Last winter I was seized by an obsession. Today, I will travel 3,000 miles in an effort to fulfill it.
When Florida's racetracks started offering Pick Six wagering, I was quickly gripped by the excitement and challenge of trying to select six straight winners. When the size of the betting pool offered the possibility of enormous payoffs, my friends and I would pool our knowledge and our money and shoot for the money. At Hialeah we almost hit it.
We had five winners, including a pair of 15-to-1 shots, and one loser, who still haunts me. The horse, I'm Pure Gold, was the 6-to-5 favorite, and when he made his move in the stretch his chances were good as gold. He looked ready to blow past the leaders and win by five lengths. If he had done so -- instead of losing his enthusiasm in the last 1/16th of a mile -- I would have cashed a ticket worth $225,000.
When nobody hit all six winners at Hialeah, half the money in the pool would be carried over to the next day. On the day after our near-miss, one bettor took the whole pot for $305,000. But instead of letting out a whoop and marching triumphantly to the cashier's window, he waited for weeks and then dispatched a lawyer in a pinstriped suit to collect the money for him. As I watched the lawyer get his check, I thought: when I win the Pick Six, it's not going to be this way. I'll scream, I'll embrace everybody in sight, I'll let my friends congratulate me and I'll throw a big party to celebrate my ultimate triumph.
It's going to happen this winter -- in California.
If you're a mountain climber, you dream of scaling Everest. If you're a singer, you dream of playing the Met. And if you're hooked on the Pick Six, you want to hit the big one at Santa Anita.
The modern Pick Six was born in California, and in a racing area where there had never been any such exotic wagering before, it created a mania. Every day an incredible amount of money is bet -- sometimes as much as $500,000 -- and every day there is a possibility of a gigantic payoff. Six-figure payoffs are routine, and the record is $375,000.
For nearly a year, I have been planning for the Santa Anita meeting, which opens Sunday. It's a bit intimidating for any horseplayer to walk into an unfamiliar track, with unfamiliar horses, trainers and jockeys, but I have done everything possible to prepare myself.
I have compiled speed figures for all the races in California in 1982. I have maintained an index card for every trainer who will be operating at Santa Anita, so I know the ones who are adept at winning with first-time starters, with recent claims, with horses who seem to be vehicles for betting coups. I have analyzed the biases of the racing surfaces in the state.
I have tried to acquaint myself with the peculiarities of horses' form in California. (It is, for example, much easier for sprinters to go a distance successfully in the West than in the East.)
Then I assembled a syndicate of friends and horseplayers willing to invest in my Pick Six venture. Optimistically, we drew up a formal partnership agreement to help us deal with the tax consequences of windfall profits.
Today, I fly to Los Angeles, and from tomorrow through the middle of March I will be seeking the ultimate handicapping triumph. I don't know how I will fare, but of one thing I am certain. If I hit the big one, no pinstriped lawyer is going to be cashing the ticket for me. You may hear me yelling from 3,000 miles away.