Walking past a television screen Thursday night, Norm Towne looked up and saw that "Gorgeous George" won the Daily Derby, the California Lottery's newest game.
"That brought back memories of growing up in Chicago," said Towne, executive director of the Federation of California Racing Assns. "Remember Gorgeous George, the wrestler? He appeared in Chicago a lot in those days."
In Daily Derby, there is no real race, merely a computerized drawing to select the first three finishers and the winning time. It costs $2--the standard racetrack bet--to play, and winners are anyone who picks (a) the winning "horse," (b) the correct time, (c) the exacta of the first two horses, (d) the trifecta of three horses, or (e) the trifecta plus the correct time. Picking all three horses and the time would earn a player the grand prize, which would be the amount of money built up in the parimutuel pool. The lottery says that the odds are 1,320,000-1 against hitting the big one. Because the time must be selected in hundredths, the odds are 1,001-1 that anyone would hit that. "Gorgeous George" ran his "race" Thursday in 1:48.46.
At Santa Anita, such a time would be about three seconds slower than the track record for 1 1/8 miles. But any connection between the Daily Derby and Santa Anita ended shortly after the track gave the California Lottery permission to shoot some of its commercial footage there.
"That was about a month ago, and that's the last we heard from them," said Cliff Goodrich, president of Santa Anita. "There was talk then about cross-marketing the lottery game with the racetracks. I guess they got cold feet about any ties with racing."
A lottery spokeswoman, Norma Minas, said Friday that it is unlikely there will be a marketing cooperative involving Daily Derby and the tracks.
"Anything like that is on the back burner," Minas said.
If on any burner at all. In a perfect world, the lottery would be running a weekly Derby game, with the winners determined by a race every Saturday at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park or Del Mar. There would be a 30-minute telecast ballyhooing the race. John Forsythe, horse owner and celebrity, would be the host, and people not familiar with racing would be drawn to the sport.
Instead, racing is along for the generic lottery ride, deriving only token benefits at a time when every racing executive in California is desperate to halt the shrinking fan base.
The California Lottery probably has a good memory. In 1984, the lottery started here, after much weeping, wailing and opposition from the racing industry. The first day of the new lottery, the wife of a California track executive hit a pretty good payoff. He didn't know whether to brag about their luck or hope none of his colleagues found out. Even today, you can't buy a lottery ticket at Santa Anita; the thinking persists that horseplayers shouldn't be funneling their betting money to another coffer.
Not all of racing thought the lottery was an eyesore. In 1993, Jim Smith, the late quarter horse executive from Los Alamitos, stood up at a conference in a Pasadena hotel and said: "Racing had the opportunity to be the lottery. But we couldn't agree what to do among ourselves. We shot ourselves in the foot and lost our chance forever."
Now racing is groveling a little and the lottery is saying no thanks. Late last year, there was a meeting in Sacramento of lottery officials with racing executives who included Ralph Scurfield, chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, and John Van de Kamp, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.
"The atmosphere seemed like a breath of fresh air," Van de Kamp said. "Bill Popejoy [director of the state lottery] is a good guy. He's an Orange County guy and identifies with the tracks down this way. There was a lot of talk about cross-marketing. Racing had opposed the lottery early on, but now our posture is if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. What we have [with Daily Derby] isn't much, but at least it has some educational value. Racing is such an intimidating game. Now people playing the lottery will learn what an exacta and a trifecta are. I'd like to see them go to another game, one that has connections with live racing."
In 1989, Churchill Downs and the Kentucky state lottery banded together on a game that included the Kentucky Derby. It was the first time the lottery there sold a $2 ticket. Losers in the game mailed in their tickets, and 12 winners in a drawing were invited to the Derby. Each of the 12 was assigned a horse running in the Derby, and the lottery player who drew Sunday Silence, the winner of the race, won $1 million.
"We fought the lottery in California, to our detriment," Norm Towne said. "On this racing game, we made a proposal to the lottery that we thought was a good one. But it just sat there and languished. Now we just have to go forward. We hope to meet with the lottery people again.'