The Big Ticket

By G.D. Hieronymus

The horses were in the final turn for the 1999 Breeders' Cup Classic. I realized a huge upset was about to happen. Working for the Breeders' Cup Newsfeed as a videographer, you cover the race from track level. You have to decide which horse you're going to follow to the finish...and hope you don't blow it.

As I looked down the stretch through the small, two-inch black and white viewfinder, it was very clear that the white-hooded blinkers of trainer D. Wayne Lukas had surged to the front. Cat Thief, at nearly 20-1, was going to pull off the upset.

Believe me when I say it was hard to hold framing and focus when you realize you have just picked six winners in a row. But even harder to realize was that there was only one ticket.

After Anees had won the Juvenile, I told my reporter, Jeff Piecaro, and my sound man, Alex Morra, that Breeders' cup Pic Six tickets were hitting the floor and we were going to win some money. But I never realized just how much.

We were alive with Daylami and Yagli in the Turf. I originally had three horses in the race but had to drop one, which just happened to be second-place finisher Royal Anthem.

Daylami has to be one of the best moving horses I have ever seen. His morning gallops on the dirt at Gulfstream were "beauty in motion." Daylami could have been re-saddled and won the Classic.

In the Classic we had the favorite, Behrens, and longshot Cat Thief.

The fun was just beginning, as word spread pretty quickly that there was only one ticket and it was in my pocket. I can't tell you how many times I reached around to check that my billfold had not fallen out of my back pocket. Believe me, there was no way I was going to take the ticket out until I was in a secure place.

I decided to hire one of the rather large security guards in the winner's circle to escort me to the mutuel department, but ended up in the Gulfstream press box. Turns out the guard, probably hired just for the weekend, didn't know where the mutuel office was.

Once in the press box I spotted a good friend, Karl Schmitt of Churchill Downs, and told him rather nervously that I needed an office for a few minutes. His face was puzzled until we got in the room and I informed him of the good news.

Once I made it to the mutuel department, it took about an hour to manage the transaction. No, they didn't give me cash--$3,058,137.60 before taxes, plus consolation tickets. I walked away with a check for over $2.2 million.

I tried to call my wife, Laura, but couldn't reach her, probably a good thing because she was on a shopping trip with friends in Nashville. The next call was the man responsible for the Classic winner, my brother John.

I wish I had a recording of that conversation. Turns out John did not win a cent on the Classic. He didn't play Cat Thief straight or use the next three horses--Budroyale, Golden Missile, and Chester House.

Some people called our group a bunch of lucky amateurs, but the guy I want to meet is the one who had the $692,907 superfecta.

There were over two-million thoughts running through my head as the evening wore on. I got back to the Newsfeed headquarters, and my hotel was buzzing. The phone never stopped ringing, with reporters and television crews disappointed I would not go on camera. Believe me, I prefer to be behind the camera.

Winning that payday with a group of 18 co-workers, on a $192 ticket, was a highlight in a life filled with days filming horses and wagering on races. But, it hasn't changed my style, or my lifestyle. I'm still a weekend player, and my wife and I still hold jobs and raise our kids.

Breeders' Cup Day is second to none for horseplayers, with nearly every horse having a shot. The races are so competitive, you understand when your horse gets beat. I just had my day, when everything seemed to fall into place. I beat the game this one day.