Derby’s wild ride

May 10, 2005 4:41 AM

Christopher Hertzog knows how to lose things. Valuable things. Once, the 16-year veteran of the Phoenix Fire Department lost a $10,000 Rolex watch while fishing.

But that’s nothing compared to the winning Kentucky Derby superfecta ticket Hertzog "lost" on Saturday at Turf Paradise Race Course. The $1 ticket was worth $864,253.

But through a strange series of events, Hertzog was reunited 24 hours later with his ticket and collected his winnings, less $259,276 withheld for taxes.

"I never knew I had so many emotions," Hertzog told the Arizona Republic. "I couldn’t believe I lost this once in a lifetime payday. It’s unbelievable that it was found."

"Unbelievable" is the operative word.

The winning ticket was supposedly found on Sunday by the same teller who had sold Hertzog the ticket on Saturday.

Brenda Reagan, a mutuels clerk at Turf Paradise for eight years, had punched out 100 quick-pick $1 tickets for Hertzog — 50 superfectas and 50 trifectas.

After being notified by her boss that her machine had sold a winning Superfecta ticket on the first four finishers in the Kentucky Derby, she informed Hertzog that he had won.

But Hertzog had already thrown away all his tickets.

Track officials collected all the trash bags in the Clubhouse area where Hertzog said he had discarded his tickets. Then Hertzog and his friends spent the next two hours sorting through a lot of Derby Day debris. But no winning ticket was found.

However, at about 4 p.m. Sunday, Reagan said she noticed two tickets lying at the side of her machine. Upon closer inspection she saw they were Kentucky Derby superfecta wagers, one of which was the "lost" winning ticket.

"When I punched out Chris’ tickets, there were so many that they bunched up and these two must have fallen to the side," Reagan told the Arizona Republic. "I informed management and then called Chris right away."

A total of seven $1 superfecta tickets shared in the $7.4 million pool.

In Las Vegas, there was no report of a superfecta winner, but several players hit the $133,134 trifecta (the first three finishers) and the $9,814 exacta (first and second horses).

Fiesta Rancho reported that one of its long-time customers, an 80-year-old man who is nearly blind, hit the trifecta when he boxed three horses, which produced a winning ticket that cost a mere $12.

"He was pretty excited, though he wanted to keep everything kind of quiet," said a race book supervisor. "He never said how he came up with the two longshots (Giacomo and Closing Argument) to go along with Fleet Alex. He just thanked us, took his money and left."

The exacta, trifecta and superfecta payouts established new records for exotic payoffs.

Overall Kentucky Derby betting also set new records. On-track betting totaled $10 million and off-track betting topped $93 million. The combined $103 million was the most ever bet on a North American horserace.