01/27/2011 6:57PM

Surprise jackpot


Five-horse fields are not the right cup of tea for most bettors.

The racing card Thursday at Santa Anita opened with a five-horse field.

Betting value? There was none, probably.

Schuylkill Punch was odds-on in the $40,000 maiden-claiming sprint.

It was a good race to pass.

The Santa Anita press box windows were open on the blue-sky, summer-like day. It was 78 degrees and relatively quiet as the horses neared the gate for the first race of the week.

A handicapper looked up from his laptop and eyed the infield tote board. He noticed something odd.

Schuylkill Punch (No. 6) had more than $100,000 bet on him to show. The entire show pool (total bet on all five runners) was only a few thousand higher.

“Show plunge!” he shouted and raced to the betting window.

“Five dollars to show numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4,” the man said. No. 5 already had scratched. It was a $20 bet, with a maximum loss of just under $10. Two had to hit the board.

When the horses broke from the gate, Schuylkill Punch (No. 6) had $115,200 wagered on him to show, from a total show pool of $123,713.

The worst-case scenario was the favorite would finish somewhere one-two-three. Two of the other four would run in, two would run out.

You see, when the “phantom plunger” bets, it is practically mandatory to play against. Usually, the favorite hits the board. A $2.10 show payoff on Schuylkill Punch would mean a profit of 5 cents per dollar for the plunger. Really swell.

But every so often, the favorite blows.

A pace duel unfolded. Schuylkill Punch, the favorite, battled head-and-head. Turning for home, he was in trouble. The favorite's pace rival began to pull away.

Schuylkill Punch began to back up. Two others rallied outside.

Four horses hit the wire together, and from between horses it looked like the favorite was out.

The official sign came down – the favorite finished fourth!

The $2 show payoffs were $40.60, $29 and $22.20.

The $5 show payoffs were $101.50, $72.50 and $55.50.

Total return for $20 wagered was $229.50.

Betting value is usually minimal in five-horse fields on sleepy weekdays at Santa Anita.

But you never know when something weird might happen.