The 2000 Derby was one of those races where I had a Derby horse early in the year and I stuck with it. Nothing like 2016 when I don’t have a Derby horse selected 72 hours before they sing My Old Kentucky Home and the gates pop open.
Aptitude had caught my eye when running second in the Gotham behind Red Bullet. Coming from last place the regally bred horse owned by Juddmonte and trained by Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, Aptitude clearly wanted more ground. Frankel was the hottest trainer in the country and I knew he took his time with horses so I wasn’t concerned about his late start (although I should have been) or his third place finish in the Wood Memorial. I thought Frankel knew how to train a horse. And he did.
So I loved this horse except for one thing – one freak of a horse called Fusaichi Pegasus.
Before we get to the actual race there was a life-changing event in 2000. I had found an online betting site called YouBet where they let you bet online – at home – from a computer or phone! Wow. More importantly, however, they had a 100,000 online handicapping contest. It would be the second contest I would ever enter. The first contest I entered was in Las Vegas. Back in the 80’s they ran a contest called the World Championship of Handicapping or something like that. It was a big event held every year and attracted over 500 entries at one of the strip hotels. My dad promised me that when I was old enough to enter he would take me out there. And he did and I entered and bombed out but was hooked on the contest format. Except the only place around me that had contests was – nowhere. No tracks were holding contests except for the pick the winner on a card weekend contests to win a free program or something. Penn National used to hold a big handicapping championship as well but that was like being held on the moon as far as I was concerned.
The next time I found a handicapping contest to enter was the YouBet online 100k championship in 2000. It was a 6-week contest using real money bankroll. The player that won the most money over the course of the 2-day weekends for 6 weeks would win 50k. In the second or third week of the contest – the last weekend would be Derby weekend – I hit big at the Fair Grounds in the Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap on the turf. I had keyed a local horse trained by Mike Stidham who was 20-1 (Where’s Taylor) and he hung on for second to a McAnally horse from California (Brave Act) and Chester House trained by Frankel. My payout was about 4-5000, which put me in the lead. Now, if I remember correctly there was a minimum play required per weekend but I had run my total down to under 4,000 by Derby weekend and was in second place by a few bucks. A few bucks separated me going into Derby weekend from 50,000.
I played heavy on Derby Day and remember like it was yesterday that my final bet was a 10 exacta Fusaichi Pegasus over Aptitude. Most every other bet had keyed Aptitude on top in some way or fashion. It was all or nothing.
And, I had drained my account down to zero. No, I hadn’t lost it all I had taken it out probably to pay some bills.
The problem back in those days or it might have been a blessing was that to deposit money into your account took a few days. You either had to send them a check or it took a few days to get bank approval and it didn’t happen on a weekend. I can’t remember what the issue was but I knew that if I didn’t hit something in the Derby I would be down to zero in my account and would not be able to play on Sunday – the last day of the contest.
So, I’m in second, a few bucks behind the leader and we are well clear of the third place person but all that could change in a heartbeat with the Derby.
Fusaichi Pegasus was trained to win the Derby from the day he landed in Neil Drysdale’s barn. A multi million-dollar purchase he was precocious from day 1 and had earned the role of Derby favorite.
On Derby day he won basically in a canter at 2-1 with Aptitude running second. I had lost every bet except the 10 exacta for a 300-dollar return – which was my balance in my account. In the tournament when I checked the standings on Sunday morning I was still in second by a few hundred bucks.
I was also extremely hung over. We had a Derby party and it was a doozy going late, late into the night. We had a kid’s blow up jumpy house and so the kids were occupied while the adults occupied themselves with alcohol. I remember waking up and seeing some folks scattered about the house that didn’t drive home and went into my home office and checked the standings and my account and saw the results.
I then went into the back yard and promptly threw up some mint juleps and various other versions of alcohol based libations from the night before. I felt better and I was the only one up in the house and it was noon. Did I say it was a doozy of a party?
So, I’m in second and have a dilemma that was the first inkling and maybe one of the first end game strategies ever in the contest world. Should I play to catch up or let the guy in front of me come back to me? I decided that if I were in the lead I would not play and make the guy in second catch me. Of course, there were no live real time scoreboards – I wouldn’t get the results until the next day.
So, I decided to play some on Sunday with my 300 bucks. I lost an agonizing photo at Calder I believe and couldn’t put anything together so I lost my 300 and figured I was going to finish second unless someone caught me from behind.
I got up the next day and saw that the guy in front of me had indeed played on Sunday and had bet enough that if I hadn’t played I would have won. So, the 10-dollar exacta I “won” on the Derby had cost me 30k because I could not have put any money in my account to play Sunday. I would have been stuck on my total and the guy in front would have lost enough to finish behind me.
The moral of the story? I have none. I do know that winning a 10 dollar exacta on the 2000 Derby cost me 30,000. I did end up winning 20,000 for finishing second however so all was not lost. I also remember the day that the check arrived in the mail and I can tell you that my wife was still skeptical about my claim of winning 20,000 because she was like “show me the money!” So, it just so happened her mother was at the house – yes, my mother in law – when I went out to the mailbox and brought the check into the kitchen – right by the Viking stove by the way – and showed both of them the big check. Good times.
But, taking a much longer-term view – I was hooked on contests and in a few more years – well more than a few years – I would finally win a big one.
Derby Record 21-3-8-1 = 74.80/32.80 profit for a $ 2 dollar win bet