Updated on 09/17/2011 10:26AM

All it took was a $230.80 winner


After winning the Kentucky Derby, Funny Cide's trainer, Barclay Tagg, said he was lucky. Damian Roncevich, a construction contractor from Honolulu, said the same thing after winning $40,500 in Pick the Ponies XXII last Wednesday through Friday at the Las Vegas Hilton.

But anyone who follows handicapping tournaments knows that while luck certainly plays a factor, it also takes a lot of skill to consistently be in contending position. You have to put yourself in a position to be lucky.

Roncevich had never won a major tournament, but he has come down to the final race on several occasions, finishing in the top 10 in tourneys at the MGM Grand, Bally's, Reno Hilton, and Turf Paradise.

Roncevich tried downplaying his handicapping prowess after scoring a record 27,105 points. Pick the Ponies contestants pay $500 per entry and make 10 mythical $100 win, place, and shows bets each day, with track odds paid on the first $50 and the rest capped at $42 to win, $18 to place, and $10 to show.

It usually takes about 17,000 to win this tournament, but Roncevich and some of the other top finishers obliterated that when they tabbed It's Electric in Pimlico's ninth race, a maiden special weight on the turf.

"A friend of mine actually told me about that horse the night before," Roncevich said, "but it was a system horse for me. He was making his second start and he had an excuse in his previous race. The only bad thing was there wasn't a listed workout since his last race. But I thought he had a chance.

"I had to leave for a while, so when I put in my betting slip he was 25-1. I was stunned when I came back after the race and was told he paid over $200."

In fact, It's Electric paid a whopping $230.80 to win, $86.20 to place, and $52.60 to show. That adds up to 10,990 contest points and accounts for the number of points Roncevich scored over the average winning total. But he also had three other winners Friday (including Fiscally Speaking, who paid $96.80 in the Aegon Turf Sprint Stakes at Churchill Downs), which ensured no one else caught him.

"The real surprising thing is that I've been doing this on very little sleep," Roncevich said. "I've been working for a friend of mine while I'm in Vegas. I'm in a daze."

Roncevich might want to stick with the sleep-deprivation system as he was seen cashing a $2 ticket on the Churchill Downs pick four that ended with the Derby (it paid $7,017.50 for $1).

Patrick Gorgan of Burbank, Calif., also used It's Electric on one of his tickets to claim second place with 23,160 points. He also finished fourth with 19,520 points on another entry, and would have finished first and third if he had used It's Electric on that ticket, too.

Gorgan is also no stranger to the leader board. He won Pick the Ponies IX in October 1996 and also has had top-five finishes at the Flamingo Reno, MGM Grand, and Cal-Neva.

Gorgan collected $19,000 for his second-place finish in the field of 200, plus another $4,500 for fourth place, and an additional $1,500 for having the second-highest score Friday.

Dale Marr of Yakima, Wash., finished third with 21,275 points to earn $9,000, plus another $1,000 for his third-highest total Friday.

Another Super payday

Ed O'Reilly of Phoenix was another big winner in Las Vegas when he won $13,480 in the Super Saturdays handicapping contest at the Imperial Palace.

Contestants paid $20 per entry and made picks in races 5-10 on the Derby card. Points were based on the mutuel price of each horse, plus 20 bonus points for a win, 10 for a place, and 5 for a show.

O'Reilly had four winners and a second from his six selections. His score of 170 points was the highest in the short history of the contest, which has been run weekly since last August. In fact, O'Reilly was so far ahead of the competition that even if he hadn't selected Funny Cide, which he did, he still would have won the contest by 1 point.

Derby futures fallout

Most Derby future books in town fared pretty well with Funny Cide's victory, but he was one of three horses that hurt the bottom line for Bally's race and sports book director John Avello, oddsmaker for the Park Place Entertainment casinos. Avello opened Funny Cide at 200-1 last fall.

"We took some big bets on him early and he was down to 75-1 earlier this spring," Avello said, "but then he would lose a race and I'd raise him to 100-1 and more money would come in.

"I also had exposure on Empire Maker and Atswhatimtalknbout, so you can see I was in pretty bad shape heading for home," continued Avello with a chuckle. "But if I could do it over again I wouldn't have booked it any different. He's a gelding. He's a New York-bred. His trainer had never been there. He was at least 200-1 to even make the race, but that's the funny side of life."

* Proposition bets also had some interesting results. Frank Minervini at Coast Casinos had the over/under on the winning time at 2:01.50. The prop opened -115 each side, but when Minervini saw the track running fast he made it -130 on the under and even-money on the over. The final time was 2:01.19.

The Imperial Palace had a prop on whether Indian Express would lead after six furlongs. The "yes" was -270 with the "no" at +210. Bettors fared well betting against Indian Express as he was never on the lead after a rough start. Another Imperial Palace prop pitted Empire Maker's finishing position vs. the total goals by the Dallas Stars in the NHL playoff game. Empire Maker finished second and the Stars scored four goals.

* Vinny Magliulo of Las Vegas Dissemination Company, which serves as the wagering hub for Nevada race books, reports that $4,368,264 was wagered in the state on this year's Derby. That represents a 14.5 percent increase over last year. The total handle on all of Saturday's races was $9.3 million, up 10.3 percent from last year.

* Station Casinos had a public relations nightmare Saturday as its twin quinella, with a special Derby Day guaranteed jackpot of $10,000 instead of its regular $5,000, had to be canceled. Station's Twin Q rules state that eight horses must start in each race. In addition to the Derby, Station used the third race at Hollywood, which had 14 horses entered for the 5 1/2-furlong turf race, but when rain forced it to be moved to the dirt all but six horses were scratched. The $10,000 was carried over to Sunday's card.