05/25/2017 1:45PM

All-in play, DQ vault Sima to the top

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When Pacific Heat powered away to win the Fran’s Valentine Stakes in Santa Anita’s nightcap, Florine Sima thought he was sunk in the Santa Anita Preakness contest. He closed his Racing Form and was headed to the door of the Eddie Logan Suite, Santa Anita’s VIP area. Then he heard a friend say what would become a magic word, “inquiry.”

Sima had gone all in on the race, wagering $1,600 to win on Moonless Sky at 6-1 and another $400 in verticals. Eventually, his number got put up and he figured to cash for around $27,000. The next question was, would it be enough? Sima stood nervously at one of the high-top tables in the Logan, chatting with Santa Anita president Joe Morris. A few minutes later, track announcer Michael Wrona made the announcement: Sima was the winner.

“I’ve had big scores before, but to score like this in a contest it’s something else for me, something special,” said Sima, who would walk with a prize package worth over $80,000 including his bankroll. “There are so many good players.”

It was poetic justice for Sima, a victim of a DQ on Saturday that would have gotten him up around $10,000 in the contest had Crown the Kitten not been taken down.

Despite Sunday’s controversial DQ, it was a popular result. Sima, 62, is a regular at the Logan Suite, personally recruited to play there by Santa Anita VIP concierge Tom Quigley. He credits Quigley, Santa marketing vice president Nate Newby, and Morris with getting him involved in contest play around three years ago.

Sima has an auto mechanic business in Burbank and is of Romanian descent. He sometimes plays in contests with an American friend whom he’s taught numbers in Romanian, so they can communicate openly. Even if their competition is listening in, they’ll have no idea what number the "patru" is.

He’s been playing horses for 35 years, ever since a fateful day at Hollywood Park.

“I got into it by accident,” he said. “In 1982, a friend invited me to the racetrack. I’d never been and didn’t know anything about racing. I saw movie stars on my left and my right. My friend asked me who I liked in a race and I said, ‘Give me the 5-4 exacta box.’ Those were the ages of my two children.”

He played a $10 exacta – the minimum was $5 back then – and it came in for $800. He became a fan for life, one who makes a point of attending the races in person even though there are abundant other options these days.

“I’ve been to different tracks but Santa Anita is special,” he said. “It’s a beautiful track and the management is great.”

Sima shared the win with his wife, Maria, who was beaming after the results were announced. “She’s the best lady and our relationship is great,” he said. “Sometimes she tells me, ‘Be careful not to bet too much money,’ and I tell her, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t spend it all.’ ”

For a full leaderboard and list of prizes, go to http://www.santaanita.com/events/2016-santa-anita-preakness-challenge.