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07-07-07 | Bill Dwyre

He's glad he let it ride

With $1,000 in the bank, a struggling bettor turns a $432 pick-six investment into about $600,000. It came down to a photo finish for the delivery man who once had to sell his house because of drug use.

July 07, 2007|Bill Dwyre | Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. For previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

For the second time in less than a month, horse racing has enjoyed a Rags To Riches moment.

The first, of course, was the marvelous filly of that name winning the Belmont Stakes with a stirring stretch run that beat the boys June 9.

And now, we have marvelous horse player Steve Mitchell, hitting the wire perfectly in Monday's pick six at Hollywood Park. If they had a winners' circle for bettors, Mitchell would get his picture taken with a check for about $600,000.

Mitchell's story is special because his successful pick six was all his. Frequently, the winners in this super bowl of exotic betting are a syndicate of 27 rich guys in coats and ties in high-rise offices, combining to invest $10,000 on a ticket that has so many permutations you need an MBA from the Wharton School to understand it.

This time, at least two of the perfect bets were made by average Joes, including father-daughter Jack and Lyn Ford, who put down a total of $6 at Los Alamitos and got a return of $1,154,321.

Mitchell's investment was $432. In his case, the term "money well spent" has seldom been more appropriate.

Mitchell is a 53-year-old working stiff who has lived his life pretty much from hand to mouth to betting window. The closest thing Mitchell has to a savings account is the loose change in his couch.

He has been around racing most of his life, once holding an assistant trainer's license, once being a hot walker for Hall of Fame horse Cougar II in the '70s, and, more recently, a groom for another great horse, McCann's Mojave. Along the way, he also ran a mud and carrot business, supplying trainers with mud that would help heal horses' hoofs and carrots that would heal their vegetable-tooth cravings.

"Wasn't a bad little business," he said. "Made $30,000 in it one year."

But he lost that business and just about everything else about six years ago.

"I was doing crack cocaine," he said. "Had a house in Ontario, and had to sell that. That stuff is tough. I still think about it every day, but I haven't done it again, and I won't."

To get on his feet, he gravitated back to racing, and got jobs delivering racing programs from Hollywood Park and the Racing Form to area tracks and satellite betting sites. His normal day starts with pickups at 1 p.m. and ends when he returns home to Arcadia at about 1 a.m.

"I've got a Mazda truck that's one year and three months old," he said, "and it has 110,000 miles on it. Every time I take it in for an oil change, which is about every three weeks, the guys at the shop look at me and say, 'You again?' "

Of course, to supplement his income, or more often to deplete it, he continued to make his way to the betting windows.

"I won an $11,500 trifecta last year," he said, "but that was all gone now."

When he bought his pick six ticket Monday, his bank account was down to $1,000. He had bet the pick six Sunday and had four winners, which pays nothing, and had decided to lay off Monday.

"I was down $2,500 for the year," he said.

And so he left his money at home, at the room he rents from a woman in Arcadia, and headed to a Staples store to pick up a faxed route of his delivery schedules for the day. But when he pondered how large the pick six pool had grown -- it eventually got to a record $10.87 million -- he turned around, got his money and headed to Santa Anita to get down his combinations in a $432 ticket.

"I changed my mind, thank God," Mitchell said.

Then he went to a nearby Starbucks to do his route invoices, thinking little about the bet because that sort of anticipation had let him down so many times before. He couldn't watch the races at home because they don't get the racing channel TVG.

"I called and got the results," he said, "and then, after I won the fourth race, I started shaking."

For the sixth race of his bet (eighth race at Hollywood Park), Mitchell was on the phone with his delivery route boss, Dave Stranski, who was watching on TV.

"Dave is telling me that the 2 horse is in the lead, and that's one I had tossed out for my bet," Mitchell said. "I'm feeling sick and then he says, 'Here comes the 9 on the outside. It looks close, maybe a nose.' "

Mitchell's agony was prolonged by a photo finish. But it quickly came down, making official that the 9 horse, Extreme Notice, which had come from six lengths back in the stretch, had caught and passed the 2 horse, Oh Shine, to win by a head. Extreme Notice was the longest-odds winner in the pick six, going off at 18-1.

"I had changed to him because Jose Valdivia Jr. was riding him," Mitchell said. "He had ridden McCann's Mojave for us and I am fond of him, so I went with his horse."

Mitchell quickly speculated that his ticket would be worth about $25,000. Much depends on how many winning tickets there are.

"Dave was saying it looked like more than $500,000, and I was calling him a liar," Mitchell said. "I just couldn't believe it."

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