10/28/2005 12:00AM

Pick six doesn't captivate the public like Powerball


By the time you read this column, some lucky person or persons will have won the Breeders' Cup Ultra Pick 6. It's horse racing's version of Megabucks or Powerball as bettors chase a giant jackpot.

I've seen up close the thrill of the score as my friends on the Breeders' Cup Newsfeed won more than $3 million in 1999. That remains the single biggest pick-six win in horse racing history.

The excitement levels generated by big pools like that are few and far between in horse racing. The emotion is flamed by the old gambler's axiom that "money won is much sweeter than money earned." And how often are gamblers in a position to win a life-changing score?

That exhilarating feeling is here all the time, but it reached a fever pitch just a couple of weeks ago.

The whole country was engulfed in Powerball mania when the carryover exceeded $340 million. Powerball is a marketing tool of the lottery industry where multiple states bet into the same pool, creating the betting engine to fuel big carryovers quickly. Nevada does not have a state lottery, but bettors need only drive to the Arizona and California borders to play Powerball.

One winning ticket was sold in the tiny town of Jacksonville, Ore., population 1,955. A Medford, Ore., landscape contractor, Steve West, took a lump sum of $164 million. Sweet indeed.

At the same time in Las Vegas, we had the rarity of two big Megabucks winners within 30 days of each other.

Elmer Sherwin, 92, won $21 million at the Cannery on Sept. 15. Sherwin became the first person in Megabucks history to win two jackpots. He had won a $4.6 million Megabucks at the Mirage in 1989.

Then one month later, a publicity-shy slots player hit Megabucks for nearly $12 million at the Aladdin on Oct. 16. After Megabucks gets hit, the jackpot resets at $10 million and starts building all over again.

Horse racing has never been able to compete with casino gaming or lotteries on that power level. The pick six is popular in Southern California and New York, but hardly anywhere else. On my radio results show at night, it's pretty underwhelming to announce a two-day carryover of $900 at some smaller racetrack.

Still, the mechanics are in place, just as with the lottery and Megabucks, to build giant exotic parimutuel pools worth chasing. The lottery combines the buying power of multiple states. Megabucks seeds the pot with $10 million and then has slot machines linked by computer in scores of casinos all over Nevada.

Horse racing has the same formulas in place as the lottery and Megabucks - multiple states and multiple outlets - but not the same panache.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.