05/04/2006 11:00PM

First Jumbo Race payout a win for the little guy

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LAS VEGAS - Jerry Jennings will be the answer to a Las Vegas trivia question: "Who was the first winner of the Jumbo Race Jackpot?"

Jennings won $14,790.12 on Wednesday at Sunset Station as the lucky winner of the first Jumbo Race Jackpot for horseplayers. Jumbo Race was immediately reset at $5,000 and will be building again toward the must-pay limit of $15,000.

Station Casinos began Jumbo Race to reward horseplayers at each of its eight racebooks. A real frenzy started once the jackpot surpassed $14,000. It's free to play Jumbo Race. To play, all you need to do is sign up for a Station Boarding Pass card, and every time you make a horse bet, get your card swiped. The winners are chosen randomly. If you are a winner, you know it right after your card is swiped.

"It's a moment that you wait for your whole life," said Jennings. "I honestly didn't think I had a chance to win it. I figured some guy would walk off the street and win it."

Jennings retired in 2004. He is a longtime member of the carpenter's union. Originally from New York, he started playing the horses in Miami at Calder Race Course in 1970. Jennings moved to Las Vegas in 1993. He went to Colorado for 16 months, but was happy to be back in Henderson last Wednesday.

"I spent $12 on race 4 at Belmont," he said. "I hit the exacta, too. I walked away from the window and I heard the announcement, 'We have a winner at Sunset Station.' I glanced up at the board and saw my name."

For the record, Jennings bought his winning ticket at 12:24 p.m. from Jeanne Di Nunzio, your newest lucky ticket writer.

Prior to Wednesday, the biggest horse racing win for Jennings was a $1 trifecta box that paid $3,500. His interest in racing was sparked after reading Tom Ainslie's classic newcomers book "The Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing."

Even though his bankroll has increased substantially, Jennings doesn't figure to change his betting ways. "I'm a small-time player," he said. "I try betting a little to win a lot."

Two final things about Jennings's big win. He had his picture taken in front of a TV screen that showed his name and the winning Jumbo Race amount of $14,790.12. I suspect that photo will be displayed somewhere in the Sunset racebook for posterity.

After getting paid in cash, Jennings left a big tip for Di Nunzio and the other Sunset ticket writers. So kudos to Jennings for a classy act in topping off a dream day for an everyday horseplayer.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of "Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies."