05/08/2005 11:00PM

Huge payouts, handle rewrite record book

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Trainer John Shirreffs celebrates Giacomo's 50-1 win.

The record-setting payoffs for the 2005 at Churchill Downs on Saturday may be remembered far longer than the winner of the race.

The Derby results, which defied every handicapping dictate save those based in mysticism, numerology, and chaos theory, led to record payouts in nearly every wagering category for the Derby, including several all-time North American records for any race. Those results were in turn bolstered by record-setting betting numbers for Churchill on Derby Day, with total betting on the Derby breaking the $100 million mark for the first time.

It was an unforgettable day for the winners, who were few and far between.

Capped by the 50-1 Derby winner, Giacomo, the $1 superfecta, cashed by seven ticket-holders, paid $846,253.50, a North American record. The $1 trifecta paid $133,134.80, earning ticket-holders enough for a small Midwest house, or a down payment on an apartment in the toniest Brooklyn neighborhoods. The $2 exacta, at $9,814.80, got a ticket-holder a pretty nice used car.

Giacomo, the longest shot to win the Derby since Donerail in 1913, was followed by an even unlikelier choice, Closing Argument, who was second at 71-1. The trifecta was filled out by Afleet Alex, the 9-2 second choice, and the fourth-place finisher, Don't Get Mad, completed the superfecta at 30-1. Bellamy Road, the 5-2 favorite in the 20-horse field, finished off the board.

The combination of longshots triggered not only record prices in the exotic pools, but also the mandatory federal withholding tax on nearly every exotic ticket cashed on the Derby. The exacta, trifecta, and superfecta, along with the pick six, pick four, and pick six that ended with the Derby, all paid off at more than $5,000, requiring the IRS to withhold 25 percent of the winnings on each ticket. (The IRS also requires that any winnings more than 300-1 and $600 be reported, but taxes do not have to be withheld.)

Under current tax regulations, the Internal Revenue Service should have withheld roughly $10.5 million from winning tickets on Saturday's Derby.

Federal taxes reduced the exacta payout from $9,814.80 to $7,361.10. The trifecta was reduced from $133,134.80 to $99,851.10 after federal taxes. The $1 superfecta was a little less life-changing after taxes reduced the payout from $846,253.50 to $634,689.

The pick three, pick four, and pick six payoffs also triggered the 25 percent withholding. The pick three ending with the Derby paid $21,335.20, or $16,001.40 after taxes. The pick four paid $164,168.60, or $123.126.45 after taxes.

No one picked all six winners in the pick six, which paid $11,228.20 for picking five of six winners, or $8,421.15 after taxes, with only 25 percent of the total pool awarded to winning ticket holders. The federal government has another shot at a big payday on Wednesday, when bettors will chase a $471,588 pick six carryover at Churchill.

And since most of the winning ticket-holders are not likely to be professional gamblers, who can offset their winnings with carefully documented losses during the rest of the year for a refund of the withholding, most of that money will stay in the federal government's coffers.

According to John Asher, the vice president of communications for Churchill, the seven $1 superfecta tickets were sold at a variety of locations. One was purchased at Turf Paradise in Arizona, two were purchased at sites in New Jersey, one was purchased at Philadelphia Park, and one each came from unidentified sites through the New England hub, the Nevada hub, and the Maine hub. The Maine hub typically serves offshore rebate sites.

The winning ticket sold at Turf Paradise nearly went uncashed. It was part of a purchase of 50 $1 trifectas and 50 $1 superfectas by Christopher Hertzog, a 16-year veteran of the Phoenix Fire department, who initially though he had thrown it away. Track management arranged a search of all trash bags in the area, to no avail. It was not until the next day that a mutuel clerk who remembered Hertzog as the only bettor using quick-picks found the missing ticket, still laying by the side of her mutuel machine.)

All told, betting on the Kentucky Derby, including $42,296,149 in the win, place, and show pools, was a record $103,325,510, up 4 percent from last year, according to Churchill Downs. It was the first time any race in North America had drawn more than $100 million in wagers.

Ontrack, $10,055,508 was bet on the Derby this year, compared with $9,488,539 last year. Attendance was 156,435 on a picture-perfect spring day, up 12 percent from last year, when the Derby was run under a downpour. The attendance was the second-largest in history, but Churchill officials maintain that the record of 163,628, set in 1974, will likely never be broken, because of renovations that have reduced the infield's capacity.

For the 12-race card, total betting was $155,133,631, a record for any race card ever in North America, and up 9 percent from last year, when total betting was $142,848,289, a record at the time.

Betting and attendance records were undoubtedly helped by Churchill's $121 million renovation, which was completed in time for the Derby this year. Last year, the reconstruction was ongoing when the Derby was held.

Asher said that there were no major operational problems on Saturday, other than a few glitches.

"It wasn't problem-free, said Asher, "but I don't think we can happier."

The 90-minute overnight Nielsen rating for the Derby broadcast on NBC-TV held steady compared with previous years, at 8.2, with a 19 share. In three of the past four years, including last year, the overnight rating was an 8.3. Final ratings will be released on Thursday.

- additional reporting by Michael Hammersly