.
Chris Scherf, executive director of the Thoroughbred Racing Association, which is masterminding the project, said it has taken about six months, thousands of conference calls and mostly volunteer labor on the part of many racetracks to put together today's one-hour, six-race program.
"The fundamental mission is for racing to utilize technology so that people can bet to anywhere from anywhere," Scherf said. "But there are a lot of obstacles to overcome to build that framework."
Among them are setting up a flexible system of uniform rules for state racing commissions, coordinating post-time schedules among racetracks and getting compatible computer equipment from all three companies.
In the Breeders' Cup Pic-7 last year, when about $8.5 million was bet, all the pools were merged manually.
Today is the first time such net pooling will be done electronically.
The effort includes people in several states: the printed race program was produced by Thistledown Race Course near Cleveland; Bob Bork, general manager of Arlington Park International in Illinois coordinated the entire project; and Maryland is the host state. The Pimlico mutuels department is backing up the electronic equipment with its own manual program. And the Pic-6 is operating under Maryland's exotic betting rules.
At Pimlico and Laurel, fans will be able to watch the entire Pic-6 program on about 12 TV sets in locations around the tracks and on TV monitors in individual boxes. The one-hour Pic-6 TV show -- which originates from Harrisburg, Pa., and is being anchored by Steve Ford and Jenny Ornstein -- is being produced by Penn National to be aired at participating tracks.
There will be special Pic-6 betting windows, but Pic-6 betting cards will be accepted at any mutuels window. "We also hope to show every race live of the Pic-6 on all in-house monitors," said Pimlico general manager Jim Mango.
Scherf said that because some states can only simulcast races that are worth $50,000 or more, the program is comprised of stakes worth that value. "New York and California tracks aren't involved, so it didn't take too much of a selection process to come up with the races on the schedule," he added.
Scherf isn't predicting that millions of dollars will be bet on the initial venture. "We just want to get through today without any foul-ups," he said. "Then on the next two Saturdays [Sept. 26 and Oct. 3], we hope to be able to build on our handle."
If no one picks all six winners, 75 percent of the pool will be carried over until the Sept. 26 card.
NOTES: Edgar Prado won three races at Laurel yesterday, including the feature with Baron Mathew. . . . Mercantile Bank and Trust Co. of Baltimore are handling all money transfers for the National Pic-6. . . . Pre-entries for the Maryland Million, run on Sept 26, are due today. . . . About 20 people representing AmTote, Pimlico and Racing Commissions International will be at Hunt Valley today to coordinate the National Pic-6 operation.