John Francaviglia hung up the telephone in the toy department of the J.C. Penney store where he worked and let out a shriek, oblivious to the customers near him.
He danced down the aisle and told his fellow employes, "I'm quitting! I'm done here!"
The phone call had been from his girlfriend, who had listened to the radio recap of the results at Hollywood Park, and was relaying the information to him. As she did, Francaviglia learned that the Pick Six wager he had sent to the track that day had won and paid $73,000.
An enthusiastic amateur handicapper from Granada Hills, Calif., Francaviglia had been poring over the Racing Form at 2 that morning and concluded that, for a mere $48 investment, he had an excellent shot of picking six winners. Unfortunately, payday was a couple of days away, and he was broke.
So he called his boss, who was also a horseplayer, and explained his problem. The boss agreed to put up the $48 and cut Francaviglia for 10 percent of the profits. Since he had to work that afternoon, Francaviglia sent a friend to the track to place the bet for him.
Soon after Francaviglia learned that he had won his bet, his boss rushed into the store, breathless with excitement. He had heard the news, too, but he was a bit apprehensive: "We've got to get the ticket," he said. Francaviglia assured him that his friend was completely honest, and picked up the phone to call him.
There was no answer.
An hour later there was still no answer. "What if he had a flat tire on the way to the track and decided to head to the nearest bar?" Francaviglia wondered.
The boss was more suspicious: "He probably headed for the airport with $73,000 and caught the first flight to Acapulco." By 9:30, the end of the work shift, Francaviglia still hadn't heard from his friend and hadn't been able to reach him. He and his boss raced out of the store and sped to the friend's house.
"We almost busted down the door," Francaviglia recalled. "I half-expected it to be empty of everything except a few travel brochures. But my friend was sitting in a chair, head down, staring at the ground. I knew something was wrong.
"Did you buy the ticket?" Francaviglia demanded.
"Yeah, I bought it," the friend murmured.
"Six winners, right?"
Almost incoherent, the friend said he made the wager at Hollywood, came home after a couple races, listened to the results on the radio and rejoiced -- until he looked at the ticket. In the fifth race, where Francaviglia's choices had been Nos. 1, 6 and 8, he had inexplicably marked the card 1, 2, 8. The winner, of course, was No. 6.
"You know," Francaviglia said, "a simple clerical error isn't supposed to change a person's life."
But this one did. His boss, beset with financial problems, separated from his wife a few weeks later. His friend was evicted from his apartment. And Francaviglia went back to work at J.C. Penney, continuing to dream of winning a Pick Six that will liberate him. He hasn't come close.