A woman described as "short, blonde, a little on the plump side, in her late 30s, her hair tied back in a bun and wearing a brown leather coat," stepped up to seller's window No. 301 on the second floor of the clubhouse at Laurel yesterday and bet $32,000 on Whatzayer to show in the third race.
"It was weired," Joe Giordano, the seller, said later. "None of us had ever seen her or the man behind her before. She got in line as soon as the windows opened and said, 'I'd like to bet $32,000 on No. 1 to show.' She gave me the money.I checked it, then sent it to the money room to have them check it.
"There were 320 $100 bills she gave me here at the $50 windos. I punched out 640 tickets, in lots of 50. She counted each one."
Whatzayer, a maiden, had finished third and second in its only two starts and was favored at 2 to 5 against five other 3- or 4-year-olds looking for the first victory of their career, Laurel's racing strip was sloppy for the six-furlong sprint. With the first flash of the lights, $28,000 showed in the show pool on the infield tote board.
The mysterious Laurel lady wound up betting $32,000 of the $33,007 wagered on Whatzayer to finish third or better. The total show pool was $35,897, on all the horses. The entire parimutuel handle on the race was $62,529.
Whatzayer, ridden by Vince Braceiale, went to the front immediately. The chestnut-colored son of What Luck was 1 1/2 lengths in front most of the way until midstretch, when he began to tire.
Mitey Vixen went past Whatzayer shortly inside the eighth pole and drew out to a two-length victory. Whatzayer, tiring noticeably, saved second place by a neck over Sailinga way, but was more than five lengths ahead of Solo Media in preserving the value of the show tickets.
Whatzayer returned $2.20 to place and $2.10 to show, causing a minus pool of $5,257.40. The woman who bet $32,000 on him to show received $33,600, a profit of $1,600.
"I sent to the money room to get $33,600 separate, so it wouldn't get mixed in with my routine work," the cashier behind Window No. 305 declared. "She counted every bill separately, not like most racetrackers would do. They'd count them with me as I laid them out. She didn't strike me as being a professional player at all."
"The biggest play of that sort I'd ever handled before was $29,000, on Secretariat to win the Preakness at Pimlico in 1973," Goordano said. "Horses like Secretariat and Seattle Slew, and big favorities in stake races generate that kind of action.
That's a good question.
When last seen, shortly after the third race, the woman and her male companion were walking toward a private limousine, hand in hand, smiling.