A Racing Life: The Man With the $100,000 Derby Bet

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“So, the next race comes up, and I have the eight.”

Joel Einhorn is telling the story of a Pick Four sequence he once bet on the races at old Roosevelt Raceway in New York.  The vivid details, the passion in his voice make it seem like something that happened last night.

It was 27 years ago.

“The horse’s name was Valuable Doughnut.  Like I would ever forget that name,” he chuckles.

Einhorn sounds like a human race chart when describing his 52 years of following the sport.  As he talks about this fateful night in 1985 at the Nassau OTB, he gives the names and numbers of the horses he bet and a play-by-play of each race.

“Valuable Doughnut sweeps by the field and wins in a laugher.  Paid $16.

“So, that gets me through three legs, and here we go with the final race,” Einhorn says.  “I have the seven, Penman.  P-e-n-m-a-n.  Roosevelt was a half-mile track, so as they’re coming around the second time, Penman, he tilts out and makes a move around the field, coasts all the way home.”


Einhorn is not telling this story to brag about his handicapping ability.  Sure, he’s always had a “knack” for handicapping.  But right now, he’s talking about pure luck.  Einhorn played a straight Pick Four of five-four-eight-seven.

“It was the last four digits of my telephone number,” he says in his unmistakably New York accent.

Einhorn cashes the Pick Four ticket for $13,000.

“You don’t always have to be smart,” he says.  “Sometimes, it’s just about being lucky.”

A week from Saturday, Einhorn hopes fortune smiles on him again, adding another unforgettable story to his collection.  The 68-year-old from Fresh Meadows, N.Y., won the chance to place a $100,000 win wager on this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.  Einhorn was randomly selected to make the free wager through the Kentucky Derby DreamBet online contest offered by Churchill Downs, NBC Sports and CNBC for the third consecutive year.

Two years ago, Glen Fullerton of Houston won $900,000 after placing his bet on Super Saver at odds of 8-1.  Last year, Chicago’s Dave Flores fell just short when Mucho Macho Man finished third in the Derby.

Einhorn is taking his opportunity seriously.  Just not too seriously.

“Ultimately, I’ll put some names into a hat and pull one out,” Einhorn deadpans.  “I’m kidding!  That’s a joke!”

In reality, Einhorn, whose handicapping prowess landed him a spot in this year’s National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas, is taking a systematic approach to seeking out the winner.

“First, I did away with all the preconceived thoughts that were in my head about this year’s field and started over,” he says.  “The horses that I would consider the top group – I’ve looked at all their races and their Brisnet past performances, and I’ve read as much as possible about them.  I’ve also reached out to very knowledgeable people to get their opinions.”

Those people include Dr. Steve Roman, creator of the Dosage Index, and long-time writer and handicapper Steve Davidowitz, CEO of GradeOneRacing.com.

“I’ve done some very good handicapping over the course of my life,” says Einhorn.  “We can handicap and know who to choose, but the running of the race, we have no control over it.”

An Unexpected Miracle

Like a lot of people, Einhorn’s love affair with racing began with one horse.

“The first time I saw Kelso run, it was July 1960,” Einhorn recalls about his first year visiting the track as a high school student.  “He ran in an allowance race that day and won by 12 lengths in 1:34 and one.  That horse hooked me.”

It also didn’t hurt that Einhorn’s first-ever bet was a winning one.  It was a Daily Double at Aqueduct.  It paid $54.

“I remember things like it was yesterday,” Einhorn continues.  “There was this claiming race – I can give you their names if you want – but these two horses ran neck-and-neck the whole way around the track.  In racing, there’s always something exciting happening.”

Einhorn was at Belmont for each of the Triple Crown victories of the 1970′s.  The Affirmed-Alydar stretch duel in the 1978 Belmont stands out in his seemingly photographic racing mind.

“The crowd was jumping around so much, the entire third floor of the grandstand started swaying.  It was incredible.  It was like we were having an earthquake.”

But Einhorn has also seen his share of bad moments in the business.  He was at Belmont when Ruffian broke down in the 1975 match race with Foolish Pleasure – and when Go For Wand suffered the same fate at the 1990 Breeders’ Cup.  His first foray into ownership, in the mid-90′s, didn’t go very well either.

“I named him Unexpected Miracle, which was perfect, since I didn’t think I was ever going to own a racehorse,” Einhorn says.  “But he was hurting from the get-go.  We didn’t win, and I didn’t have a whole lot of fun.”

Unexpected Miracle went 0-for-10 before Einhorn sold him.  In his first start with a new owner, the colt won by 13 lengths.

“He was running on Bute that day,” Einhorn recalls.  “He ran through his discomfort.  He had a checkered career after that.”

But Einhorn kept tabs on Unexpected Miracle and eventually purchased him back for $1,000 to ensure the horse had a proper retirement.  He’s now 19 years old, living a peaceful existence in New Hampshire.  Einhorn still gets reports on him.

“That’s as important to me as anything, that former Thoroughbred racehorses get saved and don’t end up in the slaughter house,” says Einhorn, who’s been involved since the beginning of the Exceller Fund, a rescue group started by racing fans in 1997.  The group was named for the 1970′s star, Exceller, who won 11 Group or Grade 1 races in North America and Europe. He never won a year-end championship but was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.

Exceller was sent to slaughter in Europe at age 23.

‘I guess my luck is average’

After another bad ownership experience, Einhorn limited his involvement to partnerships, and he found some success.

“We had a lot of winners, a lot of pictures, a lot of fun,” he says.
Like everyone in the racing business, Einhorn has felt the swings of fortune.  He says his luck is “no better than anyone else’s,” but he seems to hold his own when it comes to serendipity.

“I saw a commercial for a chance to win the bet,” Einhorn says of the $100,000 wager.  “It wasn’t something I was thinking about at all.  I wasn’t planning to go to the Kentucky Derby.”

But he entered the contest, and he won.  As he heads to Louisville next week, his lips are sealed about who his horse might be.  Not a word.  He plans to tell no one until he announces it publicly during the Derby telecast on NBC.

“Once I reveal the horse, I’ll hear opinions from everyone about it.  I don’t need that stress.  I put enough pressure on myself.

“When push comes to shove, it’s going to be luck,” he says.  “If I have it down to four horses, I’m going have to choose one of them.  That horse is going to have to have a good trip.  A clean trip that gives me a shot at winning.  That’s all I can ask.”

Whether Einhorn gets the breaks this time or not, one thing’s for sure.  He’ll be able to tell you everything about the moment.

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  • Nucky Thompson

    I hope I look that good at 68 !. He sounds like a really good guy and glad that the kindness he showed to Unexpected Miracle has been suitably rewarded.

  • roger

    Good luck Derby Day but I just wonder in the age where thoroughbred racing is desperately seeking new fans/young fans……does a $100k Win bet on a horse convey the  message the industry wants?I’m sure parents of teenagers watching probably take a dim view.

    The network gives it great coverage on Derby Day leading up to the selection but really….how many current customers bet $100k to win only…..we have several “bridge jumpers” that bet $100k to Show once in awhile.

    I just think the industry would benefit more if the $100k was split up amongst more lucky fans and they had the option to bet either Win – Win/place – Win/place/show.

  • Cindy

    I think Joel could be a great ambassador for horse racing! He is good-looking, smart, AND has a soft heart. Wow, really wish I could sit down and talk to him about all the reasons he loves the Sport of Kings. Good luck with your bet, Joel!!

  • Don Reed

    Good luck, Joel!  Five doughnuts with a one in front is a lot of dough.

    Scott: As for the bet itself, is the actual amount of the bet paid for in physical dollars by the contest’s sponsors, or is a $100,000 ticket punched up by the Churchill Downs management without the track receiving actual cash?

  • Scott Jagow

     Good question, Don.  According to the rules, the sweepstakes company handling the contest for the sponsors does place an actual wager.  The contestant never touches the money, though, to avoid taxation on the $100,000.

  • LongTimeEconomist

    It would be interesting to see a followup story of the guy who won this bet last year. Has it changed his life?  Has he bet it all back? Etc., etc. 

  • Don Reed

    Scott, I would assume that the sponsors would hand the sweeps co. a check for about $125,000; they take their cut & then place the bet for their consortium client, on behalf of the contest winner.

    Let’s hope that Joel has a mandatory appointment with the IRS, after the Derby.  This is possibly the only positive context imaginable in reference to Our Automatic Friends, after a score.

  • Ida Lee

    Well, it’s more money than the $12. I’m splurging on the Derby this year…yeah, that’s right $12…$6. on my top 3 favorites and $6 on the 3 longest long shots…that $2 a piece and I’m going to have so much fun…whether $2 or $2,000 or $200,000. But, this is a nice guy and I hope he does well no matter on what or how much he bets.

  • Jgeills

    Good Point.  But, I think that people really like the idea of hitting it big.  All of my non racing fans were extremely intrigued by the Super Saver story and the 100k bet.  It does make a great story.

  • Wingtips

    Having now known Joel for over 10 years via a horse partnership, he’s a great guy and a very good handicapper.  Best of luck!

  • stillriledup

    Go Get Em Joel!

     

  • MIGHTYKELSO

    Thanks one and all for your good wishes. Thanks again Scott for making me sound so special in your article. I’m really just one of the “guys”. :-)

  • Don Reed

    Oh Ida, you mad bomber, you.  

  • GL

    Glad to see a knowledgeable handicapper win this chance.

    However, I will say as most guys who have the answers as handicappers he didn’t as an owner. He ran Unexpected Miracle unsuccessfully 10 times at maiden alw in NY and shouldnt be surprised that the horse won at Suffolk, forget the bute. Surprised they didn’t take all of the heart out of the horse, reminds me of a certain bar owner that continues to campaign Bulletgirl.

  • Bonnie Mizrahi

    My greatest thanks and appreciation to Joel for being a founding and loyal member of The Exceller Fund.  Many people do not really understand that The Exceller Fund was the response from racing fans to the tragic news of Exceller.  We were started by, and for the most part, supported by the every days fans of racing and people who simply admire Thoroughbreds for the embodiment of heart and spirit and the indomitable will to win.  Even the “cheapest” claiming horse bears that proud heritage, so it breaks a small part of our soul every time one of these noble creatures ends up cruelly neglected or on the slaughterhouse floor.

  • Pulpit

    Everyone from the “Galt House Gang” was pulling for you on Saturday, first and foremost as I am sure you have for us had the roles been reversed.

    Glad that everything appears to be going well, you and the bride looked very well on TV and your first interview cracked me up (CROSS HIM OFF THE LIST!!)

    Take care, hope to see you at Belmont sometime soon.

    Jeff H.

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