David Brummer discovered as a youngster he had an inordinate fondness for playing games, and at 34 he hasn't outgrown the tendency. Brummer has spent much of his life playing chess seriously, sometimes professionally, and when not engaged in his principal passion, he indulges in more frivolous pursuits. He loves to win newspaper football-prognostication contests by submitting hundreds of entries with all the likely permutations of results.
So when Gulfstream Park advertised a contest that would give patrons the chance to win a race horse, Brummer was intrigued. He heard opportunity knocking.
A field of horses worth about $25,000 each would be running in a special race, the Coca-Cola Sweepstakes. Fans would deposit entry blanks in boxes at the track and before the race names would be drawn and assigned to each horse. The fan with the winner would be given the horse, with Coca-Cola paying the horse's owner $25,000 plus the $15,000 first-prize money for the race.
Brummer had never felt any burning desire to own a race horse, and had never even liked horse racing much, but his chess player's mind started clicking and calculating. "It was a challenge. I thought I could alter the probabilities in my favor."
The contest rules permitted fans to submit homemade entry blanks of any size and shape, and so Brummer enlisted a friend in the printing business to help him. He wanted to submit as many entries as he could, but he had other strategies, too. "I got different shapes and sizes and textures of paper. I thought the texture was especially important.
"If a guy was blindfolded when he was drawing the names and feeling around in the drum, he might pick up the different texture."
One day last week Brummer drove to the track with a carload of boxes containing nearly 400,000 entries for the Coca-Cola Sweepstakes.He loaded them onto a dolly, pushed them into the track, and made the rounds of all the entry boxes for the contest.
"There was no limit on the size of the entry forms," he said, "and I turned in some sheets as big as a table. In the box it would spread like a blanket. And everybody else's entry blanks would be under my blanket."
When the drawing for names began last Thursday, Brummer sat cool and confident as a poker player holding four aces. The first name drawn would be assigned the horse in post position one, Duty Roster, and when a hand reached into the drum containing 683,000 entry forms it pulled out -- surprise! -- the name of David Brummer.
To Brummer's surprise, that was the only one of his entries drawn, but he was luckier than he might have realized. The Coca-Cola Sweepstakes shaped up as a two-horse race, and Duty Roster was one of the two.
Brummer had never bet on a horse race before, but on Saturday he found himself watching one with $25,000 at stake. He was galvanized as Duty Roster broke to the lead and fought early challenges from longshots. While Duty Roster was sailing along, his principal rival, Fast And Strong, was winding his way through heavy traffic. Fast And Strong finally found running room as he turned into the stretch, and Brummer held his breath as the favorite began to close ground with every stride.
Fast And Strong was flying in the final yards, but his rally was too late. Duty Roster held on to win by half a length, and David Brummer was a horse owner.
In the winner's circle, Brummer posed for a photograph with his new acquisition and looked a bit terrified. "I'm used to dealing with chess pieces," he said. "They don't bite you or step on you." But chess pieces aren't worth $25,000. For once, Brummer had found a way to make his passion for game-playing profitable.