Updated on 09/17/2011 11:47AM

Pick 6 winner faces skeptics

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Dick Kettlewell
On October 25, horseplayer Graham Stone turned $8 into $2.7 million.

Graham Stone, the 40-year-old South Dakotan who hit the Breeders' Cup pick six on Saturday with his longtime business partner, knows what he would like to do with a portion of his $2.7 million in winnings.

"My dream has always been to go to Saratoga," Stone said Tuesday. "I've never been to a live racetrack. I'd love to go. But I'm kind of stuck here."

"Here" is Rapid City, S.D., where Stone lives with his wife and three children and where he became one of the more unlikely people ever to hit the Breeders' Cup pick six. Stone plays only casually, he said, but he follows horse racing year-round on television. He put together an $8 ticket for the pick six - a wager in which some syndicates invested tens of thousands of dollars - and ended up the only winner. And he said he will split the money with his business partner of 20 years, who did not participate in the handicapping.

In any other year, Stone's success would be the stuff of fairy tales. But Stone hit the bet one year after three former college roommates rigged a pick-six ticket on the Breeders' Cup at Arlington Park. The three eventually pleaded guilty to fraud charges and were sentenced to prison. Ever since, the racing industry has had to endure a torrent of scrutiny that was bound to cast doubt on any lone winner this year.

Stone's success had eerie similarities to the pick-six fix. Last year, the winning ticket used four singles, just like Stone's. But Stone used only two horses in the other two legs - the second and fourth - whereas the rigged ticket used all the horses in the last two legs. Last year, there was only one winning ticket, just like this year. The payoffs were also in line: $2.5 million for all six last year, $2.6 million this year.

Almost wearily, Stone said that he understood the questions surrounding his winning wager. But he said he follows horse racing closely and that it saddened him to read about the pick-six scandal last year.

"I really like horse racing, and I love to watch it," Stone said. "You hate to see [the sport] in all the papers for the wrong reasons."

Stone spoke on a conference call set up by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which has led the effort to enhance the security of the country's electronic wagering system since last year's scandal. On the call, NTRA officials detailed the steps they had taken to ensure that Stone's bet was legitimate, and they said they had no doubts that Stone won without cheating.

But others were doubtful. Jim O'Donnell, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, pressed Stone on the conference call for any connection of his with Racing Services Inc., an offtrack betting company in North Dakota that was placed in receivership this year by government regulators after the company failed to pay state and local taxes. Stone said he had no connection to the company. Later, when Stone said that his sister had introduced him to racing after she managed an offtrack betting parlor in Rapid City, O'Donnell again peppered Stone with requests for clarifications.

The offtrack betting parlor, a bar and restaurant, went out of business two years ago and had no connection to Racing Services, according to Larry Eliason, executive secretary for the South Dakota Commission on Gaming. Eliason said such questions were becoming frustrating to him as well.

"The Breeders' Cup people know better than me, but I have no indication that this was anything but a legitimate bet," Eliason said. "I don't know the guy personally, but people told me that he's just a guy who plays every so often and he got lucky."

Stone said that he and his business partner, Will Dixon, split bets on the Breeders' Cup every year. This year, the total stake was $80. The pick-six ticket cost $8; the rest was spent on rolling pick threes.

Stone acknowledged that luck played a part in his success. He selected Six Perfections in the Mile, one of his four singles on the ticket, because he was looking for a closer. Since Six Perfections had Jerry Bailey, he went with her. In the Turf, he inexplicably switched his bet at the last minute from Falbrav, the eventual third-place finisher, to High Chaparral.

"I don't know why I did that," Stone said.

After placing the bets at 10:11 a.m. Mountain time - about 70 minutes before the first Breeders' Cup race - at a local betting shop, Stone returned home and watched the Breeders' Cup with his 5-year-old son on his lap, helping him with his coloring. But by the time the Classic came up, after he had already hit five of the first six races and sweated out a 15-minute delay to sort out the dead heat in the Turf, he asked his son to go upstairs.

"I had to be by myself at that point," Stone said.

NTRA officials are now ecstatic that a player like Stone hit the pick six - a victory for the little player. But they also acknowledged that they had their doubts when the winner was announced on Saturday.

Chip Tuttle, a public relations executive who led the NTRA communications efforts during last year's pick-six scandal, described how he spent all Saturday night with Ken Kirchner, Breeders' Cup's director of simulcasting, "trying to figure out how someone could have tampered with this bet. And we couldn't find anything. It's just a great story."

The question is: After the pick-six scandal, can anyone just be lucky anymore?

"I don't know," said Kirchner. "This is a really good guy, and this is a really good story, and he's a horse racing fan who loves the game. I think it's great."


Winning combination

On October 25, horseplayer Graham Stone turned $8 into $2.7 million. Here's what he had to say about his winning picks:

MILE

Six Perfections

"I wanted a closer, because I thought there was some speed in the race. I ended up wih Six Perfections because Jerry Bailey was aboard. I think he's the best."

SPRINT*

Cajun Beat

"I like Aldebaran the best. He was the class of the race, but I wasn't sure of six furlongs. . . . On Saturday morning I went to drf.com and I went to Andy Beyer's [article], and he liked Cajun Beat, so I threw him in. That's the only reason I did it."

F & M TURF

Islington

"Islington was the best horse in the race last year, but she just had some bad luck. So I used her again this year."

JUVENILE*

Action This Day

"I really like a horse who is improving and liked the distance."

TURF

High chaparral

"Until about an hour before I made the bet, I thought I would use Falbrav, but I changed to High Chapparal at the last minute. I don't know why I did that."

CLASSIC

Pleasantly Perfect

"I like a horse's second race off a layoff. I was going to pick him last year in the Classic but he didn't run, so I used him this year."

*Sprint pick Aldebaran, and Juvenile selection

Tiger Hunt rounded out the $8 ticket.