05/08/2005 11:00PM

Wild ride for superfecta winner

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Just hitting the Kentucky Derby superfecta for an incredible $864,253 for a $1 investment is amazing enough, but Christopher Hertzog had to hit it twice.

That's because the Turf Paradise patron inadvertently threw away his winning ticket. Fortunately, before Hertzog could find a bridge, the ticket was found at Turf Paradise Sunday.

"I never knew I had so many emotions," said Hertzog, 39, a 16-year veteran of the Phoenix Fire Department. "I couldn't believe I lost this once in a lifetime payday. It's unbelievable that it was found."

The winning ticket was found by the same teller who had sold Hertzog the ticket.

Brenda Reagan, a mutuels clerk at Turf Paradise for eight years, had punched out 100 $1 tickets for Hertzog.

"Chris bet 50 $1 superfectas and 50 $1 trifectas," said Reagan. "He was the only one who played quick picks."

After being notified by the mutuels director that her machine had sold a winning Superfecta ticket on the first four finishers in the Kentucky Derby, she informed Hertzog that he had won.

"I had already tossed my tickets away," said Hertzog. "I couldn't believe it."

Track management collected all the trash bags in the Clubhouse area where Hertzog said he had discarded his tickets. Then Hertzog and his friends spent the next two hours sorting through a lot of Derby Day debris. But no winning ticket was found.

However, at about 4 p.m. Sunday, Reagan noticed two tickets lying at the side of her machine. Upon closer inspection she saw they were Kentucky Derby Superfecta wagers, one of which was the 'lost' winning ticket.

"When I punched out Chris' tickets, there were so many that they bunched up and these two must have fallen to the side," said Reagan. "I informed management and then called Chris right away."

"What a roller coaster ride this has been," said Hertzog, who was off to relax at his Montana cabin and do some fly fishing. "Just unbelievable. Don't you just love happy endings?"