Saratoga Springs

Seven friends, all Saratoga Springs High School graduates, cash in big on Kentucky Derby … by mistake

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Tiz the Law was a lock.

He was such a sure thing in the Kentucky Derby last Saturday that Matt Bullard and six friends singled him in the final leg of the late Pick 5 bet at Churchill Downs.

Like safecrackers turning the dial, they got the tumblers to click every step of the way until the last one, the Derby.

Then, they got that sickening feeling when you’re so close to the payoff, but get busted because of one careless mistake. Bullard’s friend, Tony, who punched in the  Pick 5 bet on his laptop, had hit No. 18 instead of 17, the latter being Tiz the Law’s number, as the only horse they had in the fifth leg.

“So I looked at him and said, ‘Hey, Tone, what happened in the last leg? You picked the 18,'” Bullard said on Wednesday. “And I think he realized it about the same  time I did.

“He looked back at me like he wanted to throw up.”

Bullard, a 32-year-old Clifton Park resident, was able to laugh when he recounted this, because his friend’s mistake led to a windfall of $76,653.45 to be split equally among the seven friends, all Saratoga Springs High School graduates and staunch horse racing fans and players.

Authentic was the 18, and when he beat Tiz the Law by a length and a quarter, the seven friends cashed in big.

And Tony was allowed to remain in the circle.

Capital Region racing fans have grown to love Tiz the Law because of his brilliance and also for his connection to the area, owned as he is by the Saratoga Springs-based Sackatoga Stable, who also campaigned 2003 Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide. So it was with much disappointment around here that Tiz the Law was beaten in  the Derby.

For at least one small pocket of buddies, that disappointment was tempered by a tidy profit, whether they had intended to bet that way or not.

“We all thought Authentic would be second or third choice and that he would at least get the lead and he would have a chance to deal with Tiz,” Bullard said. “But we all kept our cool when we realized the mistake. The best part is we’re all a good group of friends. We’ve all known each other for almost 20 years.”

The late Pick 5 last Saturday at Churchill covered races 10 through 14, with a $0.50 minimum.

All you have to do is select the winning horse in each race, and Bullard and his crew put themselves in position to hit it with deep, multi-horse spreads in the first four legs to set up the single make-or-break pick in the Derby.

With those deep spreads, the price of the ticket can get expensive, which is why it makes sense to pool resources among a group of people.

The seven friends agreed to put in as much as $100 each, and ended up spending $68 each on a $480 ticket that included a 10-horse “ALL” in the first leg, four of six horses in the second, four of seven in the third and six of 10 in the fourth, with just Tiz the Law to hold down the fort in the fifth.

Or so they thought.

“Two legs in, I asked Tony what we had in the next race, and he said, ‘Oh, we’ve got a good bunch of horses.’ So let’s look at the ticket, and as soon as we looked at it, I immediately realized we had the 18 in the final leg,” Bullard said.

“A friend of ours was having a nice Derby party in Galway, so when we first recognized it, we were like, well, that’s . . . interesting. We were stuck with the ticket.  Actually, none of us really got too uptight about it. We figured what we would end up doing is hedge betting a bunch of money with Tiz in the superfectas and the whole nine.”

Of course, there are worse mistakes Tony could’ve made by picking the wrong horse in that 15-horse Derby field.

By getting “stuck” with Authentic, the 76ers — as they call themselves now after their $76,653.45 win — stumbled into the third choice in the betting, a horse who had been one of the most dominating 3-year-olds in the country this season.

Bullard said they also felt a little better because the highly touted Gamine had been beaten in the Kentucky Oaks the day before, suggesting that upsets were in the air, and because trainer Bob Baffert had said that Authentic sometimes is bothered by big crowds. There were no fans allowed into Churchill last week because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So we come down to the last leg and we’re alive,” Bullard said. “Tony looked at the payout, and he said, ‘Oh, my god, it’s looking like it’s just under $77,000.’ So, all right, well, great, because that gave us a lot of room to put money on 17.

“So we all sat down and got ready to watch the race. When they came out of the gate, we felt terrible about the pick, because Authentic got a terrible break. When they  came around the turn, we thought Tiz was going to go right by him, because Manny Franco was kind of looking back to see if anybody else was coming. So we all felt like Tiz the Law had plenty of horse.

“When they set him down, it almost looked like Tiz the Law took almost a misstep, whereas Authentic was going out to kind of greet him. That’s when we realized we  might’ve made the right move.”

It’s a move his friend Tony might not be in a position to make for future collaborative betting ventures.

“I think we might be a little reluctant to put him at the wheel,” Bullard said with a laugh. “He made a comment the other day that, ‘You know, we’ve got to be known now as the 76ers. We all have to get Philadelphia 76ers jerseys.’ We all got a kick out of that.

“It made for a good story, and definitely a good time.”

 Reach Mike MacAdam at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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