At long last, racetrack operators have hit upon an idea that could get the general public interested in horse racing, and give the flagging industry a much-needed boost.
Pick all seven winners of the Breeders' Cup on Saturday and win a jackpot approaching the size of the Florida lottery.
That's the concept, and it's being instituted for the first time this week.
What makes the bet so appealing is that the nation's best horses are running in the seven Breeders' Cup races for purses totaling $10 million. The entire card is televised nationally by NBC (Channel 2 here) on a four-hour program, starting at noon Saturday.
Betting windows at Laurel and Pimlico open today to take bets on the Breeders' Cup National Pick 7, two days before the actual Breeders' Cup races are run at Churchill Downs.
The premise is simple: all the money bet at 600 pari-mutuel outlets in 30 states will go into one gigantic pool. Whoever comes up with the winning combination will receive an estimated $10 million to $30 million, depending on the total bet.
It could be the largest single pari-mutuel pool ever generated in North America.
There is no carryover pool. All the money will be paid out. There is a tiered payout schedule: 75 percent of the net pool will be split among people who select winners of all seven Breeders' Cup races. Then a 25 percent consolation payoff will be split among those selecting six of seven winners. If no one selects all seven winners, 100 percent of the net pool will be split among those fans who pick the greatest number of winners.
Betting on the Pick 7 begins when the tracks open today and continues until five minutes before Saturday's 12:15 p.m. post time at Churchill Downs.
The fields for the seven Breeders' Cup races were drawn yesterday. Complete records of the horses appear in racing publications.
"The possibilities are endless, if the Pick 7 is as successful as we anticipate," said Jim Mango, Laurel's general manager and vice president of operations. Mango mentioned that there is the possibility of a weekly nationwide race card, and such exotic bets as Laurel's Double Triple could be played nationally. There is also the possibility of a co-mingled international Breeders' Cup pool in future years.
"We just need to get the technology in place," Mango said. "The Breeders' Cup Pick 7 is a test. Success on Saturday will spur future development."
The procedure for placing a Pick 7 bet is fairly standard. The bet costs $2 for each seven-number combination. It must be placed locally at either Laurel or Pimlico and winning tickets can only be cashed there. Fill out a special Pick 7 card, place it in an automated teller machine or simply hand it to a teller at any betting window. If a fan doesn't want to fill out a card, he or
she can walk up to any window and give the teller a Pick 7 bet.
Post time for Breeders' Cup day at Laurel will be at 10 a.m. Saturday. The track will run five live races, then pick up the Breeders' Cup simulcast from Churchill Downs. The seven Breeders' Cup races will be races six through 12 at Laurel. After the Breeders' Cup program is complete, Laurel will run three more live races.
"It is an unusual format," Mango said. He added that he anticipates about $200,000 will be bet locally on the Pick 7 and has hired extra employees to staff the windows.
"This is an excellent way to get the general public involved in racing," Mango said. "It should be a lot more fun to bet on a horse race than to let a computer pick a bunch of numbers in a lottery."
In the event of a late scratch, the ticket holder will get a substitute horse, the post time favorite at the host track at Churchill Downs.
In addition to the Pick 7, there will be all other types of regular betting available on the Breeders' Cup races.
Say so-long to Pick 7 long shots
* Favorites usually fare well in the Breeders' Cup. Four choices won last year at Belmont Park, and three won the last time (1988) the races were run on a wet track at Churchill Downs. So don't go wild and pick all long shots in your Pick 7 selections.
If the Pick 7 had debuted a year ago at Belmont, there probably would have been 5,000 winning tickets. The longest shot to win in 1990 was Safely Kept, an overlay at 12-1 odds.
Housebuster, Dance Smartly and In Excess appear to be the favorites with the best shot to win this year, although In Excess could be vulnerable on grass.
The 2-year-old races are wide-open. There are no Meadow Stars or Fly So Frees among these juveniles. This is ripe ground for upsets.
The Breeders' Cup Turf is deep in quality. If the Louisville grass is on the soft side, look for the Europeans to dominate. The Classic lacks standouts in the Sunday Silence-Easy Goer mold. Last year the Derby winner, Unbridled, returned to form and won the Classic. Strike the Gold fits this pattern this year.
My $2 Pick 7 numbers? 2-9-9-7-4-4-8. By post time, there are bound to be variations on this theme.